Reviewing the WTA season so far: Best matches, worst losses, more
There's been a little bit of everything in this WTA season. Three Grand Slam champions have added to their tally, two dominant forces over the last two years -- Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka -- have taken a backseat and a host of youngsters have earned their place at the table. Let's check in on the year so far. (Click here for our look at the ATP.)
Petra Kvitova d. Venus Williams 5-7, 7-6 (2), 7-5 in the third round of Wimbledon; Maria Sharapova d. Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 in the French Open final -- If grass-court tennis isn't your thing, you may not have appreciated the quality on display in Kvitova's win over Venus. The match featured phenomenal first-strike power tennis and just two service breaks. It's also the match that gave Kvitova belief that she could win her second Wimbledon title; she didn't lose another set the rest of the tournament.
But when we think of great matches, we rarely point to anything that happens in the first week of a major regardless of the level of tennis and competition. The most memorable performances -- the ones that really resonate -- occur when the stakes are high and both competitors summon their best tennis under intense pressure.
That's what we saw in the French Open championship match, the first three-set final there in 13 years. It showcased a contrast of personalities, styles and strengths, with Sharapova's offense against Halep's defense and counterpunching. Halep, playing in her first Grand Slam final, showed why she's become so well respected, and Sharapova provided another reminder of why her competitiveness is her most valuable weapon.
Caroline Wozniacki d. Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-0 in the third round of the Sony Open -- This was the match that crystallized all the on-court criticisms of Stephens' attitude and willingness to fight when not playing her best. The American won just five points in the second set, and her body language was the epitome of "over it."
Garbine Muguruza d. Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 in the second round of the French Open -- This Grand Slam defeat was different from Serena's loss to Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open, where she injured her back before the match. Nor was it like her third-round loss to Alize Cornet at Wimbledon, where there were already signs that she wasn't in her best form and was ripe for an upset.
No, Williams came into the French Open as the defending champion and fresh off winning her third title of the season, in Rome. After rolling past Alize Lim in the first round, Williams was blasted off the court by the young Spaniard for her most lopsided loss at a major.
Player of the first half
Maria Sharapova -- She came out of Wimbledon as the No. 1 player in the Road to Singapore rankings after winning the French Open and titles in Stuttgart and Madrid. She's still ranked outside the top five after missing the last three months of 2013, but that just means it's nothing but upside for Sharapova the rest of the season. She has only one rankings point -- she played (and lost) just one match after Wimbledon last year -- to defend from here on out.
Eugenie Bouchard -- The 20-year-old Canadian is the only player to make the semifinals or better at all three Grand Slams, including her first major final, at Wimbledon. She ended up being a spectator in that match as Kvitova dominated, but there's no doubt that Bouchard -- who has shot up from No. 32 to No. 7 this season -- is a player to be reckoned with. She's been a great example to the WTA's up-and-comers of how to compete and not shy away from the big stages and moments.
Angelique Kerber vs. Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals of the Qatar Open -- Kerber just won't quit. Look at the distance she covers to track down her final forehand during a straight-set victory.
Petra Kvitova's backhand winner against Eugenie Bouchard in the Wimbledon final -- Much like her ace on match point in the 2011 Wimbledon final, this will go down as an iconic moment for Kvitova.
Result we never would have predicted
Flavia Pennetta wins Indian Wells and Tsvetana Pironkova wins Sydney -- Pironkova takes the overall prize because she's not supposed to win matches on any surface other than her beloved grass. Ranked No. 107, she became the first qualifier to win a tournament in three years. And she accomplished the feat by beating three top-10 players -- Kvitova, Kerber and Sara Errani -- in straight sets to win her first title.
But when it comes to a surprise result at the tour's biggest events, we have to go with Pennetta's performance at the BNP Paribas Open. The 32-year-old Italian, who has come back from career-threatening wrist surgery, beat top-five players in Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska to claim her biggest title and first since 2010.
Serena Williams' season -- As exciting as it's been having a series of fresh faces make an impact, this season lost its bearings the minute Serena lost hers. Through three majors she hasn't made it past the fourth round. As noted above, Muguruza handed Williams her worst loss at a major. Serena has won three titles -- Brisbane, Miami and Rome -- but she's also had curious losses to Cornet (twice!) and Jana Cepelova. Based purely on rankings points, Sharapova, Halep, Li and Bouchard have outperformed Williams in 2014.
Li Na splits with Carlos Rodriguez -- In April, we gave Rodriguez top coaching honors for how he's transformed Li, helping her win another major title and reach a career-high ranking of No. 2. The news of their split was buried during the late stages of Wimbledon, but this is a devastating loss for Li. Where she goes from here is tough to know.
Storyline that looks absurd in hindsight
Maria Sharapova's stint as a NBC Olympics correspondent in Sochi in February is going to derail her season -- After a disappointing loss to Camila Giorgi in Indian Wells, Sharapova went 23-2 through the French Open.
"You're a nice guy. And also you are so lucky to find me."
-- Li, talking about her husband, Dennis.
“I’m not signing any more. There’s not that many kids in the world.”
-- Sloane Stephens, as quoted in Elle Magazine, after being asked to sign some items for a USTA Kids Day event.