Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon tries to predict the 2021 year-end WTA rankings.
Here we were, a year ago, writing in this very space that we had just concluded a year of transition.
We really did, we wrote that the 2019 season in women’s tennis was one of transition and that it signalled the dawn of a new era. Granted, the idea behind it wasn’t entirely false: by the end of last season, half of the top 10 players were 25 years or younger, and more than half of them from the Top 15 and the Top 20 were that age as well.
In that same column, we made predictions for what the 2020 year-end WTA top 10 might look like and, well, it’s not entirely disastrous? Despite a pandemic that halted our entire planet on its tracks, we managed to correctly predict that Ashleigh Barty would be ranked No. 1 at this time and that Aryna Sabalenka would be ranked No. 10. Overall, we nailed seven of the names on the list, if not quite their exact place in the ranking.
Could we do better this year? Probably not, but we’re always up for trying.
Projected year-end WTA rankings for 2021
1) Simona Halep: Will 2021 finally be the year that Simona Halep eschews every single inexplicable and random loss on her resume? Who cares, so long as she keeps racking up the wins and titles like she did this past season with a stunning 23-3 record, three titles to her name and almost $2 million in prize money.
2) Naomi Osaka: After the kind of 2019 season she had, it was normal to expect great things from Naomi Osaka. Yet as the 2020 season moved along, it felt like the Japanese had been…disappointing? Maybe that’s too harsh of a word, but Osaka had certainly not fared as well in 2020. Then tennis took a five-month hiatus and came back in time for Osaka to grab another Grand Slam title at the US Open. That she did so while raising awareness to those most oppressed in our modern society shows what a great ambassador and even better person the 23-year-old is.
3) Ashleigh Barty: Ashleigh Barty ends the 2020 season at No. 1 despite having played her last singles match in February at the Qatar Total Open, where she lost in the semifinal against Petra Kvitova. Tennis revamped its ranking system due to the pandemic and the Australian took full advantage of it. All the more power to her.
4) Bianca Andreescu: It seems so long ago now that Bianca Andreescu changed Canadian tennis history but she did, she really did and we watched it live on our television. We’ll never be objective with the young Canadian; it’s way more fun that way anyway.
5) Petra Kvitova: It’s filled our heart with pure and complete joy to see Kvitova come back to tennis after the traumatic experience she lived through about four years ago. To watch her thrive once again, well, that’s essentially priceless.
And now our 6-10 picks
6) Sofia Kenin: Before COVID-19 halted the 2020 tennis season, Sofia Kenin was the sport’s clear breakout star, navigating expertly what could have been a tricky main draw to stunningly grab the Australian Open title. That she almost did it again about eight months later, on a different surface at Roland-Garros no less, shows that the American has what it takes to stay at or near the top.
7) Karolina Pliskova: A little like a metronome, there stands Karolina Pliskova among the 10 best players on the WTA and making semi-deep runs at just about every single event she enters. We’ll miss her consistency and reliability when she’s gone.
8) Victoria Azarenka: What Victoria Azarenka accomplished after tennis came back last August in winning the Western & Southern Open and making the finals of the US Open and J&T Banka Ostrava Open, what she accomplished yes is stunning. That she did it all so suddenly and so soon after her playing career was almost taken away from her is nothing short of miraculous.
9) Serena Williams: Look, all we really want for this upcoming 2021 season is for Serena Williams to somehow grab two Grand Slam titles and dance in the face of Margaret Court as she overtakes her for first in history.
10) Iga Swiatek: Let’s give the final spot on our prediction for the woman who will likely reign supreme over the entire sport for the next decade. To say that what she accomplished this past year at the French Open was unexpected is the understatement—but now comes the fun part: watching her try to do it all over again.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG