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A Not-So-Elite Eight: Categorizing the Worst of the WTA (Part I)

Rather than a traditional countdown, Victoria and David are getting academic, electing instead to take a look at just what made this season one of the most topsy-turvy in recent memory. Was it a bad week for all, or a bad year for one? Join TTI for some of the most cringeworthy WTA tennis from 2014.

8. Caroline Wozniacki’s First Half

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

Caroline Wozniacki’s 2014 was a tale of two seasons. Long before she was crashing Miami Beach weddings, running New York City marathons, and making (a) Grand Slam final, she was struggling with all aspects of her game. It began as early as her first match, where she was forced to come back from a set down to defeat Julia Goerges – a woman who had retired in her final qualifying match and in the main draw as a lucky loser. Wozniacki looked like a player lost in many of her early-season setbacks; while she had often found herself at the mercy of aggressive players in the past, the Dane was now committing many more errors than ever before. In her prime, Wozniacki found ways to win matches; in the early part of this year, however, she was finding ways to lose them.

After a first round loss in Doha to Yanina Wickmayer – against whom she had lost just two sets in six previous matches – Wozniacki was in danger of dropping out of the Top 20 after a disappointing 6-3, 6-1 loss to Jelena Jankovic in Indian Wells.

While she managed to hang on to a Top 20 spot in the spring, personal lows and injuries resulted in a disastrous clay court season for the former World No. 1. Absent from Stuttgart because of a wrist problem, she limped (quite literally) to defeat at the hands of Roberta Vinci in Madrid, before withdrawing from Rome with a knee injury. She again fell to Wickmayer in the first round of Roland Garros, and was the subject of rumor-filled tabloid articles about her personal life. Wozniacki took it all in stride, however, and turned a season that began with some of her worst matches into one that ended with some of her best.

7. Dominika Cibulkova’s Second Half

The streaky Slovak has had her share of ups and downs over the years; since her breakout 2009 when she made the French Open final four, the former Top 10er has not made more than one Slam second week per year. And yet the highs got higher for Cibulkova to start; first thumping a nervous Simona Halep in the Australian Open quarterfinals, she crushed heavy favorite Agnieszka Radwanska to reach her first major final. A quiet February preceded a noisy march through the North American swing, capturing a title in Acapulco and posting strong results at Indian Wells and Miami to make her Top 10 debut. The run seemed to continue at a small event in Kuala Lumpur, where she played but one Top 90 player en route to the final, losing to Rising Star Donna Vekic in a dramatic three-setter. And that’s where Cibulkova’s best season ever came to a close.

I’m totally kidding.

No, Cibulkova’s year was far from done, but she already was. A season that started out so brightly went from bad to worse, to confusing, to embarrassing as the 2010 US Open quarterfinalist got bossed around by young CiCi Bellis in three whacky sets on an ostensibly non-televised outer court. The matches she lost were tough to watch; the big-hitting pocket rocket has historically struggled to close in tense matches, the nervy affair against Heather Watson in Montreal that went to a final set tiebreak immediately comes to mind. The matches she won were equally brutal; she struggled to find any rhythm through an 8-6 final set against Alison Van Uytvanck at Wimbledon. The good news for Cibulkova’s 2015 is that she has few points to defend. The bad news is that the points that are holding up her ranking come off just after Australia.

Awkward.

6. The Asian Swing-and-a-Miss

Li Na announced her retirement just days before the debut edition of the Wuhan Open was set to begin in her hometown. And if she couldn’t win it, nobody could.

Most of the 16 seeds in Wuhan struggled out of the gate; only four made it past the second round. It started with No. 2 seed Simona Halep, who found herself in command in her second round match against Garbiñe Muguruza before falling in a three-set match, failing to reach the quarterfinals of a third straight tournament. Also bowing out in the second round was Agnieszka Radwanska, who had ample opportunities to close out Caroline Garcia, but just couldn’t get the job done. Radwanska was two games away at 6-3, 4-3, and led 4-2 in the third before serving for it at 6-5. At the end of two hours and 42 minutes, however, Garcia came away with the 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(7) win.

Following Halep and Radwanska out in contrasting fashion was top seed Serena Williams, who retired while leading 2014-nemesis Alize Cornet by a break in the first set of their second round match. She wasn’t the first domino to fall in the Chinese city; in all, there were seven players who saw their Wuhan campaigns – or 2014 season, in the case of Victoria Azarenka – end prematurely due to injury or illness.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 9.08.37 PM

The upsets didn’t stop there. WTA Comeback Player of the Year nominee Timea Bacsinszky later shocked Maria Sharapova for the first completed Top 10 win of her career. (The previous two had come by retirement.) Sharapova’s demise was expedited by her own hand, as the Russian littered the stat sheet with 43 unforced errors. Finally, Angelique Kerber saw her Singapore hopes essentially dashed at the hands of Elina Svitolina, as the German wasted a 4-1 second set led en route to a 6-4, 7-6(3) defeat.

Rising above the carnage to claim the inaugural Wuhan Open was Wimbledon champion (and certified Li Na BFF) Petra Kvitova. Was this a coincidence? Or something more?

(Remember when people thought Justine Henin put a curse on Roland Garros? This was totally like that. Or something.)

5. “Slo-ver It”

It’s a catchphrase you might expect from a jaded Real Housewife. It’s not the body language you expect from a young and talented tennis player.

“I’m over it.”

There were signs of this year coming for Sloane Stephens; the pressure of having to defend most of your ranking points at the most important tournaments of the year has to be unlike any other. But the American had seemed to take the disproportionate results between majors and minors in stride, once declaring it a “good problem to have.” But after falling two rounds short of her breakthrough semifinal finish in Australia, the weight of expectation didn’t become burdensome so much as it appeared annoying to Stephens. She rolled her eyes. She smirked. She was over it.

Whispers about her cavalier attitude began to crop up during a quick loss to Petra Cetkovska in Doha. They got louder when she carelessly blew a double-break lead on eventual champion Flavia Pennetta in Indian Wells. They reached a fever pitch a week later in Miami, where a stunned crowd watched one of their country’s best raw talents give almost no effort in a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Caroline Wozniacki.

Lindsay Davenport could sometimes blow cold, but the ice often emanating from Stephens’ side is largely unprecedented. With time off to nurse a wrist injury, 2015 will tell if there has been deeper introspection beneath her rash of inspirational tweets.

Stay tuned for Part II when David & Victoria count down the “bottom” four match moments of the WTA.

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  1. Alizé’s Revenge: Categorizing the Worst of the WTA (Part II) | The Tennis Island

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