It’s roughly 9 months since my last post and as February draws to a close I decided that it is about time that The Tennis Tribune was updated, and what a surprise of a month it was for the WTA Tour – who would have thought that an Italian trio would dominate the circuit, of which 2 would go onto win the biggest titles of their career thus far?! But first lets take a look at why the trio went on to win these titles.
The health of many of the players is often questioned at the start of every tennis season, have they recovered from the injuries that were sustained during the previous year; will they exhibit the form they showed in January; could they have picked up injuries “down under” during the Happy Slam that could potentially derail the start of their season?! You may be wondering what these questions have to do with the Italian’s winning titles during February, well let me provide you with some analysis that may ring some alarm bells for you!
The first pit-stop of the month was in Russia where the inaugural Premier event in St Petersburg was held, with 128,450 USD & 470 ranking points being awarded to the winner. These type of events usually attract a few top 10 players, have a guess how many of the elite top ten turned up …… zilch , nada, none! Therefore an open field was evident for this event, with no clear cut favorite to lift the trophy it was a title to be won by anyone…… enter the first of the Italian trio, the tour veteran Roberta Vinci, a player who was 5 days shy of turning 33 years of age upon lifting St Petersburg Ladies’ Trophy. Now credit is due to Roberta, she is a former Double’s World Number 1, a player that holds at least one of all the 4 Grand Slams in Doubles, a feat that is only met by a few others including another Italian, Sara Errani, a player whom we will discuss later on in this post.
The field at Russia did include a pair of former WTA world number 1’s, the Siberian Ana Ivanovic and the Dane Caroline Wozniacki – you may now be thinking “I think TheTennisTribune is mistaken, the Premier event did include some of the elite top ten” – well the answer to that is no, the former number ones are no longer at the top of their game – they are hovering around the top 20 mark. Furthermore Alize Cornet who had a strong start to the year by lifting the Hobart Trophy, was on the entry list for the Russian event ended up sustaining an injury in Australia and had to pull out of the tournament. Cornet has since announced in a recent interview that she has severe back problems and will be absent from the sport for up to six months. As a result of this, her ranking will drop and unfortunately her participation in the 2016 RIO Olympics is in jeopardy, with only the top 4 players being allowed to represent their country if they are ranked in the top 56 in the world. There were a few skilled teenagers who are destined for greatness that particapted in this event, the young Swiss Belinda Bencic and the Russian Daria Kasatkina, both whom are former Junior Grand Slam Winners. Although Bencic did make the final, Roberta’s experience & confidence which she gained due to being runner up at the 2015 US Open ultimately led her on to win the biggest title of her career. This win ultimately had a great bearing for her, a fortnight later she was propelled into the top ten in the world for the first time.
The second of the Italian Trio, which I briefly mentioned already is Sara Errani. At five foot five, she holds a number of career accolades to her name, she is a former top ten player, a singles’ grand slam finalist, a former doubles world number 1, and a winner of the 4 Grand Slams in the women’s doubles event. Before arriving to Dubai, Sara had a poor start to the year with only 2 wins to her name and 5 losses. She even speculated about taking a week off and not competing in Dubai. Similar to St. Petersburg, Dubai is a premier event which rewards 470 ranking points to the winner as well as a hefty payment of 465,480 USD.
Unlike St Petersburg, Dubai had a packed field with 8 of top ten players on the entry list. However before the tournament had even commenced, 4 of the top ten had withdrawn due to injury; Serena Williams, Agnieszka Radwanksa, Lucie Safarova and the 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber. The attendance at the tournament was expected to drop as these players usually draw huge crowds. The tournament was to experience another setback, as all of the seeded players ended up losing their first match at the tournament, which proved to be a first in the history of the WTA.
As a result of these unforeseen circumstances, the title yet again could have been lifted by anyone and it was Sara who made the most of this opportunity and ultimately served a heavy defeat on Barbora Strycova in the final. Due to winning the biggest singles title of her career, Sara once again broke back into the top 20.
Whilst the premier event was being played in Dubai, there was an another event being played on the other side of the world in Rio de Janeiro. This is an international tournament which offers 280 ranking points to the winner accompanied with a modest cheque of $43,000.
The field at Rio featured a handful of players ranked in the top 100 and once again this title had no front-runners. The only former top ten player that ended up traveling to Rio to compete was the last of our Italian Trio , Francesca Schiavone. At 35, Francesca is near the end of her professional career which has seen her become a grand slam winner at Roland Garros in 2010. Similar to Sara Errani, Francesca had a poor start to the year, where she failed to qualify for the Australian Open which disappointingly ended her consecutive streak of competing in Grand Slams where she had an astonishing feat of 61 Grand Slams. Francesca revived her year by winning her 7th title which should help her quest to earn herself a berth at the next Grand Slam as she broke back into the top 100.
February proved to be full of surprises, and I am sure March will feature a few more surprises including the return of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams who haven’t played since the Australian Open, as well as the return of Venus Williams competing at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells after a controversial boycott which saw her not participate for 14 years.
Till next time,