Photo : Gyles Dias
If someone laid out in broad strokes what was going to happen on the WTA Tour this year in January 2022, a lot would not be very surprising.
One player is going to dominate the field. There will be a lot of flux in the Top 10 and some unexpected results. Some big names will retire and some youngsters will establish themselves.
None of that seems overly shocking.
But when you start putting names to those events, suddenly the 2022 WTA season takes on a whole new dimension.
From two of the most memorable, for better or worse, retirements in tennis history to one of the most dominant runs in recent memory, 2022 had it all on the WTA Tour.
Here are some of the highlights.
Won and Done
Entering the 2022 season, reigning world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty was considered to be so far ahead of the rest of the tour that many fans and some pundits were discussing the possibility of her completing the calendar-year Grand Slam.
That idea certainly looked feasible as she opened the year on an 11-match winning streak, claiming the title in Adelaide and then her third Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open, becoming the first local woman to win the event since 1978 and not dropping a set on her way to the title.
But at the end of March, having already pulled out of the first three WTA 1000 events of the season, Barty turned the tennis world on its head when she announced her sudden retirement from the sport, citing a lack of motivation dating back to her Wimbledon victory in July 2021.
Barty became the second woman to retire while holding the No. 1 ranking. At the time of her retirement, she had been ranked No. 1 for almost three years, 114 weeks in a row (not including 20 weeks when the rankings were frozen due to COVID-19) dating back to September 2019.
Given her status as the dominant force on the WTA Tour, her sudden departure left a power vacuum and it was not immediately clear who would step up to fill it.
All Hail Queen Iga
When Barty was removed from the WTA rankings on Apr. 4, Iga Świątek automatically inherited the No. 1 ranking.
While there was no question that she was the correct player to be in the top spot, given that she was ranked No. 2 prior to Barty’s retirement, there was a lot of rumblings about whether or not Świątek could have wrestled the top spot away from Barty had the Aussie not retired.
At the time of her ascension, however, Świątek was coming off her third consecutive WTA 1000 title and was already on a 17-match winning streak.
Being No. 1 changed nothing for the 20-year-old Pole. In her first two matches as the world’s top player during the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers, she dropped one game in two matches, winning three of her four sets 6-0.
Świątek quickly established herself as the dominant force on the WTA Tour, easily taking Barty’s place and putting to rest any questions about whether she deserved to be atop the rankings. She won her first 20 matches as the world No. 1, picking up three titles including her second Grand Slam singles title at Roland-Garros.
In total, the Pole posted a winning streak of 37 matches that included six titles. In those six finals, she never lost more than five games in a match.
The streak, which was the longest by a woman in the 21st century, was snapped in the third round of Wimbledon and finally Świątek began to look mortal again as she arrived in New York for the US Open having not won more than two matches in a row since her historic run.
But as she had all year, Świątek saved her best tennis for the big moments, re-finding her form just in time to claim her second major title of the year and third overall, first away from Roland-Garros, with a victory at the US Open.
It was the Pole’s tenth straight win in a final, all in straight sets. That streak was snapped in October when she lost a three-setter to Barbora Krejcikova in Ostrava, but Świątek quickly bounced back to claim her eighth and final title of the year in San Diego.
Overall, the 21-year-old entered 17 tournaments in 2022, reaching the final at more than half of them. She finished the year with more than twice as many ranking points as world No. 2 Ons Jabeur.
Coco continues to rise
Coco Gauff has been a presence on the WTA Tour ever since she burst onto the scene at Wimbledon in 2019 at the age of just 15 years old.
Given how long the last three years have felt, it is hard to believe that Gauff, now ranked No. 7 in the world in singles and No. 4 in doubles, is still just 18 years old.
She has been making steady progress since that breakthrough in 2019 and is now entrenched as one of the best players in the world.
2022 was another step forward as she reached her maiden Grand Slam final at Roland-Garros, becoming the youngest female Grand Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova in 2004. She also reached the doubles final at Roland-Garros.
While she failed to win a singles event in 2022, she claimed three doubles titles alongside countrywoman Jessica Pegula, including two at the WTA 1000 level. After winning the National Bank Open in Toronto, she ascended to No. 1 in the doubles rankings, which she held for a month.
She qualified for the WTA Finals in both singles and doubles. In singles, she again became the youngest player since Sharapova to qualify.
The sky appears to be the limit for the 18-year-old, who is already established herself among the world’s best.
Minister of Happiness
From player controversies and the WTA pulling out of China to Wimbledon banning Russian athletes (and the awkwardness of Elena Rybakina’s subsequent victory), unfortunate global events have had their impact, mostly negative, on the world of tennis.
In these troubled times, a feel-good story is always appreciated.
Enter Ons Jabeur.
The Tunisian has been a maverick on the WTA Tour throughout her career, but she reached new heights in 2022 becoming the first Arab and the first Muslim to reach the final of Wimbledon and the US Open. She has embraced this role in a big way, speaking publicly about the importance of being a role model and promoting Tunisia at every opportunity.
But it was not just Jabeur’s play that made her a popular player. It was her off-court demeanour and interactions with her fellow players.
Whether it’s pretending to choke out Anett Kontaveit , playing photographer, sneaking up on Iga Świątek in a Halloween mask, or tricking a fellow player into an expensive dinner, Jabeur is always a fun time.
That and her fantastic sportsmanship does not go unnoticed. Whether it’s praising her opponents on court or sending them kind messages on social media, Jabeur always has something good to say about her peers.
Except for, or especially, Anett Kontaveit.
She’s the self-appointed minister of happiness for a reason. Jabeur is always a good time.
Serena Says See You Later
Serena Williams turned professional in October 1995, making her debut in Quebec City, meaning her career was old enough to have completed a bachelor’s degree, a Masters degree, and could be several years into its doctorate when she played her first match of the season at Wimbledon in July.
Her first match in exactly a year did not go as planned, with the American legend falling in a three-set thriller to Harmony Tan. Given that it was her first match in a year, there was not too much cause for concern and considering Williams’ known goal of breaking Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, there was little reason to believe that this was not the first step in another comeback.
Except for the fact that Williams was now 40 years old.
And sure enough, a month later just days before her opening match at the National Bank Open in Toronto, word leaked of an article written by Williams in Vogue in which she said she would be “evolving away from tennis” after the US Open.
The announcement flipped the tennis world on its head and turned the North American summer swing into the Serena Williams farewell tour.
In Toronto, Williams managed to score a win before being bounced in the second round by Belinda Bencic. The American legend was treated to a rousing send-off from the Canadian crowd.
Cincinnati did not go well, as she was bounced early by Emma Raducanu, but that set up her dramatic finale in New York.
Never one to do anything quietly, Williams went down swinging. She won her first match against Danka Kovinic, which awkwardly undercut the large ceremony held post-match considering it turned out not to be her final match.
For her final career win, she caused an upset by taking down second seed Anett Kontaveit in three sets. It all came to an end in the third round when she lost in three sets to Ajla Tomljanovic.
However, tennis fans may not have seen the last of Williams after all.
Since the US Open, she has regularly teased fans that she may not be finished. Williams has regularly pointed out that she does not use the word “retire” and has made comments about how much she likes playing in Australia and posting videos of herself practicing on a tennis court.
Williams did once say that fans would never know when she played her last match. So it may not have been goodbye from the greatest women’s player of all-time after all?