Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon crowns his player of the decade in the WTA.
Ten years is a mighty long time anywhere—but it’s especially grueling in tennis.
In a sport where injuries can come at any time, where the schedules get seemingly more relentless and unforgiving every year, and where the players have a very small window to maximize their earning potential to sustain them forever, well in this sport then yes a full decade is a mighty long time.
And yet, for the majority of the decade in women’s tennis time has sort of felt like a flat circle? That kinda, maybe where we are as we enter 2020 is in many ways still highly similar to where we were 10 years ago?
In any case, we thought we would take a bit of time this week to, in this space that prides itself on looking back on the week that was in the world of tennis (it says so right here in the subhead), look back on the decade that was in women’s tennis.
Much like we did a week ago in crowning the men’s and women’s player of the year, let’s do the same for the decade we’re leaving behind. We’re starting this week with some of the biggest names of the WTA over the previous 10 years, and we’ll look at men’s tennis next week.
5. Maria Sharapova
I can see your eyes rolling from here, dear reader, but I assure you that Maria Sharapova’s spot among the best of the decade is well deserved. Before her career was more or less railroaded by a, let’s be frank here, flimsy case of doping, the Russian became the 10th player in history to complete the career Grand Slam and finished in the top 4 of the rankings for five seasons.
4. Li Na
Remember Li Na? Though she retired from the sport in 2014 and actually has already been inducted in the Hall of Fame, her impact and imprint was swift and long-lasting. After all, the Chinese did grab a first major title in France in 2011 and added a second in 2014 to go along with two runner-up finishes. She also rose to No. 2 in the world and, in the process, inspired countless and countless of folks from China whose game was still nascent.
3. Caroline Wozniacki
Was there a more underappreciated player this decade than Caroline Wozniacki? We’ll go ahead and say no. Wozniacki finished as the year-end No. 1 in 2010 and 2011, won the 2017 WTA Finals, grabbed at least one title every year from 2010 to 2018 and finished in the top 10 seven times in nine years—and yet, all anyone ever wanted to talk about with the native of Denmark was how she never won a Grand Slam? Well, Wozniacki also got that monkey off her back in 2018, even regaining the top rank in the world after the Australian Open. It all adds up to a hell of a career, really.
2. Simona Halep
Simona Halep’s final and complete career retrospective is yet to be written, but what we’ve witnessed over the latter half of this past decade is already historic: three years among the top 5 players on tour to go along with her year-end No. 1 nods in 2017 and 2018, and Halep also grabbed Grand Slam titles in Roland-Garros and Wimbledon and made another three major finals. The Romanian has been a central force on the WTA and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do in 2020 and beyond.
1. Serena Williams
Could it really be anyone else? Much like she has been since her very first breakthrough, Serena Williams has been the single most dominant force in women’s tennis and you could say that this past decade has been her master work. It’s easy to forget now, but Williams stood at “only” 11 Grand Slam singles titles, 10 Grand Slam doubles titles, two WTA Finals titles and two Olympics gold medals (in doubles) at the start of the 2010 season. The youngest of the two Williams sisters was so dominant over the next 10 years that her tallies would reach, respectively, 23, 14, 5 and 4 (three golds in doubles, one in singles) in these categories.
Perhaps most impressive of all is that Williams’s success came all the while she experienced some pretty major personal events like the birth of a child in 2017 and an emergency surgery to remove a pulmonary embolism, both of which kept her away from the courts for valuable time.
But still she kept fighting on—and, for the most part, winning.
The Serena Williams decade in numbers:
Australian Open: 41 wins / 5 losses
Roland Garros: 30 wins / 5 losses
Wimbledon: 48 wins / 5 losses
US Open: 49 wins / 5 losses
WTA Finals: 14 wins / 1 loss
Overall: 377 wins / 45 losses
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG