Since we covered the men last week, this week we are reviewing the top moments in 2006 from the women’s game. Please feel free to chime in with your comments if you feel something deserving needs to be added here.
The Withdrawals. Many of the top women players fell by the wayside due to illness and injury. This played havoc with fields this season and drove many a tournament director up a tree. At the end of the season the WTA announced proposed changes in its so-called Roadmap 2010, now 2009, designed to curb the injuries and maybe deliver a few players to where they are supposed to be playing.
Maria Opens a Fruit Stand. The infamous banana episode at the US Open, where Sharapova got coaching from her father on the intricacies of peeling that banana. If this doesn’t shame the WTA into doing something about illegal coaching, nothing will. They did. They basically threw up their hands and decided to make it legal.
Maria wins the Open. She gets over her banana attachment and grows fond of snagging a second Grand Slam trophy instead. Much better for business anyway, as her agent has probably told her already. It had been over two years since her first Slam win at Wimbledon and we were starting to wonder, “Whither Maria?” I know, I know, if we look at another advertisement of her we’ll all scream in unison. But when Maria is healthy to play, nobody plays the power game better. Or serves bigger. Or has a better killer attitude. This girl isn’t afraid to break a nail, kudos to her for knowing how to kick ass. Five titles, a jump from #4 to #2 in the world and a 59-9 record prove it.
Justine Henin-Hardenne wins Roland Garros. She worked very hard this year and managed to stay healthy long enough to get into every major final. She capped the season by taking the year-end Championship in Madrid. She nearly had us liking her again. With 6 titles, a 60-8 season record and that #1 ranking at the end of it all, how can we ignore her?
A flock of new kids hit the block. Nicole Vaidisova continued to build on her growing success in 2005 with a good run at Roland Garros and her entry into the Top Ten, although consistency is still something she needs. The Eastern Europeans kicked forward two “Ich Girls” from Belgrade, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic who give every sign they’ll play even better in ’07. Anna Chakvedatze of the Ukraine won two tournaments and showed some steady play in the second half of the season, boosting her ranking to #13, just ahead of Jankovic at #12 and Ivanovic at #14.
Those ever so boss Boss ballboy models in Madrid. Maybe if the sponsors of the event when it was held in Los Angeles had thought of this luscious innovation they might still have the tournament, who knows? Who says there’s no lust anymore in tennis?
A three-way tie at the top. While the men’s field had a hard time whipping up some steadfast rivalries, the women revisited ancient Rome and came up with a triumvirate of sorts. Sharapova, Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne tossed the number one ranking back and forth among themselves, giving some semblance of conflict and interest in the women’s game. Fortunately for us as viewers we are seeing three distinct styles of play. And certainly three distinct personality types. Sometimes endearing, sometimes not. Sharapova corners the market on the power game when her serve is working; Henin-Hardenne has harnessed both power and touch to her game, while Amelie has finally gotten a grip on her seesaw mentality. No reason this could not continue into next year, providing they all stay healthy.
Martina Hingis returns to the game. I realized I had nearly left her off my list altogether because somehow I was not as won over by this blessed event as much as I thought I would be earlier in the year. Hingis captured our fancy as an underdog against the really big hitters. But now I feel like I’ve been there and done that and I am ready for the next chapter. What is her next chapter? It had better not be coasting on her laurels, her game cries out for more powerl. Look at what Henin-Hardenne has done to improve her game and she’s even smaller than Hingis. I hate to sound like a drone, but Hingis needs to find a bigger gear for next year otherwise she’s going to get permanently mired at #7 ranking. Her game is about finesse, but she needs to add some power. Won’t somebody take her into a gym and chain her to the deltoid press? You can break a nail or two, darling, it won’t hurt!
The ugly debacle of the final at the Australian Open. Justine retires in sad fashion against Amelie Mauresmo depriving the Frenchwoman of the glory that attends one on the winning of your very first slam. Justine to her credit went from Ogre of the Year to a stellar finish at the top of the girly heap. I think I’m over it now.
Amelie wins Wimbledon. A moment of loveliness for all of us Mauresmo fans, and thank God. Some iffy performances ensued later in the year from Mauresmo, but she backed up her win in Australia with an even more impressive one at Wimbledon. And against her nemesis Henin-Hardenne. This one was for real.
See also: The WTA Gets A Grip