To start this year on my tennis blog I have decided to preview the 2018 season and look forward to what I believe it will end up producing
- Caroline Wozniacki
I have gone for the world number 1 between late 2009 and early 2011, Caroline Wozniacki, to finish with the top spot next year. It would have been hard to imagine that this could be possible when we saw her outside the top 70 at the beginning of last year’s US Open but now she is just 160 points away from Simona Halep at number one. This year we saw Wozniacki start to play better than ever with some newfound aggression and she managed to build up a strong ranking from her consistency throughout the year. The one thing that she was missing was big slam results, which I think will come next year in the form of a slam title, and that will bring her back to the penthouse spot on the WTA rankings.
2. Simona Halep
I have ended moving the woman who held this year’s end of year world number one spot down a position to number two for the end of 2018. Simona Halep only secured the top spot for 2017 by a whisker and I have no doubt that she will remain in contention for the ranking for a lot of this year but I don’t think she will be able to clinch it again. It was a painful year for Halep at times because although she was having such great runs at events she always seemed to fall short at the final hurdle, even when it was on her racquet. I think this is something that will continue to hinder her next year and although she will probably have more opportunities, I believe she still won’t be able to take out that maiden slam title yet.
3. Madison Keys
It was a frustrating year of sorts for Madison Keys, who ended up finishing the year at rank 19 due to all the injuries she struggled with. Keys really started to play her peak tennis throughout the US hardcourt swing, culminating with a US Open final appearance, but then she lost all her momentum due to injuries throughout the Asian swing. Keys has had more time to rest than most players because she had to end her year early and I think that will aid her throughout the Australian swing, where she isn’t defending any points. I don’t see Keys getting a slam but I do see her being able to play at a consistent level year round and reach at least another grand slam final.
4. Maria Sharapova
I have put the controversial Maria Sharapova a lot higher than many people would have expected but I think now that all the off-court distractions, like wildcards and her book promotion, are off the table she will be able to focus on forehands and backhands. Sharapova is currently at rank 59 which is quite impressive considering she only played eight events this year but in some of those events we did see flashes of that determination and prowess that has led her to five grand slam titles and the world number one position. I believe that with the full schedule this year Sharapova will be able to have some good weeks at the big events and possibly even take out a sixth grand slam title.
5. Karolina Pliskova
I think that the year to come in 2018 for Karolina Pliskova will be very similar to her 2017, in that she achieved so many major milestones yet it still felt underwhelming at the end of the day. I think that Pliskova will be able to capture her maiden grand slam title next year but outside of that, I think that her ranking within the top five will only be backed by the occasional strike of brilliance at a couple of events throughout the year. Pliskova did end this year at four so even though it’s not too much of a step back I believe another underwhelming year would not only frustrate her but also the entire tennis world who know how much potential she has.
6. Caroline Garcia
Where to place Carolina Garcia on this list was something I had to think very hard about because it really is a toss-up as to whether she is going to be able to reproduce that incredible form she showed at the latter part of last year in 2018. I don’t think people expected the rapid improvement in her game that we saw throughout the Asian swing which secured her spot in this years WTA finals and a year-end rank of eight but I do believe Garcia will be able to play at a high level for a some of 2018. I don’t think she will be able to play as well as she did to defeat those top-level players like she did in Asia but I can’t see her having a complete drop-off. I also don’t think that Garcia has the mentality to really bring her game to a different level at the slams, which is where she should be picking up a large bulk of her points and that is something that is holding her back from a big break-out.
7. Ash Barty
It surprises many in the tennis world to know that this was the first full year on the tour for Ash Barty after a brief hiatus to play cricket but since her return she has been playing the best tennis of her career which has seen her go above and beyond most people’s expectations. Even though she only started getting big wins towards the second half of the year when you look at her results she was playing well since the beginning and that saw her rise from outside the top 250 at the start of the year to rank 17, where she finished this year. I think that things will only get better for Ash Barty and we will see consistently strong results at the slams and at the tour level from her as she signposts herself as a threat everywhere she plays.
8. Serena Williams
Serena Williams, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, was another player which provided the challenge of deciding how successful their return would be and I decided that Serena’s would be a relatively successful one. I don’t think that Williams is going to play a very full schedule because she will want to spend time with her new family but I believe that she will play at quite a high level of tennis at the events she shows up at. She currently holds a ranking in the top 30 from the success she achieved at the Australian Open and if she is able to defend even a quarter of those points she will still have a solid enough base to build off of. Even though I still think Williams is prone to having weeks where she just can’t find the motivation I believe she will be able to piece it together at the big events and she may even be able to snag an eighth Wimbledon title.
9. Ana Konjuh
I was so impressed with the strides that Ana Konjuh made with respect to not only her game but also her mentality last year and I was very disappointed that she was hindered by a wrist injury for the second half of the year. Konjuh underwent surgery in September and we are unaware as to when she will make her return to the tour but when she does I believe she will be motivated and will slip back into how she was striking the ball at the start of this year. Konjuh is down at rank 44 currently so there is quite a way to go to get into the top ten but if she manages to recover quickly enough it is an achievable goal assuming she stays fit for 2018.
10. Angelique Kerber
Saying that 2017 was a tough year for Angelique Kerber is somewhat of an understatement considering the incredible highs she achieved in 2016 and the pain it would have caused her to fall so short this year. It is undisputed that a large part of Kerber not being able to perform this year was due to all the pressure she was facing from defending big titles to the extra media and sponsorship commitments. I think that after this year which saw her plummet from world number 1 to rank 21 she will face less pressure next year and even though she probably won’t play as well as she did in 2016, she will be able to return to her base level. This would give her the weapons required to take out some of those top players and to help her push through the matches she was losing this year, which all counts in getting points and rebuilding her ranking.
The decision not to put the reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in my predicted 2018 WTA top ten is one that will raise many eyebrows but I had to go on what I witnessed last year, which was a lack of consistency and at times a lack of motivation from Muguruza. There is no denying that when Muguruza is on and playing her peak tennis she is unstoppable but it seems like there are only so many times a year when she can play this way. If Muguruza didn’t win Wimbledon or Cincinnati this year her ranking would be far more depleted than the top 2 position she holds at the moment, and I believe that next year with the threats of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and other returning players she will be bested at events where she is still playing at a high level. This prediction is quite unlikely according to the experts but I just have a gut feeling that even when she is playing well, the cards aren’t going to fall in favor of Muguruza next year.
On paper, it seems like illogical decision to put another reigning slam champion and someone who qualified for the WTA Finals this year outside the top 10 for the end of next year but everything goes against what’s right on paper with Ostapenko. Anyone who knows her game knows she can dish out a double bagel just as easily she could receive one, which is something that makes her so interesting to follow. The inconsistency that Ostapenko displays is rather unrivaled among the top players and until she starts doing some smart scheduling and really training mentally to peak for the biggest moments, she won’t be able to keep up a steady source of points and her ranking will eventually drop.
Like so many other players it was very hard to figure out where I thought Venus Williams would end up at the end of next year but I had to decide that at age 37 something has to give and she won’t be able to sustain the level she played at throughout this year. Despite not winning a title in 2017 Williams was one of the stand-out players and at the end of nearly every big event, she was there for the latter stages in the mix for the title. With her sister back I don’t think Venus will have that extra motivation to represent the Williams family which means that not only her physical strength but also her mental strength may start to wain, providing a slippery slope from the rank she currently holds at spot number 5 throughout 2018.
Although I do admire the determination and relentlessness of Elina Svitolina’s game, I have wondered throughout 2017 why the top players who possess a lot of power haven’t been able to hit through the often weaker Svitolina. I think that this will start to catch up with her next year and even though next year she may only lose quite early at two or three events where she played well last year, that is still detrimental for a player who has built there ranking from a majority of results outside the slams. Svitolina currently sits at rank six but with quite a few quality players not defending many points throughout the season and players, like Svitolina, defending large chunks of points all over the calendar there is a lot of room for shifting.
Please let me know what you think the WTA top ten will look like at the end of next year and remember that regular tennis updates are available on my twitter at @the2service