It’s finally Christmas and I have two solid weeks off work… absolute bliss! Slightly later than planned, here’s part two of my WTA predictions. As always, comments are much appreciated. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on what’s going to happen in 2016 over on my WTA top ten predictions for 2016 post. Here’s the best of the rest of my 2016 predictions…
After a miserable, injury-plagued 2014 season that saw her drop out of the world’s top 30 for the first time since 2007, much was expected of Victoria Azarenka in 2015. It began with renewed vigour as Azarenka reached the last 16 of the Australian Open and had a rousing run to the final at the Premier event in Doha. The Belarusian reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and the US Open but once again, it petered out with niggly injuries as her season ended prematurely in Wuhan. Azarenka’s quality still managed to shine through although it was more patchy than sustained; Azarenka didn’t lose to a player ranked outside the world’s top 30 and between Indian Wells and Wimbledon, five of her six losses came at the hands of Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova.
Azarenka’s scheduling in 2015 resembled that of her Grand Slam winning days. She didn’t play any International tournaments (although she was stated to play Washington later in the year before pulling out with injury). Personally, I would have liked to see Azarenka dip back into the International events (health depending) because it seemed for much of the year that she needed more matches. Azarenka has always been one of the best match players but that wasn’t always the case in 2015 as she posted a 5-6 W-L record in three set matches.
Azarenka, fully fit and fully recharged, is a safe bet to crack the top ten. However, my concerns are with her health. Towards the end of the 2015 season, injuries once again dominated as she was forced to retire from two of her last three tournaments. I’m really hoping that the injuries will subside because Azarenka, at her best, is a huge asset to the WTA tour.
Prediction: Top 12
It’s hard to pick out a player on the WTA tour who has warranted more respect for their achievements in 2015 than Venus Williams. Battling Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, Venus rolled back the years to crack the world’s top ten for the first time since 2010. Venus ended the season with a title in Zhuhai, beating Karolina Pliskova in the final with a fabulous passing winner and one of the most emphatic celebrations of the entire year. As well as winning Zhuhai, Venus also won titles in Auckland and Wuhan. The year may have been even better if it hadn’t been for Serena; she came up second best in titanic Slam matches against her sister at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Venus continues to dismiss retirement speculation; 2016 will be an intriguing year though for many players, including Venus, with the Rio Olympics one of the main goals of the year. One aspect of Venus’s game that has helped her enjoy recent success is the serve. A back injury thwarted her for much of the 2013 season but the serve has been firing again. I’ll be surprised if Venus can maintain her top ten position in 2016 because her health still remains unpredictable and uncertain. Venus though, with bucket loads of fighting spirit, should be there or thereabouts and remain a contender at the Slams.
Prediction: Top 15
Since joining the WTA tour in 2010, Elina Svitolina has improved her season-end ranking every year. In 2015, Svitolina cracked the top 20 for the first time in her career, reaching a career high of number 15 and finishing the year at 19. Svitolina broke new ground at a Grand Slam, reaching the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. A series of solid displays saw her reach the semi-finals in Brisbane, Stanford and Cincinnati, and secure a third WTA title in Marrakech. The next step up is going to be the hardest one for Svitolina. While her consistent game, solid off both wings and decent skills at the net, have seen her become a solid top 20 player, Svitolina does have a tendency to become passive in her play. In reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final, Svitolina eeked over the finish line in a nervy win over Alizé Cornet. While I expect Svitolina to continue to rise up the rankings, I think the next rise will be somewhat stunted unless she can be bolder and take more risks on court.
Prediction: Top 15
A prime example of where doubles prowess has helped a player in singles is Kristina Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman has won 12 WTA doubles titles with nine different partners, and has also scooped two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles with Daniel Nestor. For the first time in her career, Mladenovic began to make a concerted move in the singles rankings in 2015. Rising over 50 places to finish the season inside the top 30, Mladenovic had a superb 2015; the highlight was reaching a first Grand Slam quarter-final at the US Open. Her path saw her take out two Russian seeds, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ekaterina Makarova. While her route wasn’t the most testing, Mladenovic beat players she was expected to beat, which was a glowing demonstration of her recent improvements.
Mladenovic has all the tools to succeed in singles; a decent serve, hefty groundstrokes and touch at the net. While she has impressed with wins over Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza, her inconsistency and decision making on court are still sometimes off the mark. It will be interesting to see if a busy schedule in the IPTL will have a negative impact on her in 2016. I fancy Mladenovic to have a rewarding year in singles, cracking the top 20.
Prediction: Top 20
One of the most exciting talents on the WTA tour, Madison Keys, saved her best tennis for when it really mattered in 2015. Keys reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open and also reached the second week at Wimbledon and the US Open. Aside from a final showing in Charleston, Keys struggled for consistency on the WTA tour and recorded back-to-back wins at just 7 of her 19 tournaments. The breaking news in the off-season has seen Keys end her partnership with Lindsay Davenport and install Jesse Levine as her new coach. While there is no doubt that Davenport had a positive influence on Keys’s game, it would seem that working with someone full-time was crucial for Keys.
The American player has some of the hardest hit strokes of anyone on the WTA tour but it’s about finding the balance between going for a smoking winner and keeping the ball away from the back fence. I’d fancy Keys to win a Grand Slam during her career as she is the type of player that can get on a roll and win a tournament; however, i’m still concerned about her consistency from week-to-week which is why I don’t see her rising a great deal in the rankings through 2016.
Prediction: Top 20
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
A contender for the WTA award of ‘Most Improved Player’ in 2015, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, will be one to watch on the WTA tour next year. Schmiedlova had a quietly superb year, winning two WTA titles in Katowice and Bucharest and reaching the quarter-finals of the Premier events in Cincinnati and Wuhan. Schmiedlova’s solid game, spearheaded by a brilliant backhand, looks most suited to clay although she did have some success on hard court towards the end of 2015. In a wide open section of the draw at Roland Garros this year, Schmiedlova suffered a gutting first round loss to eventual quarter-finalist, Alison Van Uytvanck, having had 11 set points in the second set. Schmiedlova has yet to reach the second week of a Grand Slam and that surely will be one of the main goals of 2016 to translate her impressive results at the Internationals to the bigger events.
Prediction: Top 20
2015 was a stop-start year for Dominika Cibulkova with surgery on her achilles ruling her out of action for over four months of the season. It had started well with Cibulkova attempting to defend finalist points at the Australian Open and doing exceedingly well to reach the quarter-finals, losing to the eventual champion, Serena Williams. From being ranked on the outskirts of the top ten, Cibulkova tumbled during her spell on the sidelines and spent the rest of the year playing catch-up. After a promising start in Eastbourne where she beat the French Open runner-up, Lucie Safarova, Cibulkova found it tough going during the summer, winning just one of her next six matches.
Cibulkova began to turn it around towards the end of the year and secured confidence boosting wins over Ana Ivanovic in New York and Tokyo. Photos from Cibulkova’s Facebook page look promising for the new season with the Slovak player going all in with her off-season. While she is likely to miss out on a seeding at the Australian Open, her battling qualities will no doubt earn her a seeding at the French Open as she continues her rise back up the rankings tree to where she belongs.
Prediction: Top 20
2015 was a rocky year for Mona Barthel as she battled a series of health and injury complaints; an ankle injury in the off-season last year wasn’t favourable for her preparations but she kind of salvaged the year, ending it with a final appearance in Luxembourg and finishing in the world’s top 45. Barthel has shown glimpses of real quality with her clean and fluid ballstriking, but her mental application and nerves in the crucial moments of matches have held her back. There were more promising signs during the second half of 2015 and that is something that Mona spoke about in an interview she did with Moo’s Tennis Blog HERE.
While a recent update from Mona on Facebook where she revealed that she had to pull out of the German Championships with a gastrointestinal illness was concerning, the German player should be in a better position to start 2016. Barthel debuted a new abbreviated serve in Luxembourg which, while slightly unorthodox, worked a treat. If she can build on some of her performances during the second half of the year and also, develop a deeper mental toughness on the court then she should come close to matching her current career best ranking of 23.
Prediction: Top 30
Czech tennis is thriving right now with seven Czech players in the top 100; the least well known of them is Denisa Allertova who finished 2015 in the world’s top 100 for the first time in her career. Allertova first made her breakthrough on tour in 2014 when she reached the semi-finals of Luxembourg as a qualifier. As the opportunity to play more WTA main draws presented itself, Allertova enjoyed two WTA quarter-final appearances in Prague and Linz, and most noteworthy of all, a first WTA final in Guangzhou where she defeated Simona Halep and Sara Errani in straight sets. Allertova’s game reminds of Kvitova; consistency is an issue but when she gets it right, it is pretty special. In one particular match in Linz against Barbora Strycova, she showed a calmness about her in tight moments that could take her very far. I’d fancy Allertova to rise much further in 2015 and with the nature of her game, have at least one super out-of-the-blue result where everything clicks into place.
Prediction: Top 35
During the final WTA tournament of 2015 in Zhuhai, Roberta Vinci revealed that 2016 would be her final season on tour. It didn’t come as a great surprise after Vinci enjoyed her career best result at the US Open, defeating Serena Williams en route to reaching her first ever Grand Slam final in singles. The first half of Vinci’s 2015 season was spectacularly unspectacular; she won back-to-back matches at just three tournaments and lost in the first round of the French Open and Wimbledon amidst a five match losing streak. However, Vinci turned her year around during the summer hard court season, reaching the quarter-finals of Istanbul and Toronto, winning four matches in New Haven and then nearly going all the way in New York. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Vinci finally crack the top ten at the start of 2016 with so few points to defend; however, come the end of the season with US Open final points to defend, it would be a historic effort from Vinci to finish the year close to her current ranking with her intentions to leave tennis.
Prediction: Top 50
I first watched Louisa Chirico at Roland Garros earlier this year (see picture above) when she took on Ekaterina Makarova. Although she lost in straight sets, 6-4 6-2, Chirico showed plenty of promise as she had her Russian opponent on the ropes at the end of the first set. Chirico reached four finals in 2015 including her biggest in Limoges, a WTA $125K event. Chirico’s best wins of the year came in Washington where she defeated Heather Watson and Alizé Cornet to reach the quarter-finals. Chirico has a powerful game, centered around a big serve and a backhand that can produce some wonderful angles. The 19-year-old still has a long way to go but will be one to watch in 2016 and should comfortably break into the world’s top 100.
Prediction: Top 60
Kateryna Kozlova’s name popped up for the right reasons during the first half of 2015 when she qualified for the main draw of four WTA tournaments in Hobart, Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami. However, her name popped up for the wrong reasons shortly after when it was revealed that she failed a drugs test in February. Upon her return to the tour, Kozlova successfully qualified for five main draws at WTA events and ended the year with seven victories in her last two tournaments in Poitiers and Limoges, securing three top 100 wins. Watch out for Kozlova to continue to rise the rankings with no points to defend between March and August.
Prediction: Top 75