If you had to pick whether to comment on either the highlights or the lowlights of the 2016 WTA season, it might be easier to focus on the latter. The 2016 women’s tennis season was one that saw fan favorite Maria Sharapova receive a lengthy suspension for using a banned substance. Furthermore, Victoria Azarenka’s fans learned that she would be off the tour for a lengthy absence as well, in her case due to a pregnancy. The news of that came at a time when the Bulgarian seemed to be playing incredibly well as she claimed titles in Indian Wells and Miami. However, despite these huge low points for tennis fans there were still some major highlights from the last season, many of which involved players setting precedents in a year of change.
2015 had nearly been all about Serena Williams in the majors as she had won three of four Grand Slam titles that season. But the 2016 season started fresh with Angelique Kerber’s historic run to the Australian Open title. In many ways, she came out of nowhere to claim the championship as she entered the quarters as an underdog against Azarenka. Furthermore, the championship final against Williams was a close contest, going to 6-4 in the third set. There were plenty of chances for Kerber to crumble, however, she held her composure and stunned the world with an out-of-the-blue title to open the Grand Slam season.
If that development wasn’t enough, by the end of the French Open, it was clear that the 2016 Grand Slam season wouldn’t be all about Serena Williams again. Spanish player Garbine Muguruza went on a historic run to what was the first Grand Slam title of her career at Roland Garros. Like Kerber before her, Muguruza defeated Serena Williams in the final, a result that was a lesser upset due to the clay-court surface. The title would see the Spaniard achieve the World No. 2 ranking and, for a time, she appeared as though she was poised to challenge Williams for the top spot on tour.
However, immediately after the French Open Muguruza faded and she is still not yet to return to even a proximity of her best tennis. When Grand Slam play resumed at the All England Club Williams was able to claim the Wimbledon title, defeating Kerber in the final. But Kerber’s run in London created a competition between her and Williams for the top spot, one that would ultimately be resolved at Flushing Meadows.
In the meantime, the tour players that were not off put by concerns over the Zika virus focused on the 2016 Rio Olympics. The event did miss some top names, however, Williams, Kerber, Muguruza, and Petra Kvitova all made the trip to Latin America to contest the singles draw. The tournament champion was expected to come out of that group of names. However, the 2016 tennis season would see another major plot twist. The event produced perhaps the biggest surprise result in a major tennis tournament since Francesca Schiavone’s title at the 2010 French Open.
Monica Puig, who remains ranked outside of the top 30, took no prisoners in Brazil as she ran the tables through Muguruza, Kvitova, and Kerber en route to the gold medal. A Puerto Rican national, Puig’s medal was the only one for the country in Rio, and her ecstatic response to winning the gold medal is an enduring image of the 2016 season.
When the US Open started in August, Kerber found herself positioned for the World No. 1 ranking. She secured that with an appearance in the final as another surprise upstart, Karolina Pliskova, did major damage to the opposing side of the draw. Before the 2016 US Open, Pliskova had never done anything noteworthy in her numerous appearances in majors. However, behind a devastating serve, she advanced all the way to the Flushing Meadows final. The result was another hotly contested championship match where Kerber once again proved that she was a woman for the pressure moments. She prevailed 6-4 in the third to claim her second Grand Slam title of the season. The title affirmed her place on top of women’s tennis where she has remained in the two months since the conclusion of that event.
Other lesser highlights of the season include Dominika Cibulkova’s title in Singapore to conclude the year. Furthermore, American player Madison Keys made some major progress in 2016 as she debuted in the Top 10. 22-year-old Elina Svitolina also had a strong season, finishing as the World No. 14. Meanwhile, Catherine Bellis, who is still just 17 years old, cracked the Top 100. However, the season mainly belonged to Angelique Kerber with Muruguza, Williams, and Puig all taking the spotlight at some points as well, but none able to keep up the intensity as often as the German did.