WTA Triumph: Women’s Tennis Won Big in 2017
With fresh faces winning titles, mainstays making comebacks and plenty of standout moments, the 2017 WTA Tour will be one to remember.
By Jane Voigt
Updated: Nov. 10, 2017 • 1:48 PM ET
Sloane Stephens ascended to stardom with her victory at the 2017 U.S. Open.
Although watching women’s tennis on television, or otherwise, was a monster of a problem for many this year, news from that side of the court was plentiful, dramatic and heartwarming.
There was nothing more memorable, either, than the outpouring of love and money for Tornado Alicia Black when The New York Times featured the 19-year-old tennis prodigy in September. Due to a debilitating hip injury, Black had been relegated to teaching tennis rather than playing it.
At 13, Black had reached the U.S. Open’s girls’ singles final, which exploded her profile and brought predictions of greatness. But nothing can end a promising career quicker than an injury, especially when money is tight and health insurance inadequate. But after the Times’ story broke, people stepped up to help.
Alan Hassenfeld, former CEO of Hasbro and member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s executive board, donated enough money to cover the surgery and six months of rehabilitation. Additionally, Black raised $40,180 through a GoFundMe campaign, reported The New York Times in a follow-up article late last month.
“I feel so blessed and I am so grateful to everyone,” Black said. “I originally didn’t want to do the GoFundMe campaign. But a woman contacted me and said I should do it because if I got back on the tour and became successful, I could do so much for other people. That’s my goal now.”
Two-time Wimbledon champion and Czech Republic native Petra Kvitova was in a similar position to Black last December after a knife-wielding intruder broke into her Prostejov home. Being a fighter on court translated to being a fighter at home, as Kvitova fought back. However, her left (playing) hand required multiple rounds of delicate surgery and months of rehabilitation. Yet, less than six months later, she returned to her sport, winning a decisive match in the opening round of the French Open.
“I did miss definitely the court, I did miss the fight,” Kvitova said via The Guardian. “Now I can just enjoy everything, even the beautiful weather outside. Sometimes I just stand outside and see the sun and say: ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.’ I see different kind of things than before.”
Kvitova won one title in 2017 and lost a tightly fought match to Venus Williams in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2).
That win propelled Williams to the semifinal in New York, where she lost in another three-setter to eventual champion and American sister Sloane Stephens. Both women had miraculous seasons that evoked stories of perseverance and the love of the game.
Venus Williams completed a remarkable WTA season in 2017.
At 37 years old, however, the queen of the 2017 court is Venus. She didn’t win a title, yet ended the year ranked No. 5, her best finish since 2010, having jumped 12 spots over the year. She was runner-up at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the WTA year-ending Finals in her fifth appearance there.
In the round-robin phase of that event, where only the top 8 players from the year are invited, Williams avenged her loss to Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, eliminated U.S. Open quarterfinalist Karolina Pliskova and endured a three-hour-plus slugfest with French Open champion and 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko. Williams lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the final, but was poised to end the year ranked No. 1, had she pulled off the win. Here’s what to remember when Venus returns next year: never count her out.
The breakthrough runs of Stephens and Ostapenko to their first major titles capped a year when three new players experienced the top ranking: Muguruza and Pliskova, with Simona Halep grabbing the gusto in the last minutes of the season.
Of course, one person missing from the mix was Serena Williams. She took a time out to welcome baby daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. in September, whose initials ‘A’ and ‘O’ stand for Australian Open, which Serena won while pregnant. We’ll see where Mother Serena lands come 2018. She must realize, though, that the competition has stiffened. Perhaps the victories of Ostapenko and Stephens will always carry an asterisk because Serena didn’t play most of the year. However, no one can take away those two young women’s titles.
Jelena Ostapenko's French Open title may have been the most surprising this year.
The Latvian Ostapenko entered the French Open unseeded and having never won a title, let alone a match at this hallowed site. Then, she walked away with the trophy looking as if she naturally belonged on that perch. She became the youngest to win the women’s singles title in Paris since Iva Majoli in 1997, and the first Latvian to win a singles Grand Slam.
“I still cannot believe I am the Roland Garros champion and I’m only 20,” Ostapenko said via The Guardian.
The same awe enveloped Sloane Stephens after winning the U.S. Open, when she defeated her friend and fellow American Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-0. In May, Stephens had sat on a stool to hit tennis balls back to her coach, Kamau Murray, in her first practice of the year. At 24 years old, her turnaround from heel surgery in late January, to modified practice in May, to a return to matches in July, to U.S. Open champion in September, brought the sports world to attention.
Coach Murray captured the moment best.
“You always expect to play well and try hard and give a good effort, which she has been doing very consistently,” he said via The New York Times. “So long as you do that, you put yourself in a position to win, but to win this many matches so soon, she’s blessed.”
“I should just retire now…I mean, talk about a comeback.”