While the top of women’s tennis in 2012 was dominated by three names—Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka—there were other plenty of other players, new and old, making waves below them, not least two young Britons: Laura Robson and Heather Watson.
Robson and Watson light up 2012
At the start of 2012, two teenagers heralded a tennis resurgence in a sport-mad Olympic Britain. Heather Watson, who would turn 20 in May, was ranked 92—up 84 places over the previous year—and Laura Robson, 18 in January, was at 131 and about to embark on her first full-year senior schedule.
Both began the Olympic year with Grand Slam markers laid down: In 2011, Watson had gone through qualifying to reach the second round of the French Open, and then took a set from Sharapova at the US Open; and Robson had beaten Angelique Kerber and pushed Sharapova hard before losing in the second round of Wimbledon.
Come 2012, and Watson again reached the second round in Paris, but went a step further at Wimbledon, dropping just eight games to reach the third round, though she lost there to No3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska. By the time Watson played the Olympics, she was ranked 67 but then suffered a series of first-round exits until the concluding Far East swing.
That left the way open for Robson to overtake her friend and rival, though her year began slowly as she plied her trade on the ITF tour: She failed to win a WTA match until the grass season. Then she reached the second round at both Birmingham and Eastbourne before losing to Francesca Schiavone in her opener at Wimbledon.
Finally, though, the wins began to come, and against serious competition: the No27-ranked Roberta Vinci on Palermo’s clay; No23 Lucie Safarova at the Olympics—where Robson shared silver glory in mixed doubles with Andy Murray; and finally a show-stopper of a run at the US Open, beating two Grand Slam champions in Kim Clijsters and Na Li before falling to defending champion Samantha Stosur.
Robson was the first female Briton in 14 years to make the second week of a Grand Slam, and then—heading East—she became the first in 22 years to reach a final, in Guangzhou.
By the time she made the quarters in her season-concluding Osaka, she was the top-ranked Briton at 52. But Watson would not be outdone. In her last singles match of 2012, she fended off four match points in the third set of the marathon three-and-a-quarter hour Osaka final to become the first British woman to win a WTA singles title since 1988.
It took her back to the top of the GB rankings, at a career-high 49—and with a pair of doubles titles to her name as well.
Robson’s giant-killing success in New York—and the youngest woman in the top-100—earned her the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year Award, but it was a close run thing with her sister in arms. Watch out, 2013: The British are coming.
An honorable mention should also be made of a third—and charismatic—addition to the GB team in 2012. Jo Konta, who turned 21 two days before Watson turned 20, was born in Australia to Hungarian parents, and although she had lived in the UK for many years, it had taken until May 2012 to finalise her UK citizenship.
At the start of the US Open, she was ranked outside the top 200 and had played just five main-tour matches, but news quickly spread of her progress, unseeded, through qualifying and into the second round where she finally fell in three sets.
Konta started 2012 outside the top 300 and ended it having broken the top 150. There will, without question, be more from her in 2013.
Double delight for Sara Errani
The petite, gritty Italian package of Sara Errani might just rate as the most uplifting story of 2012. She began the year, as she had begun every year since the start of 2008, just outside the top 40. But she came across, by chance, a new racket just as 2012 got underway—and it transformed her.
That, and a new training regime, saw her reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in Australia and, switching to her favourite surface, the final of the French Open, having picked up titles in Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest en route. Later came Palermo and then the semis at the US Open, and Errani ended the year at a career-high No6.
As if that was not enough, she and close friend, compatriot Roberta Vinci, won eight WTA doubles titles, including the French and US Opens, and both spent time as the No1 ranked doubles player.
Errani’s reward, as perhaps the most hard-working woman on the tour this year, was not only to become the highest ranked Italian ever, but also winner of two WTA Awards: Doubles Team Of The Year and Most Improved Player.
Radwanska, Kerber, Petrova—and Venus’s return
Radwanska, one of the most popular players on the tour, continued to break new ground by reaching her first Grand Slam final—where she pushed Serena Williams to three sets—and sealing a career-high ranking of No2. She equalled her year-best three titles, beating Sharapova in the final of Indian Wells, but played and was thwarted by Azarenka six times. That, and pulling out of four tournaments with various injuries, saw her drop to No4 by year-end—though still a career-best.
Kerber, like Errani, made outstanding progress in 2012, rising from 32 to No5 via her first two WTA titles in Paris and Copenhagen. She thus became the highest year-end ranked German since Steffi Graf.
Thirty-year-old Nadia Petrova, now in her 15th year as a professional, won her third title of 2012 at the last WTA event of the year, the Tournament of Champions in Sofia. It took her level with Svetlana Kuznetsova in sixth place on the title list of active players, at 13.
Venus Williams, knocked out at the start of the US Open 2011 by the debilitating Sjogren’s Syndrome, began 2012 ranked outside the top 100. Now just turned 32, she ended the year at No24, having played just 10 tournaments. She did so after winning her first title since February 2010, in Luxembourg—her 44th career title and second only to sister Serena’s 46. And with her sister, she also won a 13th Grand Slam doubles title at Wimbledon and a third doubles gold at the Olympics.
Now check out Part 1 of this 2012 review: Williams, Azarenka and Sharapova steal the show.
The new WTA season gets under way with the Premier event in Brisbane on 30 December (featuring Williams, Azarenka, Sharapova, Kerber and Errani) and two Internationals in Auckland and—a new event on the calendar—in Shenzhen, China, beginning on New Year’s Eve. Auckland will be headlined by Radwanska and see the start of Watson’s 2013 campaign, while the latter will headed by Li and see Robson’s return to the tour.
These three tournaments are followed by the Sydney Premier and Hobart International, and they lead into 2013’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, on 14 January.