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Simona Halep’s long climb to WTA’s top position


Simona Halep will end the year as WTA’s number one seed. PHOTO: GREG BAKER / AFP

The Women Tennis Association season ended with the final event in Singapore. It was the conclusion of a year without a single player dominating the major events. As the year trailed to an end, Simona Halep of Romania ascended to the top position in the rankings for the first time in her career. In retrospect, however, Venus Williams offered the surprise of 2017 tennis calendar and stands for consideration as the player of the year.

When the season kicked off in January with tournaments in China and the warm-up events for the Australian Open, Simona Halep was the heir apparent after Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam and took a leave of absence to await birth of her first child. It was considered a matter of time that the gutsy competitor would take over the top spot.

At the US Open in August, Halep only needed to reach the fourth round to get the top ranking in the second week of the event if the top-seeded Karolina Pliskova failed to win the title. However, Maria Sharapova received a wild card entry and was placed in the slot that should have gone to a lucky loser (from the final round of qualifying matches). The angry Russian Lady, with a point to prove, played a “spoiler” role in defeating Halep in the first round.

The 37-year old Venus Williams played all the way to the finals of the Australian Open but lost to her baby sister Serena, who was already pregnant at the start of the event. Venus also reached the finals of the Championships Wimbledon and was within two points of winning the opening set before losing to Garbine Muguruza, who claimed her second Grand Slam. She lost to Sloane Stephens in the semi-finals of the US Open and qualified for the end of season tournament featuring the top eight in rankings.

In the round robin, she lost the first match but recovered to qualify for the semi-finals where she defeated Caroline Garcia of France. In the finals she lost to Caroline Wozniacki, 6/4; 6/4.

Venus’ performance in 2017 gave rise to many questions. Although raked number five, she was the top earner of the year (with $5.5 million to Halep’s $5.3 million). It was the highest pay year of her career to date. Her resurgence happened while Serena was away from the circuit. Was her career affected by the shadow of her sibling, who deprived her of six grand slam titles in the finals? Now, ranked number five and the oldest player in the women’s game, what does she have left in her arsenal for the months to come?

While the Men’s professional tour organizers staged a tournament for the next generation, the younger women players also stamped their challenge. Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia won the French Open. Spain’s Garbine Muguruza overcame the “jinx’ of first time Grand Slam winners and won Wimbledon. In the second position, she is only 40 points behind Halep’s 6.175 points. Caroline Wozniacki’s title in Singapore propelled her to the third rank. Sloane Stephens won the US Open and ended the year in 13th position. Her runner-up in New York, Madison Keys, is ranked 19. Others are Germany’s Angelique Kerber (21), Serena Williams (22) and Maria Sharapova (60).

The players are resting from a long and exhausting calendar that fills every month of each year. After the Christmas holidays, they would resume training for 2018. The next season would serve off in Asia continent, where the 2017 season ended. China will host the top female players in the Shenzhen Open from January 8 to 15. Thereafter the warm-up for the first Grand Slam of the year will be played in Brisbane Australia.

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