By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
When looking back at the 2007 season, it is easy to see why Justine Henin finished the year once again ranked No. 1 in the world. The Belgian was arguably the best player on the WTA Tour this season, winning a tour-high 10 titles, including both Roland Garros and the US Open, to give her seven career Grand Slam titles.
To win the US Open, Henin defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets, and after reaching the final in Flushing, the Russian reached a career-high ranking of No. 2 and finished the year there. She was one of several players to reach career highs in rankings in 2007, with Jelena Jankovic ascending to the No. 3 spot and Ana Ivanovic to No. 4.
There were also a few new faces to reach Grand Slam finals, with Ivanovic reaching the first of her career at Roland Garros and Marion Bartoli advancing to her first at Wimbledon. Jankovic, Ivanovic, Bartoli and Anna Chakvetadze all finished the year ranked in the top 10 for the first time in their careers.
This past season also saw the return to dominance of Serena and Venus Williams, who showed that, when healthy, they are still two of the best players in the world. After injuries slowed the sisters in 2006, they both rebounded to win Grand Slams in 2007. Serena won her eighth career Grand Slam title – the most of any active player – at the Australian Open, and Venus won her sixth Grand Slam at Wimbledon.
Also returning with a bang in 2007 was former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, who returned late in the season after having her first child to capture titles at Bali and Quebec City. The American three-time Grand Slam champion should be a force again in 2008.
It was a disappointing, injury-filled 2007 for Maria Sharapova, the 2006 US Open champion, who won just one title after reaching the Australian Open final. But with her final's performance in Madrid, Sharapova showed she is still among the best in the world and will be a Grand Slam threat next year.
We also said goodbye to 2005 US Open champion Kim Clijsters, who retired midway through the season, and to Swiss star Martina Hingis, who retired for the second time after allegedly testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon.
In doubles, Liezel Huber and Cara Black were the team to beat in 2007, both finishing the year ranked No. 1 in doubles after becoming a pair once again.
And now the winners are….
Player of the Year – Justine Henin
This one is not even a contest and, if it was, would likely be unanimous. After missing the Australian Open to deal with personal issues, Henin bounced back seemingly better than ever and won her first title of the year in Dubai in February. For the year she just dominated, winning 10 of the 14 tournaments she entered and capped off the year with her second straight title at the Sony Ericsson Championships in a three-set win over Maria Sharapova. She also became the first woman in tour history to earn over $5 million in a single season and firmly established herself as the top player in the women’s game and the one to beat in 2008.
Breakout Player – Jelena Jankovic
Jankovic made a serious jump onto the scene with her semifinal appearance at the US Open in 2006, but 2007 was when she really made a name for herself as one of the top players in the world and a consistent Grand Slam threat. She finished 2006 at No. 12 and 2007 at No. 3, a career-high spot that she first reached in June. For the first time in her career, the Serbian star reached the fourth round or better at all four Grand Slams, including the semifinals at Roland Garros and the quarterfinals at the US Open. With consistency and a jam-packed playing schedule, she also won four of her five career singles titles in 2007 and could win her first major title in 2008.
Top Newcomer – Agnes Szavay
Tennis fans could hardly be blamed if they had not heard of Szavay before this year. The Hungarian finished 2006 ranked No. 207 in the world and had never played singles in a Grand Slam tournament. That all completely changed in 2007. Szavay won two tour singles titles at Palermo and Beijing this year, reached the quarterfinals of the US Open and finished the year ranked No. 19 in the world. Look for her to keep moving up the rankings in 2008.
Doubles Team of the Year – Liezel Huber and Cara BlackComeback Player of the Year – Serena Williams
The pair reunited in 2007, and what a year it was for them. They both finished the season ranked No. 1 in doubles, becoming just the fourth team to be jointly No. 1 in the doubles rankings since the rankings started in 1984. The team won nine titles, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon, as well as the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships.
With the superstar’s indisputable talent, it is hard to think of her ever having to make a comeback. But after injuries forced her to miss significant time in 2006, causing her ranking to drop to No. 95 in the world at the end of the year, Serena showed again why she has won so many Grand Slam crowns. As an unseeded player, she won the Australian Open with a rout of Sharapova in the final. The win catapulted her back up the rankings, and she won her second title of the year at Miami. She followed it up with quarterfinal appearances at each of the three remaining Grand Slams and finished the year in the top 10 for the first time since 2004 at No. 7.
Match of the Year – Henin and Sharapova at Sony Ericsson Championships
This was a hotly contested final, unlike the finals at all four Grand Slams that turned into straight-set routs by the winners – although there were several close matches throughout those tournaments (including a tight three-set win by Henin over Serena Williams in the Wimbledon quarters). But in the season-ending championships in Madrid, the final featured two of the top players in the world seemingly playing their best tennis. One of the longest matches in history, it lasted three hours and 24 minutes before the Belgian prevailed in a comeback 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 win.
Best Outfit – Maria Sharapova at the US Open
Were there any outfits that sparkled or shined as much as Sharapova’s night dress at the US Open? Celebrating the Big Apple, it was a bright red, seamless dress put together with heat and silicone as opposed to thread. But the most eye-catching and unique parts of the dress were the 600 Swarovski crystals around the neckline – a decoration surely not to be outdone – at least until she rolls out her outfit for the 2008 US Open.
Biggest Upset – Marion Bartoli defeats Henin at Wimbledon; Agnieszka Radwanska defeats Sharapova at US Open
The decision on this one is too close to call, so we are calling it a tie.
Wimbledon: It seemed as if world No. 1 Henin, fresh off her Roland Garros victory, had the match – and a spot in the final – in the bag after cruising to a 6-1 victory in the opening set. Bartoli, the No. 18 seed, had never been past the fourth round at a Grand Slam before Wimbledon. But the Frenchwoman battled back to win a hard-fought second set, 7-5, and then dominated the third set, winning 6-1 for her first appearance in a Grand Slam final.
US Open: Few, if any, people saw the US Open upset coming. Sharapova, the defending champion, cruised through her first two matches in Flushing, losing just a total of two games. One of the top players in the world and one of the favorites to win the title, it seemed as if Sharapova, the No. 2 seed, had an easy path to the final when the draw came out and players like Henin, the Williams sisters and Jelena Jankovic were on the opposite side of the draw. But in three sets in the third round, Sharapova fell to Radwanska, an 18-year-old from Poland and the No. 30 seed, for her earliest Grand Slam exit since the 2004 US Open.