2011 was an odd year for the WTA. Four different Slam winners, 7 different GS finalists and a number 1 in the ranking who failed to win any of the big tournaments again.
Here's the 1-10 ended up in December:
1 - Caroline Wozniacki
2 - Petra Kvitova
3 - Victoria Azarenka
4 - Maria Sharapova
5 - Li Na
6 - Sam Stosur
7 - Vera Zvonareva
8 - Aga Radwanska
9 - Marion Bartoli
10 - Andrea Petkovic
Missing from the list are 2 names that could well have dominated the year had they been fit. Coming in at 12 and 13 - Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters.
In a year largely without these two the season was very much everyone else's for the taking. And the natural successor should have been Sharapova, but she fell extraordinarily flat at a number of the big tournaments of the year, and has announced her withdrawal from the start of the season with a recurrence of the ankle injury that plagued her in the Asian tournaments at the end of 2011.
2012 will probably see a shift in the rankings. If Williams and Clijsters are both fit then they should climb the rankings to a top five finish. 2012 is an Olympic year and either or both may want a strong finish and an Olympic medal to add to their considerable achievements. With both of them approaching/over 30, their injury woes may continue to dominate their seasons, and like Venus may end up on the sidelines for most of the season. It will be sad if this happens, but could well be likely. Clijsters, particularly is a breath of fresh air to the women's game and in previous seasons when the Williams have dominated has been able to carry through a suitable degree of threat to the twosome. She won in Melbourne at the beginning of 2011 and could have been the big player through the first half of the season if she hadn't been injured.
The Year End Cup in Istanbul perhaps heralds the future of the women's game. Both Petra Kvitova (a champion at Wimbledon last summer) and Victoria Azarenka competed the final, with Kvitova eventually winning in 2. Both of these players have shown dominant streaks throughout the previous year and could well be the pair to watch in 2012. Kvitova, in particular is where the smart money lies for holding the top spot by the end of the year.
As great as it was for Li Na and Sam Stosur to win grand slams, both will struggle to repeat the feat in 2012. Stosur, particularly would be a popular second-time winner, but the sense of immense underachievement that surrounds her does make the 2011 US Open victory seem something of an anomaly in a career plagued with mediocrity. All the press conferences and news slots where she talks about her new found confidence and greater handling of pressure probably won't see her through the third round of many of the majors. If she hadn't won the US last year her placing in the rankings would probably have been at around 15, well on the slide and back jostling with Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova for the double figure seedings in the tournaments occupied by players that never quite made as much of an impact that they should have.
Li Na too will probably struggle to repeat 2011, but if she could recapture some of the drive that took her to the Australian final and the French championship then she may end up with some good results. But the amount of first round exits that followed her Roland Garros championships and the weight of expectation from a nation of 1.4 billion may be too much for her to cope with.
Zvonareva and Bartoli will probably also drop in the standings - they've very much had their chances and may not improve on current rankings.
Aside from Kvitova and Azarenka the bright young things that could well dominate the rankings in the coming year are Radwanska, Petkovic and (current ranking 15) Sabine Lisicki, with (21) Julia Georges and (28) Maria Kirilenko not too far behind. And as much as I would like to say that Wozniacki will not be a top ten player by the end of the year I do think that she will manage to hold on to a lot of the points that she currently has, even though 2012 will not reward her with any grand slam finals, and London probably won't be cracking out the score sheet for the Danish national anthem at the Olympic Games.
So picking some winners, I'm playing it safe - lets have the majors shared: Australia: Clijsters, Roland Garros: Kvitova, Wimbledon: Kvitova, US Open: Clijsters, and a year end for Kvitova. and a top ten that may very well look like this:
1 - Kvitova
2 - Azarenka
3 - Wozniacki
4 - Clijsters
5 - Petkovic
6 - Radwanska
7 - Sharapova
8 - Serena Williams
9 - Lisicki
10 - Stosur
And some retirees from the game - possibly Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Penetta, Nadia Petrova, Greta Arn (it's about time) and more than likely Venus Williams if the injury woes continue. I do think that the women's tour feel feeble retiring at 30 when Kimiko Date-Krumm is still playing at 40.
image of serena holding the rogers cup trophy after defeating sam stosur in august (c) reuters/mark blinch from: http://sports.nationalpost.com/2011/12/30/2011-in-sport-the-best-tennis-photos-of-the-year/
petra kvitova from wta website: http://www.wtatennis.com/gallery/20111030/istanbul-gallery-quiet-before-the-storm_2256674_2499223?imageNo=3#picture (c) getty