By Matt Trollope
While Vika is looking up, Petra is really only looking ahead. (Getty)
Armchair commentary always takes a hit on a weekend because, quite simply, you spend a lot less time in the armchair. So without further ado, here is a wrap of the final weekend in Istanbul which offered up a new tournament champion, some quality tennis, and plenty of juicy plot-lines entering 2012.
Player of the year: Petra Kvitova‘s absorbing three-set win over Victoria Azarenka in the final went a long way to cementing her — unofficially at least — as the player of the year in 2011. With the four Slams being split between four players and a pervading sense of parity (or instability) throughout the tour, Kvitova’s resounding win at the prestigious event elevated her above all other candidates. Although Caro matched her haul of six titles, the Czech’s Wimbledon and WTA Championship titles were much more significant than anything Wozniacki achieved. Add to this her sparkling 19-0 indoor record, titles on all four surfaces and her rise from no. 34 to no. 2 and you see a player with a compelling case for POTY honors.
A new era? The weekend’s results caused a significant shift in the upper echelons of the WTA rankings, with Kvitova and Azarenka leap-frogging Maria Sharapova into second and third place respectively. For all the talk of veterans flourishing on tour — which remains true at Grand Slam level at least — the top trio are the youngest players in the Top 10. With Wozniacki and Kvitova just 21 and Azarenka just a year older, they have many more years ahead of them, and with the players possessing contrasting styles, the stage could be set for a compelling three-pronged rivalry into the future. Trivalry? We sort of dig this trio.
Inflated ranking: How on earth was Vera Zvonareva ranked no. 2 as recently as the US Open? The Russian, who now sits at no. 7, finished the round-robin stage with a mediocre 1-2 record. Somehow she qualifyied for the semifinals thanks to a count-back technicality, but it was there that she was comprehensively outplayed by Vika on Saturday, a player she had won six of her last nine matches against. With the emotional, mentally-fragile Vera of old resurfacing in Istanbul, the chances of her repeating her major final appearances of 2010 and re-ascending the rankings ladder in 2012 seem increasingly slim.
Tight battles: While it may not have been the best quality tennis ever staged, the championships produced some resounding battles that thrilled the fans in Istanbul. In the round robin stage, Zvonareva and Wozniacki fought out a tough three-set match on the second night of the event, and the next day, Zvonareva again found herself in a three-set fight, blowing a 5-3 final set lead and match points to hand Agniezska Radwanksa a 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 win that featured several rallies worthy of the highlight reel. The final weekend was no different: Kvitova came through roller-coaster affairs against Sam Stosur in the semis and Vika in the final, defeating both in dramatic three-set contests.
Success story: More than 13,000 spectators reportedly packed into the Sinan Erdem Dome for the final, continuing a run of impressive crowds that attended each session. The support for the championships in Turkey was one of the bigger stories of the week and was pleasantly surprising given the event’s prior flops in Los Angeles, Madrid and Doha. With a state-of the-art venue, knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowds and an atmosphere the players relished, the unofficial “fifth major” has had some of its former glory restored and appears to be in good hands for the next two years in Istanbul.
So what’s next? The stories and results from this year’s championships have left us with many tantalising questions heading into the 2012 season. Will the young brigade of Kvitova, Azarenka, Wozniacki and Radwanska continue to flourish when the established greats — Serena, Kim, Venus and Maria — return to the tour fresh and healthy? More specifically, how will Kvitova’s impressive game stack up against a fully-fit Serena or Clijsters? Will Azarenka continue her steady improvement and eventually capture a major title? Will Li Na rediscover her confidence in time for the Australian circuit, where she’s defending a truckload of points? Will Wozniacki continue to cling to her no. 1 ranking or will she be usurped by bolder, more aggressive shotmakers? Will more decisive action finally be taken on the grunting issue, in the face of increasing complaints and media coverage? And will the WTA unearth a dominant player to bring stability to an erratic, unpredictable tour? Stay tuned …
Matt Trollope began covering tennis in 2008, a natural extension of his childhood obsession for the game that included hitting for countless hours against his bedroom wall and self-producing and editing a fictitious tennis magazine. Based in Melbourne, he has covered four Australian Opens and one Wimbledon championship, and his tennis writing has featured in Australian Tennis Magazine, the Australian Open Official Program, and Alpha Magazine.