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By Rohit Sharma
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The 2009 WTA season became one of the most successful and eventful seasons in the recent times for more than a handful of reasons. It was the year that not only welcomed the rising talent, but also opened it's arms for the former champions who could not contain themselves by just sitting by the sidelines and decided to take one more plunge into the magical and glamorous world of women's tennis.
Grand Slam season - From usual start to UNUSUAL finish -
The 2009 Grand Slam season will be remembered for the co-existence between dominance and comeback. Serena Williams gave a dream start to the year by winning the Australian Open by defeating Dinara Safina rather handily. As Navratilova's explicit comments about the nature of the final match ( Navratilova was quoted as saying that it was a pathetic final ) caused a slight stir, Williams' candidature to join the elite group of legends became a lot more believable. As the months went by, Williams struggle with injuries and clay court discomfort started coming to the fore. As for the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, it was time for some merry-making when she finally proved to the world that she is not a one-slam wonder by winning the 2009 French Open on the famous Parisian clay. Things pretty much returned to usual at the green grass of Wimbledon when the final was contested for the fourth time this decade between Venus and Serena Williams. Serena re-affirmed her supremacy over elder sister and won her third singles title at the All England Lawn tennis Club. As the Grand Slam season drew to a close, Williamses' surprise losses gave way to the other established players to snatch some premier level tournaments in Cincinnati, Montreal and Stanford. However, nothing was as surprising as Belgian Kim Clijsters' astonishing comeback which ended in her second Grand Slam victory at the famous Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. With the triumph, Clijsters became the second mother after Evonne Goolagong (1980) to win a Grand Slam singles title.
WTA's latest Poster Girls -
The year witnessed the arrival of the future of women's tennis in not one but a series of fresh talents. Belarusian Victoria Azarenka captured her first WTA singles title in Brisbane and soon took the tour by storm when she overcame five time champion Serena Williams in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open, the second cornerstone event of the year after Indian Wells which saw the coronation of Russian Vera Zvonareva. Azarenka added to her success by finishing the year as the eighth ranked player, thereby getting the billing to play the yearend championships in Doha. German Sabine Lisicki hit the headlines with her wins over tour champions Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki to capture her first WTA title in Charleston.
Dane Caroline Wozniacki's success continued in 2009 with her triumphs on three different surfaces, however her most significant run came in the form of U.S. final appearance where she lost to a rejuvenated Clijsters. With her brave semifinal run at the season ending championships in Doha, Wozniacki became an emotional favourite around the world, making her the most searched for player on the internet, ahead of players like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. America got her future tennis star in a vivacious Melanie Oudin, who took out three of the most successful Russians, Dementieva, Sharapova and Petrova to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open and became one of the most sought after celebrities in the fraternity. The year also saw a huge number of first time winners in Aravane Rezai, Andrea Petkovic, Samantha Stosur, Timea Bacsinszky, Yanina Wickmayer and Alexandra Dulgheru. Where Romanian Dulgheru became only the fifth player in history to have won a premier level event when ranked outside top 200, Wickmayer continued her first time success in Estoril to a semifinal finish at the year's last Grand Slam in New York. Although, an unfortunate failure to report for Dope testing followed her suspension, which is not yet finalised as a response from WADA is awaited.
A season of successful comebacks -
The year also marked some of the most successful comebacks in the sport when few of the biggest names decided to find solace on court again. Australian Jelena Dokic, who was completely written off by tennis critics, found her resurgence in her miraculous quarterfinal run at the Australian Open. Three time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova also came back from a nine month injury layoff to reach the quarterfinal at Roland Garros, however, title mirth came in October in Tokyo when she won the premier level tournament by defeating Jelena Jankovic in the final. Former Japanese star Kimiko Date Krumm defied the odds and the age to become the oldest Sony Ericsson WTA Singles champion after Billie Jean King, when she won the Seoul title, just a day shy of her 39th Birthday. However, the title of the 'Comeback Queen' unanimously went to Belgian star Kim Clijsters, who took out both Williamses to win the 2009 U.S. Open after a 18 month hiatus from professional tennis. The Belgian became the first woman wild card champion in the history of the sport. Compatriot Justine Henin followed in the footsteps and announced her return to the tour in 2010.
WTA's Ranking system under the microscope -
The entire year was dogged by the controversies surrounding the WTA's ranking system that first became victim to verbal vollies by Men's No.1 Roger Federer, who suggested that a player should not be granted the top spot in ranking without a Grand Slam win in hand, to which the then-Slamless-No.1 Jelena Jankovic responded - "Roger Federer should concentrate on his own career rather than criticising others, Why should he even care? I don't like putting my nose in other's business." The issue saw resurfacing again when Serena Williams raised her concerns about not being motivational enough about the Ranking System, for being ranked No.2 despite holding three out of four Grand Slam titles. Dinara Safina's incumbency invited severe criticism for her not being able to rise to the expectations, especially at the Majors. Although Serena's year-end triumph at the WTA Championships saw her coronation as the No.1 in the world for the second time this year (She briefly held the top spot in October before losing it to Safina again).
Flashes of Controversies -
The 2009 season had it's fair share of controversies, thanks to controversy's favourite child- Serena Williams. The year started with Williams sisters refusal to take part in the mandatory cornerstone event in Indian Wells, for the eighth consecutive year as a result of sisters boycott of the event due to the aftermath of 2001 incidents. Serena invited further controversy because of her on-court arguments with fellow player Maria-Jose Martinez Sanchez during the French Open. At one of the crucial points in the match, Serena's backhand pass struck Martinez-Sanchez's hand which should have given the former a point penalty right away, although the latter's refusal to testify the incident earned her the point and caused Williams to react rather vehemently. As if it was not sufficient for one season, Williams U.S. Open tirade nearly jeopardized her Grand Slam defense in Melbourne. Williams eventually ended up paying a whopping US$ 175,000 fine for her mis-behaviour as a result of the Grand Slam committee's decision. As one sister was making the headlines for the wrong reasons, other was quietly becoming a part of the good ones. Venus Williams triumph at this year's Dubai Championships was highlighted by her open and brave criticism of the authorities for denying Israeli player Shahar Peer the visa to play at the event due to United Arab Emirates' critical diplomatic relations with Israel. Men's defending champion Andy Roddick also came forward and boycotted the event as an attempt of protest. Further, Yanina Wickmayer's suspension by the Belgian Tennis Federation for failing to comply with the 'Whereabouts rule' laid by World Anti Doping Agency put the rising Belgian' star's career on a hold.
Thankfully, there were plenty of achievements that somehow neutralized the effects of the controversies hogging the limelight. With a series of significant wins over top players, Flavia Pennetta became the first Italian to enter the top ten in the WTA Rankings. She later helped her nation to win their second Fed Cup title with a thrashing win over the U.S.A. Two time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo also made a successful attempt to return to the winner's circle by winning her first title in nearly two years at the Open GDF Suez. Although a statement released by the Frenchwoman highlighting her contemplation to 'retire' did disappoint the fans around the world. As Mauresmo started thinking on retirement lines, Japanese stars Ai Sugiyama and Akiko Morigami made a firm decision to hang their racquets after long and rewarding careers. 10 time majors doubles champion Virginia Ruano Pascual joined the long list of retirees that included two more French stars Nathalie Dechy and Emilie Loit deciding to call it quits.
There were some remarkable off-court achievements involving some of Sport's biggest names. WTA founder Billie Jean King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honour by U.S. President Barack Obama and WTA President Stacey Allaster replaced Larry Scott as the new Chairperson and CEO of the tour.
A dream finish to a remarkable year -
The same can be said for both WTA and Serena Williams who enjoyed one of the best season of her career by capping it with the Tour Finale win in Doha, when she beat the defending champion Venus Williams to move away with top honours undefeated and regained her No.1 ranking as a result. The victory also made Serena the all-time leader in single season prize money earnings which saw her winning over a whopping $ 6.0 million and surpassing the previous record set by Justine Henin. Additionally, the American consolidated her status as the richest Sportswoman ( not just tennis player ) of the world.
2010 - The Road Ahead -
The 2010 season promises to be full of excitement and high level of competition. Henin's announcement to return to the circuit, coupled with Clijsters continued success has given new dimensions to the already competitive scenario. The rise of players like Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka may very well give the year 2010 a first time Grand Slam champion, although Serena, fiestier than ever to emulate Billie Jean King's record of 12 Grand Slam titles, is sure to produce some awe-inspiring tennis along her way.
The Most Memorable Matches of the 2009 Season -
Australian Open Final - Serena Williams beat Dinara Safina
French Open Final - Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Dinara Safina
Wimbledon Final - Serena Williams beat Venus Williams
U.S.Open Final - Kim Clijsters beat Caroline Wozniacki
Sony Ericsson Open Final - Victoria Azarenka beat Serena Williams
BNL d'Italia Final - Dinara Safina beat Svetlana Kuznetsova
China Open Final - Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Agnieszka Radwanska
Wimbledon Semifinal - Serena Williams beat Elena Dementieva
U.S. Open Semifinal - Kim Clijsters beat Serena Williams
Sony Ericsson WTA Championships - Serena Williams beat Venus Williams
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