It is time once again for Moo’s annual predictions for the WTA. 2014 is going to be an extremely interesting year and as you will see from my predictions, I think some of the hot prospects on tour are really going to make significant breakthroughs. There have been a whole host of coaching changes, many high profile, which will add to the intrigue when the season kicks off on the 29th of December. From last year’s predictions, I correctly predicted 8 out of the top 10 although none in the correct position. I may also have predicted that Venus Williams and Nadia Petrova would enter the top 10! Moving swiftly on…
Note: You can read my predictions from previous years by clicking on the links below.
Moo’s WTA Predictions from 2013 HERE
Moo’s WTA Predictions from 2012 HERE
Moo’s Predictions for 2014 WTA year-ending rankings
1. Serena Williams
This year, I am going for Serena to end the 2014 season at the top of the tree. Serena has a huge rankings lead of over 5,000 points to second place Azarenka; that gap is more than most players earnt during 2013 and the reason was Serena’s commitment to playing a full year. She played all the big tournaments (bar Indian Wells) and ventures to Bastad and Beijing demonstrated her reinvigoration for the game as she lost just four matches throughout the entire 2013 season. I think 2014 will be another dominant year for Serena and there is no indication that she is going to be stopped in her tracks just yet. I predict at least another two Grand Slams next year, but definitely not the full house.
2. Victoria Azarenka
There are a few question marks surrounding Victoria Azarenka after she endured a miserable end to 2013 with five losses in her last six matches. The entire season was a strange one for Vika; she had notable highlights, which included winning another Australian Open and making a first semi-final at Roland Garros. However her win in Melbourne was littered in controversy after her semi-final antics against Sloane Stephens and despite winning Cincy and making the US Open final, she never looked near her best in the second half of the year following a succession of injuries. Azarenka has proved herself to be the second best competitor on tour and the way she goes about her tennis makes me believe she will quickly rediscover her motivation next year. I predict Vika will add another Grand Slam to her kitty, most likely the US Open and maintain an entertaining head-to-head battle with Serena.
3. Petra Kvitova
Always a mystery, but I never cease to give up on Petra! 2013 was an up-and-down year, mostly down, but it was made to look better than it actually was thanks to an excellent fall season that saw her win Tokyo and make the semis of the Year-Ending-Championships (YEC) in Istanbul. Kvitova had a lot of early losses this year and competed in a remarkable 38 three set matches, of which she managed to win 26, which was pretty impressive. Illnesses were her biggest enemy as they ultimately ended her last two slams. She avoided all the upsets at Wimbledon and if 100% healthy, quite conceivably could have won Wimbledon again. At the end of the year, she looked much fitter having hired a new fitness coach, Marek Vseticek and it certainly saw a positive impact on her results after the US Open. Petra will always be Petra and she is never going to be the most consistent player on tour, but I have a feeling she’s going to do well next year including winning another Grand Slam.
4. Li Na
Li had a super consistent year with the highlights making the final of the Australian Open and the YEC in Istanbul. Had she not fallen twice and rolled her ankle in the Australian Open final then I think she would have beaten Azarenka to the title. Despite many positives which included regularly beating players she was expected to beat, there were some disappointing losses along the way and most of them seemed to come at the hands of Serena. Mentally, she has come a long way, but there are still demons to deal with and plenty for her coach, Carlos Rodriguez to get his teeth stuck into. A willingness to come into the net during the final in Istanbul was a promising development to her game and I believe 2014 will be another excellent year with a couple of Premier titles to add to her accomplishments.
5. Simona Halep
Jumping on the Simona Halep bandwagon? Of course I am. Halep had a remarkable 2013 season that saw her clinch her first WTA title and five more on a variety of surfaces. She enjoyed four top 10 wins and ended the season with back-to-back titles in Moscow and Sofia. The one area that Halep has not yet conquered is the Grand Slams and a 4th round showing at this year’s US Open, where arguably she should have done better, is her career best. However now at a world ranking of number 11, her draws at the Slams are going to be much more workable. Halep has stopped working with her coach, Adrian Marcu, but no-one can take away what she did in 2013 and if she remains aggressive with her approach on court nothing should stop her. We have seen the successes of counter-punchers like Wozniacki and Errani all cracking the top 5 and Halep has shown a great deal of versatility this year to suggest she can do it too. A Grand Slam semi-final, most likely at Roland Garros, beckons…
6. Maria Sharapova
2013 was a mixed one for Maria Sharapova as a shoulder injury derailed her year. The fact she finished at number 5 in the world rankings having not played the US Open and any of the tournaments after including the YEC in Istanbul was a testament to how well she did through the first six months. A title in Indian Wells and final appearances at both Miami and Roland Garros were Maria’s highlights. However from Wimbledon, where she hurt herself in a surreal screaming match with Michelle Larcher de Brit, she would not win another match in 2013 as she was sidelined by right shoulder bursitis. 2014 will be interesting particularly with a new coach on board, Sven Groeneveld. I don’t think we have seen the end of her injury woes yet and I wonder if her serve, which was already the most fragile aspect to her game, will suffer at all. Still, Sharapova can beat most players on her presence and desire alone so I have no doubt she’ll stay in the top 10. I don’t see any Grand Slams though…
7. Caroline Wozniacki
It is not the first time Caroline Woznaicki goes into a brand new season with a brand new coach. In 2012, she started with Ricardo Sanchez, but it didn’t take long for her dad, Piotr to stick his nose in. Things feel different this year though with Thomas Hogstedt, a former coach to Sharapova and Li, now working with Wozniacki. The Dane needs to improve her performances at the Grand Slams where she hasn’t made a quarter-final since the 2012 Australian Open. Wozniacki had a great draw at this year’s US Open, but as she often does in tight matches, reverted back to her defensive mindset in a three set loss to Camila Giorgi. There were more positive signs at the end of 2013 and I think Hogstedt will focus on getting Wozniacki to find the right balance between defence and attack. I can see Wozniacki making a Grand Slam final (I am not sure why!) but I expect improvements all round in 2013.
8. Eugenie Bouchard
Perhaps the biggest surprise in my top 10 is the inclusion of Eugenie Bouchard. The young Canadian had a breakout year in 2013 where she rose from world number 144 to 32 in the rankings and picked up four top 20 wins including a victory over Ana Ivanovic on the hallowed turf of Centre Court at Wimbledon. Bouchard ended 2013 as the highest ranked teenager and what I was most impressed about was how she steadily improved during the year. Bouchard did not even qualify for this year’s Australian Open but ended the year in a prime position to be seeded at next year’s event in Melbourne. Bouchard has a very solid game coupled with a calm about her that portrays she means business. In my opinion, she will make two Grand Slam quarter-finals next year, win her first WTA title and crack the top 10.
9. Agnieszka Radwanska
2013 was another good year for Agnieszka Radwanska, who had her best chance yet to win a first Grand Slam at a crazy Wimbledon. She lost out in a heartbreaker to Sabine Lisicki in the semi-finals and despite posting results through the second half of the year, never seemed to fully recover from the disappointment of that Wimbledon loss. Radwanska knows the limits of her game, but still manages to produce solid performances week in, week out. She even earnt a dedicated video on the WTA website with some of her best shots of the year. However she still struggles to deal with the more powerful players on tour and I think she will fall quite a few places in 2014. I don’t see her progressing past the quarter-finals at any of the Slams next year.
10. Sloane Stephens
The final place in the top 10 was a difficult one, but in the end, I have gone for some fresh blood with Sloane Stephens. 2013 was an absolute rollercoaster of a year for Sloane with some heavy highs and deep lows. She did a great job at all four Grand Slams including a first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open where she did have a straightforward draw and beat an injured Serena. I was most impressed by her performance at the US Open where she gave Serena a real battle in the first set of their fourth round clash. The big worry though was her ending to this year where she flopped twice to Stefanie Voegele in Linz and Luxembourg, two tournaments she had a legitimate opportunity to win her first title. I think Sloane will bounce back and put all the Serena dramas from 2013 well and truly behind her. Now coached by Paul Annacone, a more rounded 2014 can be expected and I expect her to creep into the top 10.
Moving up the rankings:
I think the two biggest risers from the current top 40 will be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Madison Keys. Pavlyuchenkova has been a conundrum for many years now, but I thought there were signs at the end of 2013 that she was becoming a more consistent player. She has proved she is the International queen with a series of decent performances that saw her win titles in Oeiras and Monterrey. However she struggled to make an impact at the big events and that will need to change. I think she will be on the outskirts of the top 10 along with Keys, who I expect to continue to push up the rankings in 2013 and Sam Stosur, who I fancy to do much better next year. Many have labelled Stosur as a disappointment this year but I think that is unfair because the Aussie suffered a number of injuries.
I also predict rankings rises for Andrea Petkovic, Monica Puig, Garbine Muguruza and Camilla Giorgi. Petkovic made an encouraging comeback in 2013 where she managed to crack the top 50 from virtually no ranking at the beginning at the year. The engaging German has suffered a string of unfortunate injuries over the last two years, but enjoyed an healthy second half to the year where there were glimpses of the form that took her into the top 10 as she reached the finals of Nurnberg and Washington. and even managed a win over an admittedly labouring, Victoria Azarenka in Beijing. Next year, I predict that Petko will crack the top 20 again. Puig, another talented up-and-comer whose greatest strength is her tenacity, should push on towards the top 30 although I think her rise will be more modest compared to some of the other teenagers on tour.
Muguruza is another talented teen, who did remarkably well to end the season at number 63 in the rankings having only played a half season. She proved through her 2013 campaign that she is competent on all surfaces with 4th round showings at both Miami and Indian Wells, and a semi-final appearance on the grass at s’Hertogenbosch. She remains a question mark after having surgery on her right ankle at the beginning of July. It will take some time for Muguruza to reach full fitness, but I don’t think we have seen anywhere near her full potential yet and top 30 should be attainable next year. Giorgi ended the season strongly after previously showing promise in making the 4th round of Wimbledon last year as a qualifier. She has an exciting game and I think she will break into the top 50 next year.
Looking further down the rankings, the finalists at this year’s Wimbledon juniors final, Belinda Bencic and Taylor Townsend are my tips to start shining in 2014. Bencic, who has been heavily involved with Melanie Molitor (Martina Hingis’s mother) during her career won the juniors title at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, a tough feat to do. She also showed great promise in her brief ventures onto the WTA tour where she earnt main draw wins at both Tokyo and Osaka. Realistically, I could see Bencic break into the top 100 by the end of next year. Townsend has a wonderfully old school game and loves to come into the net. Her decision to give up with the juniors may not have been the smartest move, but I expect the American to start making a few waves next year.
Moving down the rankings:
Last year, I thought Sara Errani would fall down the rankings but she proved me wrong. Once again, I will be really surprised if she remains in the top 10, particularly after having expressed the difficulty she felt in dealing with the pressure of being one of the top seeds at this year’s US Open. I also think that Jelena Jankovic and Angelique Kerber will depart the top 10, both moving down to around the number 15 mark with Errani. Kerber has recently taken on a new coach, Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, who helped her post the best results of her 2013 campaign after the US Open. I thought she became too defensive during this year and will need to take more chances if she has any hope of holding on to her spot in the top 10.
In my opinion, the biggest fallers from the current top 15 will be Roberta Vinci and Maria Kirilenko. Vinci had a stunning 2013 and came close to breaking the top 10 for the first time in her career. However I cannot see her matching the same consistency next year as she will be defending big points from the Grand Slams where she had a number of favourable draws. My feeling on Kirilenko is more based around injury and she has already seemingly pulled out of the Australian Open. The Russian player was forced to retire from her first match in the season ending Sofia tournament with a left knee injury, which she appears to still be hindered by. I fancy both Vinci and Kirilenko to be floating around the 30’s. I also predict that there will be falls in the rankings for Kirsten Flipkens, Klara Zakopalova, Magdalena Rybarikova, Peng Shuai and Yvonne Meusburger.