Moo’s Tennis Blog is bursting back into life with the annual post of WTA predictions. This is the sixth year of top ten predictions and you can read how my previous attempts went HERE – 2015 was a hilarious mess! This was another tough one (a lot of swapping around players!) and there are a couple of players that I wanted to squeeze in that missed the cut. Read on for my top ten for the 2017 season-end rankings, as well the best of the rest…
10. Elina Svitolina
Elina Svitolina has improved her season-end ranking every year since starting out in 2010 and I have the Ukrainian player sneaking into the top ten for the first time in 2017. I’ll be honest in that i’ve never really been impressed by Svitolina – she’s always been a solid and consistent player without any real sparkle on court that sets her apart from her rest. However, I thought she was superb in Asia where she was definitely trying to be more aggressive and take a few more risks, as well showcasing a pretty nifty net game.
Svitolina has also proven to be very resilient; she overturned a pair of tough losses to Angelique Kerber and Daria Gavrilova in 2016 with victories post-US Open, and came from a set down to win matches on ten occasions in 2016. It was a surprise that Svitolina parted ways with her long-term coach of two and a half years, Iain Hughes, but she has now announced her new coaching situation for 2017. Svitolina has shown a willingness to adapt her game to take it to the next level and I predict that Svitolina will have her best year to date with a couple of Slam quarter-finals and a first Premier title.
9. Karolina Pliskova
Dropping a few places but staying in my top ten is Karolina Pliskova. The Czech player reached the final of the US Open in 2016, which was a huge result having never previously advanced past the third round of a Slam. After defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round, the floodgates opened as Pliskova beat both Williams sisters en route to the final where she was just two games away from winning her first Slam. Pliskova will pair up with David Kotyza in 2017 which was a surprising move having shared several successful seasons with Jiri Vanek.
Pliskova’s scheduling was much smarter this year, in contrast to a hectic 2015, as she opted to skip tournaments to prepare for the big ones. I’m really intrigued to see if her run to the US Open final will help change her fortune at the Slams going forward. I’m inclined to say that it will with a couple of deep runs at multiple Slams in 2017. A Slam title wouldn’t be a surprise…
8. Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova has been an ever-present in my top ten lists although this is one of my lower ranks for Petra! For a time it looked like Kvitova might go through 2016 without a title… that was until Wuhan when she burst into life with a series of knockout displays. It was heartwarming to see that Peak Petra was still a thing and she ended the year with another title in Zhuhai.
Kvitova had the perfect end to the 2016 season and is all sorted for the new year with a new coach in Jiri Vanek. However, a stress fracture in her foot has hampered the off-season preparations and I think she will struggle to compete in Australia. Still, I think Kvitova will have an improved year overall by building on the positive end to 2016 and make at least one deep run at a Slam. We’re assured at least one Peak Petra run right?
7. Belinda Bencic
New player alert… while Bencic has been a top ten player before, the Swiss player is currently languishing at number 43 in the rankings following an injury-plagued year. Bencic’s rise up the rankings had, up until 2016, been especially rapid as she made a seamless transition onto the WTA tour. The past year has seen her progress halted by back and wrist injuries, and with few opportunities to build momentum.
Bencic’s talent is undeniable, but the one thing that has always stood out is her love of the game, the way she competes and her mentality on court. This is perhaps my boldest pick because it will depend on Bencic’s fitness and avoiding injuries but I believe the Swiss player will have a Cibulkova-like comeback year and reach her first Slam final.
6. Johanna Konta
Aside from Angelique Kerber, there weren’t many other players who impressed me more in 2016 than Johanna Konta. The Brit built on her breakthrough 2015 season by rising a further 37 places in the rankings. An effective serve and solid groundstrokes off both wings, coupled with an assuredness and rising belief in her game propelled Konta into the top ten.
The impact of parting ways with coach, Esteban Carril and the tragic death of her mental coach, Juan Coto, are yet to be seen but my instinct is that Konta, much like Kerber when she suddenly mounted an assault on the rankings, is only going to keep improving. While Konta very much emphasises that her goals are not focused on results, I think that qualifying for the WTA Finals in Singapore outright will surely be in the back of her mind… and I think she’ll do it.
5. Agnieszka Radwanska
There are no signs that Agnieszka Radwanska, a stalwart in the world’s top ten, is about to hang up her top ten boots just yet. Radwanska enjoyed another excellent year in 2016 and showcased some encouraging signs in her scheduling by skipping some events and preparing for the Slams. It didn’t quite go to plan for Wimbledon, the big one for Radwanska, although she was just one point away from the quarter-finals as eventually lost out to Dominika Cibulkova in what was my match of the year.
Once again, the question will be whether Radwanska can win a Slam? I’m more hopeful than I have been in the past, but I still believe that things will have to fall in place, such as not getting bogged down in long matches early on in the tournament, for Radwanska to have that opportunity again.
4. Simona Halep
With the nature of Halep’s classy counter-punching game, movement and ability to retrieve the most unimaginable of balls, I have no doubt that that Romanian player will end up somewhere in the world’s top 10 come the end of 2017. Halep won her second Premier Mandatory title in Madrid in 2016 and rediscovered her clay court form of 2014; slam-wise, I think Halep’s best shot is obviously Roland Garros and she’s one of a handful of names that i’d circle for Paris. A concern for Halep is that she can struggle to turn around deficits in matches when things aren’t going to plan. Halep though is in safe hands with Darren Cahill confirmed as her coach for another year and I think she will have an excellent 2017 season.
3. Madison Keys
I’m on the Madison bandwagon for 2016 as she cracks the top five in my predictions. There were few times when I watched Keys in 2016 and felt like she was playing consistently well; however, she often found a way to win which was encouraging in itself and, in my opinion, demonstrated champion-like qualities. The key for Keys (haha) has always been harnessing power and finding the balance. Backing off will take away what makes her special so there’s a fine line.
Keys struggled in 2016 against the counter-punchers; the American went 0-8 against the trio of Kerber, Halep and Wozniacki. I like how Keys has progressed on tour and learnt year-on-year, and i’d fancy the American to get that big win over one of the more defensively-minded players mentioned above. I also think that Keys will be knocking on the door of winning her first Slam at Wimbledon.
2. Serena Williams
Serena is still the biggest threat at the Slams which is why she’s at number two in my rankings for 2017. However, Serena’s commitment to play the tour has waned in recent years and it does weaken her chances to finish the year at the top – notably, missing the post-US Open section of the year was pivotal this year with so many points up for grabs.
I’d still fancy another good year for Serena with at least one more Slam because when she’s on, there is no doubt that she is the best player in the world. It will be fascinating to see how she schedules her 2017 season, which is set to begin in Auckland for the first time in her career. A lot of uncertainty remains because we haven’t seen Serena play since September…
1. Angelique Kerber
I’m still reeling at not having Kerber in my top ten for 2016, let alone number one, but it’s full circle in 2017 as she’s my pick to end another year at number one. One of the most impressive aspects of Kerber’s 2016 season was her ability to bounce back from success. There have been many cases of players winning their first Slam and then taking time to adjust to the new situation but Kerber had the minutest of dips after winning the Australian Open.
There are a shedload of points for Kerber to defend in 2017 but there are sections of the calendars where she can catch up, notably the clay court season; despite clay being Kerber’s weakest surface and providing somewhat of a mental block in the past few years, she is a former quarter-finalist at Roland Garros and still capable of playing well on the red stuff. I’d fancy Kerber to win at least one more Slam in 2017 at the US Open.
Best of the rest
Dominika Cibulkova: 2016 was a season of two halves for Cibulkova as she dropped to her lowest ranking since 2007 after losing in the first round of the Australian Open, but ended the year at a career best number five with her biggest title at the WTA Finals in Singapore. I think Cibulkova will start the year strong and reach the latter stages of the Australian Open… right now, she’s one of my dark horses for Melbourne.
Prediction: Top 12
Daria Kasatkina: One of my highlights from 2016 was watching Daria Kasatkina flourish on tour. I considered her cracking the top ten in 2017, but I think she’s still a year or two away. The rest of the tour know her game now so this could be a tough year although I still see Kasatkina rising to a new career high. I’d like to see Kasatkina not rely as much on her coach and back herself in the big moments. A future Roland Garros champion in years to come but I think Kasatkina will win her first WTA title in 2017.
Prediction: Top 12
Garbiñe Muguruza: I was high on Muguruza in 2016, but i’m not feeling so joyful for 2017. In my opinion, her coaching set-up with Sam Sumyk is not a harmonious one. While he may have been around for her first Slam triumph at Roland Garros, I believe he contributed to her mentality and tactics becoming muddled towards the end of 2016.
Prediction: Top 15
Naomi Osaka: Dynamite game and personality, Osaka is one player I am immensely excited about. I think the Japanese player will keep improving in 2017 and cement her place as a seed at the Slams. She will benefit from an improving ranking by not having to qualify for most events. I’m also fascinated to see Osaka play on grass…
Prediction: Top 20
Ana Konjuh: Perhaps still slightly under the radar (definitely not with me!) but Konjuh had an excellent 2016 with a first Slam quarter-final appearance at the US Open. She lost out to Agnieszka Radwanska in an absolute heartbreaker at Wimbledon where she missed two match points before injuring her ankle; showing bundles of character, Konjuh beat Radwanska just three months later at the US Open. With the nature of her game, i’m still expecting some wild results here and there, but I think Konjuh will start to make more of a name for herself on a consistent basis in 2017. One to watch on grass…
Prediction: Top 20
Katerina Siniakova: I like Siniakova’s game and I think she has top 30 potential if she can rein in her emotions and become more mentally assured in the critical moments. The Czech player reached two finals in 2016, but I think she’ll grab at least one title in 2017 and reach the second week of a Slam.
Prediction: Top 30
CiCi Bellis: The American, currently ranked at number 75, went professional towards the end of 2016 and ended the season with a trio of ITF titles as she built a 15-match winning streak. I’d expect that we will see more of Bellis during the Spring once she turns 18 in April as she won’t have as many restrictions on playing WTA tournaments. I think that Bellis will be one of the biggest risers on the tour in 2017.
Prediction: Top 40
Denisa Allertova: I’ve always been a fan of Allertova’s game and she had some noteworthy wins in 2016 over the likes of Kerber, Svitolina, Ivanovic and Kasatkina. Injuries were a hindrance during the first half of the year but if she can get luckier on that front, I believe that she’s a top 50 player… minimum.
Prediction: Top 50
And finally, some up-and-coming players who i’ll be tracking over the next year and beyond are Francoise Abanda, Antonia Lottner, Kayla Day, Rebeka Masarova and Anastasia Potapova. Watch out for at least one or two of these players to make a splash and push on towards the top 100.