Ashleigh Barty was a unanimous selection for player of the year
The WTA Tour season in review: Who were the best players of 2019?
With Ashleigh Barty triumphing at the year-end championships in Shenzhen, the WTA Tour’s 2019 season has come to a close and while the players scatter to their vacation destinations to rest and regroup ahead of 2020, we’re looking back at the year in women’s tennis.
Naomi Osaka, Barty, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu captured the four major titles and we witnessed leaps up the rankings from several promising young talents such as Sofia Kenin, Karolina Muchova and Dayana Yastremska, but who really impressed our editors in 2019? Whose achievements, and which matches, will we remember long after most of this season has faded from our memories?
Livetennis.com’s core editorial team – Hannah Wilks, Andrew Hendrie and ‘Leye Aduloju – name their player of the year, most improved player and more.
WTA breakthrough player of 2019
NB: A player who started the season outside the top 100 was specified
Aduloju: Definitely Bianca Andreescu for me. Her rise has been simply stunning, jumping almost 150 ranking spots in 2019, winning a maiden Grand Slam title, and ending the year inside the top five. Incredible.
Hendrie: It’s impossible to look past Bianca Andreescu. What the 19-year-old achieved this season was simply extraordinary, especially for a teenager in the contemporary game. Ending 2018 at No. 178 in the world, Andreescu won three of the biggest titles of the season, climbed to a career-high ranking of No. 4 and did it all while missing basically the entire clay and grass swings with injury. Simply stunning.
Special shoutout as well to 23-year-old Karolina Muchova, who registered a superb 38-14 record for 2019, winning her maiden WTA title and improving her ranking from a year-end mark of No. 145 in 2018 to her current ranking of No. 21. And I also have to mention Coco Gauff as well – there’s so many to choose from!
Wilks: Simply impossible not to go with Bianca Andreescu on this one. She started the year ranked world no. 152 and little known to any except real tennis aficionados; she ends it a US Open champion, ranked in the world’s top 5 and holding three of the biggest WTA titles of the season. That’s not a breakthrough so much as an explosion.
Most improved player of 2019
Aduloju: I considered Alison Riske, who finally broke into the top 20 after a very consistent spell in the top 100, but I’ll go with Sofia Kenin. The American has been on the rise over the last few years, but she took it to another level in 2019- three titles, marquee semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati, a maiden Grand Slam fourth-round, and a year-end ranking of 14th.
Hendrie: There’s a lot of contenders here relatively speaking, but it’s got to be Ashleigh Barty for me. The Aussie patiently rebuilt her game for a couple of years after initially retiring from the sport to take up a brief career in professional cricket – and Barty took her tennis to the next level in 2019, winning titles on outdoor hardcourt, clay, grass and indoor hardcourt, claiming her first Grand Slam and Premier Mandatory trophies and ending the season with the year-end championships and No. 1 ranking. It doesn’t get much better than that and there’s still a chance for Fed Cup glory to come!
Wilks: Alison Riske of the USA. At 29, the American enjoyed a career-best season, breaking into the world’s top 20 for the first time after winning ‘s-Hertogenbosch, making a first Wimbledon quarterfinal and finishing runner-up in Beijing, beating quality opposition all the way. How did she do it? Fitness, a wholehearted commitment to a more aggressive game plan and attitude, attitude, attitude.
Aduloju: Daria Kasatkina. If I had to answer this question at the start of September, I would have picked Aryna Sabalenka, but the Belarusian salvaged her season somewhat with a strong finish to the year, winning titles in Wuhan and Zhuhai. Still I expected a lot more from her, particularly at the Slams.
So Sabalenka escapes, but not Daria Kasatkina, who had a forgetable 2019! Quarter finalist at Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year, up to a career-high ranking of No. 10 at the end of the season, Kasatkina looked set to kick on to bigger things in 2019, but she regressed spectacularly, managing just two quarter finals all year and slipping to 69th in the world. I am a huge fan of Kasatkina, and the good news is that she can only get better in 2020, surely?
Hendrie: Garbine Muguruza. A two-time major champion and former World No. 1 with the game she has with no serious injury issues (that we know of) should never be finishing a year at No. 36 in the world. It’s concerning how Muguruza’s game has fallen apart over the last couple of years, especially on the forehand side, but after finally splitting with coach Sam Sumyk, maybe the Spaniard will be ready to start afresh in 2020…
Wilks: Anett Kontaveit. The powerful Estonian is such a great ball-striker and athlete and I thought she would have a great look at breaking the top 10 in 2019. She rose as high as world no. 14 after making the Miami semifinals and Stuttgart final, but the rest of her clay-court season was a clump of missed opportunities and she ends the season on the downslope, not playing after the US Open due to illness and injury.
Coach of the year
Aduloju: Got to be Craig Tyzzer, who did a splendid job with Ashleigh Barty to guide the world No. 1 through a fabulous season.
Hendrie: I’m going with Craig Tyzzer. I love a coach that keeps a low-profile and that’s certainly Tyzzer to a tee. Since linking up full-time with Barty, he’s guided her from an unranked player to World No. 1 in an extremely short time-span. You’ve probably noticed how Barty always says ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ when answering questions on her success – and that’s because tennis is a team sport, with Tyzzer at the forefront working behind the scenes to ensure his charge is physically, tactically and mentally prepared to put her best foot forward before every match.
Wilks: Craig Tyzzer. Some other players whose coaches might have been contenders seem to have as much input from their parents as their official coaches, but that’s not the case with Tyzzer’s charge Barty. Like Barty, Tyzzer seems to prefer to quietly go about his business but Barty’s brilliant 2019 season has been all about the flowering of things the pair have been working on since teaming up in 2016. Attitude, tactics, scheduling priorities are all perfectly aligned in Team Barty and it’s really impressive to see.
Aduloju: Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff at the US Open.
Osaka’s classy display of sportsmanship at the US Open wins this. The Japanese romped to a 6-3 6-0 victory in their third round meeting, but she and Gauff shared a beautiful moment together after the match, with the Japanese star comforting the distraught 15-year-old, before sharing some lovely words with the crowd- the most endearing moment through the 2019 season.
Hendrie: Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff’s emotional post-match embrace and on-court interview at the U.S. Open. I can’t remember the last time a player invited the loser of the match to share the on-court interview and essentially hand the moment and spotlight to them, but Osaka showed her immense class that night when she saw Gauff tearing up during their handshake after the 15-year-old succumbed to the pressure and didn’t play anywhere near her best in their third round clash.
Wilks: Seeing Petra Kvitova’s response to reaching the Australian Open final, five years after her last Grand Slam final. For me, we cannot talk enough about Kvitova’s incredible resilience and depth of character to have come back to the very top of the game after suffering what she did at the hands of an armed burglar in the winter of 2016. The Czech is still dealing with the physical, mental and emotional fallout of that attack but she’s never lost her smile, her sense of humour, her grace as a competitor – and her competitive fire. She reminds us all: It gets better.
Belinda Bencic’s superb title run in Dubai featured four successive three-set top-ten victories, none more dramatic than her 6-4 2-6 7-6 win over Aryna Sabalenka in the third round. Twice she trailed by a break in the final set, but she fought back on each occasion, saving four match points before dragging the decider into a tie break. The Swiss then battled back from 1-4 down in the breaker, and saved two more match points to take that tally to six, before completing the thrilling win after almost two and a half hours.
2. Dayana Yastremska d. Caroline Garcia 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (3), Strasbourg final
Dayana Yastremska and Carolina Garcia served up an epic final in Strasbourg, with both women saving match points before Yastremska sqeezed out a 6-4 5-7 7-6 victory after two hours and 58 minutes.
Yastremska held two match points at 6-4 5-3, but Garcia fought back to force a third, and carve out her own match point at 5-4 in the deciding set. Rising teen, Yastremska dug her way out of that trouble before pulling through in a final set tie break to claim a third title in a fantastic start to her career. The young gun was in her typically swashbuckling mood, blitzing 49 winners and 50 unforced errors to force her way over the line.
3. Taylor Townsend d. Simona Halep 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), US Open R2
There’s a ridiculous amount of other matches to choose from, but I’ve gone with one of my personal favourites- Taylor Townsend beating Simona Halep at the US Open. This isn’t necessarily about the upset, but the daring manner in which Townsend pulled it off, charging the net like a maniac.
The outstanding statistic- Townsend went to the net a staggering 106 times, winning 64 of those points. By comparison, Halep was 6/10 at the net.
Townsend had not taken a set off Halep in their three previous encounters, and their Flushing Meadows duel appeared to be headed in a similar direction when Halep raced through the opening set 6-2, but Townsend launched a stirring fightback to take the second, setting up a thrilling final set. Both players saved match points in the decider- Halep fending off two as Townsend served for the match at 5-4, and the American saving one at 5-6, but it was the net-charging underdog who dominated the ensuing tie break to record the biggest win of her career; her first over a top-ten player.
1. French Open R3: Anastasija Sevastova def. Elise Mertens 6-7(3) 6-4 11-9
My favourite women’s match of the year, with Sevastova saving five match points in a brutal Roland Garros showdown with Mertens in three hours and 18 minutes.
2. Indian Wells R2: Serena Williams def. Victoria Azarenka 7-5 6-3
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a straight sets contest as gripping as this one in 2019, with Serena coming out on top in their first clash in three years. The fact Azarenka finished with more winners to unforced errors (25 to 24), but only won eight games tells you all you need to know about the level Serena was operating at that night in the Californian desert.
3. Australian Open final: Naomi Osaka def. Petra Kvitova 7-6(2) 5-7 6-4
As far as drama goes, it didn’t get much better than this for the rest of the season, with Osaka recovering from squandering three championship points at 5-3 in the second set to secure her second straight Grand Slam title in the Australian Open final against an on-fire Kvitova.
1. Ashleigh Barty d. Kiki Bertens, 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5, Apia International Sydney semifinals
Barty played some tremendous classics this season against both Bertens and Petra Kvitova (and the Barty-Kvitova final in Sydney was also a great match) but I’ve chosen this particular match because it was the one I remember watching and thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be Barty’s year.’ Tremendous three-set duel which went all the way to the line.
2. Sofia Kenin d. Belinda Bencic, 6-7(2), 7-6(4), 6-4, Mallorca Open final
Kenin has had an unbelievable year and this, for me, was its signature win (even more so than her upset of Serena Williams at the French Open a few weeks earlier). Saving three championship points in the second set and reducing the combustible Bencic to hitherto unplumbed depths of frustration, Kenin did to the favourite what she’s going to do to countless top-quality players over the course of her career – snatch victory out from under them by executing her game to its maximum effectiveness. Sonya Kenin is in the house.
Not just a brilliant clash between two players with differing game styles, both of whom I find immensely watchable, but a real ‘sliding doors’ moment when it came to the season as a whole. Had Sabalenka converted any one of those six match points she held, she might have avoided the downwards spiral that occupied much of her season right up until the Asian swing and her late revival, while Bencic’s incredible Dubai run would have been stopped in its tracks – would the Swiss player still have broken the top 10 by the year’s end?
Player of the year
Aduloju: This came down to a choice between Asheigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu, but I think the No. 1 player in the world deserves this recognition for a sensational season.
Hendrie: Again, can’t go past Barty. She compiled the perfect year with four titles across all surfaces, including a Grand Slam, Premier Mandatory and Year-End Championship and finished as World No. 1. And she could still yet add the Fed Cup to her trophy cabinet!
Wilks: Ashleigh Barty. If Barty’s early career and consequent hiatus was all about too much success too fast, too young, the way the 23-year-old took care of business on and off court in 2019 spoke volumes about how prepared she was for this kind of success. Building on a solid foundation of steady improvements over the past three years, Barty prioritized her mental and physical fitness with smart scheduling, showed she’s learned to get the absolute most out of an unconventional game and above all, just won a tremendous amount of matches from January to October. When I look back over her season, I see a player who was beaten at times, but rarely lost a match she should have won and who kept her eyes firmly fixed on the big picture despite the media. To see a shy young woman growing into the role of ambassador for tennis, Australian sport and indigenous communities has also been a real joy.
Player you’re most excited to see what they do in 2020
Aduloju: I’ll admit- I hadn’t seen much of Karolina Muchova before Wimbledon, but I took instant interest in the young Czech during that quarter final run. She has a beautiful game- power, guile, comeptence at the forecourt- and I’m glad she went on to do good things after Wimbledon. Muchova won her first career title in Seoul, and ended the year with a semi-final run Zhuhai, finishing inside the top-25, having being ranked 144th at the start of the season. Really looking forward to seeing how she develops in 2020.
Hendrie: I’m keen to see how Aryna Sabalenka fares. I thought she could break through and win a slam this season, but she struggled with her consistency and seemed to have an up-and-down relationship with coach Dmitry Tursunov. However, Sabalenka showed just how formidable her game is at the end of the season, and if she can find the level she plays at in China in all parts of the world, I think she can challenge for a major in 2020.
Wilks: Marketa Vondrousova. ‘Wondrousova’s run to the French Open final went a bit unremarked, perhaps because it owed slightly to a soft draw, but more likely because a breakthrough season was abruptly cut off after Wimbledon with a left wrist injury.
Before that, though, the 20-year-old left-hander had made three finals (including Roland Garros) in 2019 and was shooting upwards through the rankings, and her game, which marries plenty of power with an absolutely audacious line in drop and touch shots, marks her out as one of the WTA Tour’s most exciting players to watch for me. Come back healthy in 2020, Marketa.
WTA 2019 season in review: Livetennis.com’s editors name their player of the season and more
The WTA Tour season in review: Who were the best players of 2019? With Ashleigh Barty triumphing at the year-end…
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