WTA awards: All about Serena Williams
Any end-of-the-year story about women's tennis is going to have a lot of Williams, the No. 1 player in the world, so might as well just get her name out there to start.
At 32, Williams has won more money and tournaments than she has at any other time in her career, and of all the awards we'll be giving out in this story, the first is by far the easiest.
Player of the Year: Serena Williams
Williams entered 16 tournaments this season and won 11. That's an incredible winning percentage in a sport of individual matchups and arduous travel. Still, Williams had a 34-match winning streak in the middle of the year and won two majors, the U.S. and French Opens.
With 17 Grand Slam titles, she needs just one more to join the forever-tied rivals Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in fourth place on the all-time list.
Does anyone doubt she will get there? Williams defined 2013 by a new competitiveness and love for the game she always seemed to hold at arms length. With a new coach in Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams shows no signs of acting her age.
Most Improved Player: Simona Halep
The Romanian ended the year at No. 11 after winning six WTA title in 2013. She started the season at No. 47, but the scrambler defeated ranked players such as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic and Agnieszka Radwanska to steadily climb the list. At 22, she could go even higher, but may be limited by a 5-foot-6 frame. Either way, next season Halep will see if she can continue on the upward trajectory.
Match of the Year: Azarenka vs. Williams, Cincinnati
The good thing about this matchup between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka is that there are a few different meetings to choose from. We are going with the Cincinnati final, which Azarenka won 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (8). A few weeks later they met in the final at the U.S. Open, a rematch of the 2012 final, and Williams won in three sets.
More good news for tennis fans: Azarenka and Williams should be competitive well into 2014. The bad news is that there aren't enough other women on tour consistently pushing them right now.
Most Disappointing Year: Maria Sharapova
This isn't all Sharapova's fault. A shoulder injury curtailed her season after Cincinnati before she could get back on track, but after reaching the French Open final, and hiring Jimmy Connors, Sharapova's season dissolved. Along the way, there was her zinger at Serena Williams in a war of words over boyfriends, and the suggestion that she would change her last name to Sugarpova (her candy company) for the duration of the U.S. Open.
Alas, she never got on court in New York. Sharapova is still ranked No. 4, and her season was only so disappointing comparatively, but if she wants to stay in the top tier, Sharapova will need to be healthy for 2014.
Best second-best American: Sloane Stephens
Stephens made a splash at the very start of the season by beating a dominant Serena Williams in Australia. Williams didn't appear to suffer the loss well, and an amiable relationship between the two players disintegrated. Stephens expressed her disillusionment in an ESPN The Magazine article, and later apologized to Williams.
At any rate, Stephens finished the year at No. 12. She has officially made it, and would be the talk of American tennis if not for the No. 1 player on the world. Next up in American tennis: Look for Madison Keys or Jamie Hampton to have a big year. 2014 really could be the dawn of the next great era in American women's tennis.
Most abrupt retirement: Marion Bartoli
Soon after winning Wimbledon this summer, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli called it a career. She won one match in the two subsequent tournaments she entered and made her retirement announcement in Cincinnati. Bartoli said her body began to break down right after the Grand Slam title, and she simply couldn't continue to play.
She was recently interviewed by ESPN The Magazine and said this:
"Now I have my Wimbledon trophy in my bedroom and I see it light up right in front of me every morning as the sun is rising. It's the best morning view you can dream about."
Might make saying goodbye a little easier.