As 2011 became 2012, one name seemed destined to dominate women’s tennis. Petra Kvitova had soared through the previous 12 months to reach No2 in the rankings—just behind Caroline Wozniacki—after winning six titles, including her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon and the year-end WTA Championships. She then closed the season as part of the Fed Cup-winning Czech Republic team.
But the first months of 2012 would belong to another. Part 1 of this review of the stories in women’s tennis in 2012 looks at the three women who dominated.
The rise of Victoria Azarenka
The formerly unpredictable Azarenka—her rangy, powerful tennis becoming anything but unpredictable—surged through her first 26 matches unbeaten to claim titles in Sydney, the Australian Open, Doha and Indian Wells. She jumped to No1 with her win in Melbourne and ended 2012 in the same place, having conceded the top spot for only a month along the way.
For Azarenka also went on to reach the semis at Wimbledon and the finals of Stuttgart, Madrid, and the US Open, and she ended the year with titles in Beijing and Linz. Add in the bronze medal at the Olympics and gold in the mixed doubles, and this was a glittering year for the extrovert and entertaining woman from Belarus. She also happened to break the women’s single-season earnings, only a fraction short of $8 million.
The only two women to pose a major challenge to Azarenka in 2012 were the two who ended at Nos2 and 3 in the rankings—and the first of them was the only one to break her dominance at No1.
Maria Sharapova’s Parisian dream
The glamorous Russian, who won her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon as a teenager, had slowly but surely worked her way back to the top following shoulder surgery in late 2008. And though she played missed many more months at the end of 2011 due to an ankle injury and illness, her desire and intent were clear.
She started 2012 at No4, but struggled to find a way through Azarenka. Indeed their first meeting, in the final of the Australian Open, saw Sharapova wiped off the court, 6-3, 6-0. Indian Wells was little better. Only on clay would Sharapova find success in their five 2012 meetings, winning in Stuttgart, but that paved the way to her greatest achievement of the year. Having defended her Rome title, Sharapova went on to win the French Open for the first time, completing a career Grand Slam and taking her to No1.
She would hand back the top spot to Azarenka after Wimbledon, and lose to her back on the hard courts of the US Open and Beijing, but the Russian ended the year with an Olympic silver medal and one final satisfying victory over the No1 in the semis at the year-end Championships.
One woman, however, would deny Sharapova in Istanbul, just as she had throughout 2012.
Serena Williams shows the way
There were some, at the start of the year, foolhardy enough to think Williams may find the challenge from this wave of tall, young, hungry women too much. After all, one of the most successful women ever to pick up a tennis racket had not played since losing the final of the 2011 US Open—only her sixth tournament in over a year that saw her contend with life-threatening illness—and she had, since then, turned 30.
Yet even her most avid supporters could not have anticipated what 2012 would bring: her best season in a decade, perhaps the best season of her career.
It started slowly, with relatively little success on spring’s hard courts. But clay signalled her intent just as it had Sharapova’s. She won in Charleston, then Madrid, and even played and won in Fed Cup along the way.
Williams retired from the semis in Rome before losing early in Paris—but went on to dominate the remainder of the year. First she took Wimbledon, then flew back to the US and hard courts to win in Stanford, returned to London’s grass for Olympic gold, and then back home to win the US Open, too. And slotted into her extraordinary schedule were also wins with sister Venus in both the Wimbledon doubles events.
She only played one more event: the WTA Championships. There she was unbeaten, dropping not a set, and defeating both Azarenka and Sharapova. But then Williams had beaten the No1 in their other four 2012 meetings—in fact in every meeting of their 12 except one—though the two of them played one of the most compelling matches of the year in the New York final.
Williams had also beaten Sharapova with ease in all three 2012 meetings—indeed she had not lost to the Russian since 2004. So while Williams ended 2012 at No3, having begun it as No12, she was unbeaten by the two women ranked above her, became the year’s most prolific title winner—seven—and the only other woman to break the $7 million prize money barrier.
Even the statistics show 2012 was possibly Williams’ finest: a 58-4 win-loss record compared with 56-5 in her previous-best year of 2002. She would seem to be, at 31, in her prime and, just as Roger Federer did at 31 this year—she could surely reclaim the No1 ranking in 2013.
Part 2 of this review looks at some other names who made women’s tennis so memorable in 2012.