The 2021 tennis season is officially in the books. As has become the norm in recent years, I pretty much checked out from tennis after the US Open 😂. I just got my ballot for the end-of-season awards so i’m kicking off the best of 2021 series on Moo’s Tennis Blog with the WTA Player Awards.
WTA Player of the Year
Nominees: Ash Barty, Barbora Krejcikova, Garbiñe Muguruza, Naomi Osaka, Emma Raducanu, Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek
Player of the year was a straight shoot-out between Barty and Krejcikova. None of the other nominees were contenders in my opinion. My vote went to Barty who led from the front and defended her number one position valiantly, even more impressive considering she came in cold to 2021 having not played since February 2020. Barty posted a 7-1 W-L record against top ten players and won a tour-leading five titles across all the surfaces. Her 2021 accomplishments were topped off nicely with her second Slam title at Wimbledon, the one she didn’t shy away from saying she wanted the most.
My vote: Ash Barty
WTA Doubles Team of the Year
Nominees: Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk, Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Demi Schuurs, and Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai
I went for Krejcikova and Siniakova who won the French, their first Slam together since Wimbledon 2018. It was an even more impressive feat considering Krejcikova went all the way in singles too. Away from the Slams, Krejcikova and Siniakova won the two biggest accolades up the grabs by winning gold in Tokyo and capping of a fine season with a dominant run at the WTA Finals. In a sea of new teams, new faces, the Czech pair’s longevity continues to shine.
My vote: Krejcikova and Siniakova
WTA Most Improved Player of the Year
Nominees: Paula Badosa, Leylah Fernandez, Ons Jabeur, Anett Kontaveit, Barbora Krejcikova, Jessica Pegula and Maria Sakkari
This is so hard. I could make a case for six of the nominees to be worthy winners. The only one I would discount is Fernandez. In my opinion, this award is for marked improvement over the course of the entire season. I don’t think there are enough data points for Fernandez after her barnstorming run to the US Open final.
Kontaveit’s end-of-season form was Garcia-esque from 2017. Not my pick as the improvement was confined to the last few months and it all happened after the Slams. Jabeur and Sakkari have been steadily improving for multiple seasons now. I think Jabeur was more suited to the most improved tag last year. Sakkari has definitely improved, notably that serve which has become a huge weapon. Still in the back of my head is that both Jabeur and Sakkari had matches towards the latter stages of some big tournaments where they were not able to execute their best tennis and ultimately didn’t have that crowning moment to top off what were still stunning seasons.
My top three is Pegula, Badosa and Krejcikova. I want to vote for Pegula because I think she epitomises the most improved category. She had such a great year, from start to finish, and proved that her Oz Open quarter-final run in February was no flash in the plan. Pegula demonstrated her all-court game and no real glaring weaknesses which paved the way for a series of stunning scalps – Pliskova X3, Svitolina X2, Osaka, Azarenka, Pavs, Jabeur. The list goes on.
Badosa is my runner-up. I think the most jarring aspect of Badosa’s rise to relevance is that I just didn’t see this coming. She was not on my radar at all. Badosa’s season peaked with two titles including that fabulous fall run at Indian Wells. Badosa also showed her versatility with two trips to the second week of Slams at the French and Wimbledon, and recorded six top ten wins. Badosa has proven to be one of the most mentally tough players on the tour.
But it has to be Krejcikova. Like Badosa but times 10, her improvement came out of the blue. And to win a Slam in singles? Still kind of unfathomable. To build on the Roland Garros win was arguably just as impressive as the feat itself. Post-Roland Garros, Krejcikova reached the second week of both Wimbledon and the US Open, won another title in Prague and ended the season at number three, a jump of 62 places in the rankings. Sure, Krejcikova ended her singles campaign on a six match losing streak but I think that is easily discounted when you view the season as a whole because she was clearly running on fumes, both physically and mentally, as the sheer number of matches that she played finally caught up with her. A remarkable year.
My vote: Barbora Krejcikova
WTA Newcomer of the Year
Nominees: Ann Li, Camila Osorio, Emma Raducanu, Liudimila Samsonova, Mayar Sherif and Clara Tauson
This was an easy one. I’m not sure it will ever sink in what Raducanu achieved at the US Open and even Wimbledon too which feels such a long time ago. Moment of the year.
My vote: Emma Raducanu
WTA Comeback of the Year
Nominees: Ana Konjuh, Sania Mirza, Carla Suárez Navarro and Elena Vesnina
A shout-out to Konjuh who went from 476 to inside the world’s top 100 from what looked like a career-ending injury. A real feel-good story. But it’s another easy one for me as this is Carla’s award. Suárez Navarro’s send-off at Wimbledon was one of my favourite memories of the 2021 season.
My vote: Carla Suárez Navarro