Time to predict what the WTA top ten would be like coming next year! As always, take the predictions with a pinch of salt because it’s probably going to be a terrible mess. If you want to see the hilarity that was my 2018 WTA end-of-year predictions, you can click here. Anyway let’s get on with it…
10. Garbine Muguruza (Current Rank: 18)
It was an average season for Spaniard Garbine Muguruza but if you’re looking at it from a two-time Grand Slam champion’s point of view, perhaps not. Muguruza ended 2017 at No.2 in the rankings but has dropped all the way to No.18, enduring a series of injuries, inconsistencies and disappointing Slam campaigns. With Muguruza, you just never know what you’re going to get – there’s been the good in the form of her beloved Roland Garros (reached the semifinals there, eventually stopped by an inspired Simona Halep), but the bad has definitely overshadowed the entire year. In particular, her Wimbledon and US Open campaigns were so discouraging. Confidence seemed to be at an all-time low during that period, as she was so tentative trying to come forward and just wasn’t brave enough to go for her shots when needed. Muguruza ended 2018 with an 0-6 2-6 loss to Wang Qiang in Zhuhai.
Muguruza does seem to thrive in the underdog position in my opinion – at Wimbledon in 2017, no one was talking about her and she went on to win the title. There’s always going to be inconsistencies in her game but I expect her to peak at one or two Slams in 2019. I don’t see the Spaniard winning a Slam next year, but a few good runs at the big tournaments could guarantee her a spot back into the world’s top ten.
9. Caroline Wozniacki (Current Rank: 3)
I had been wondering what was wrong with Wozniacki post-Wimbledon so I was only half surprised to find out that she had been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Even though she ended the year at No.3 – the same as she did in 2017 – I was definitely much less convinced by her game this year. Even when she went on to win the Australian Open, she definitely wasn’t playing like how she did at the end of last year and as 2018 progressed, she definitely has seemed like she is slowly going back into her shell and starting to play a little defensively as she used to last time. I don’t blame her though; those health issues must have had a huge impact on her.
I have no idea how the sickness will impact Wozniacki’s game in 2019 and coming into the new year trying to defend her Australian Open crown is going to be a pretty new experience, even for the veteran. I don’t know what to expect from Caroline next year but her usual week-in-week-out consistency should likely be able to secure herself a spot in the top ten.
8. Aryna Sabalenka (Current Rank: 13)
The improvements that Aryna Sabalenka has made since bursting onto the scene in 2017 is just so impressive and with that, I do think she’ll break into the world’s top ten next year. Back when she reached the final of Tianjin last year, she definitely was a ballbasher – just hitting the ball as hard as she can, trying to only hit winners from all areas of the court. One year later, a successful partnership with Dmitry Tursunov has seen her adapt a smarter gameplan, playing with controlled aggression and producing occasional flashes of touch with the drop shot and volleys. Since Eastbourne, Sabalenka has been absolutely stunning, amassing a 30-10 win-loss record where she reached the semifinals in Cincinnati, final of Eastbourne and two titles in New Haven and Wuhan. She scored eight top ten wins and reached a career-high ranking of No.11 in the process.
If Sabalenka continues to improve and make adjustments to her game, the sky’s the limit for the young Belarusian. I have no doubt that Sabalenka will win a Slam in the near future, but perhaps not in 2019 IMO. I think she’ll win a couple more titles and make a few big runs at the big tournaments.
7. Angelique Kerber (Current Rank: 2)
Angelique Kerber’s resurgent 2018 season was headlined by a third Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, but her best tennis definitely came during the Australian swing, where she reached the finals of Hopman Cup, her other title at Sydney, and a run to the semifinals at the Australian Open. The work Kerber did during the off-season with Wim Fissette was evident as she came out in the beginning of the year with a newly polished serve and an aggressive baseline game to boot. Unfortunately after Wimbledon, Kerber seemed to go back into her shell and reverted to her defensive game, amassing a disappointing 7-7 win-loss record for the rest of the year.
After a shocking split with Fissette right before the WTA Finals, Kerber went coachless in Singapore and was mostly disappointing at the prime jewel event. Angelique is confirmed to start the season with a former German pro as coach, but with no coaching credentials to his name. Second half of 2018 was pretty depressing for the German but she’ll very likely bounce back, especially as she has a new target – to complete the career Grand Slam. I don’t think she’ll reach the heights of 2016 or 2018 in terms of Slams, but will probably add a few more WTA titles to her impressive resume.
6. Serena Williams (Current Rank: 16)
It was an interesting year for Serena Williams – for a normal tennis player, two Grand Slam finals would definitely be an amazing achievement, but in Serena’s case, perhaps she wouldn’t be entirely pleased with her results this season. Serena amassed an 18-6 win-loss record, including her runs to the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. Aside from the Slams, Williams has a 3-3 record in regular WTA events.
It’s clear that Serena’s focus is on the Slams and that’s the main reason why I don’t think the American will come close to the World No.1 spot. I think Serena will be able to get her 24th Slam, perhaps at Wimbledon, and propel herself back into the top ten.
5. Sloane Stephens (Current Rank: 6)
Sloane Stephens continues to baffle me – just like Muguruza, you just never know which type of Stephens you will get week in week out. There’s been times where Stephens looked so focused and inspired on court – most notably in the US Open; that reaction to beating Victoria Azarenka in the third round gave me the shivers! However, there’s been times where she just seems so disinterested and it’s like she doesn’t really care about the match at all. A loss to CoCo Vandeweghe in Stuttgart in which she only won one game is the most prominent example of this. Even amidst these inconsistencies, Stephens has still managed to put together a stellar season which saw her reach finals in the French Open and Montreal and end the season in the top ten for the first time in her career.
With her solid all-around game and incredible speed around the court, it seems very likely that Stephens will end 2019 in the top ten once again. The French Open and US Open seems like the only two Slams where Stephens could stand a chance at the title – in fact, I’m predicting Stephens to go all the way in Paris to claim her second Grand Slam title.
4. Elina Svitolina (Current Rank: 4)
Ending the year at No.4 in the rankings must mean you have had a brilliant season, and while Elina Svitolina managed to win four WTA titles – including the big one at the WTA Finals, just like previous years, the Grand Slams were the tournaments that Svitolina failed to make an impact in. Her biggest chance to make it into her first Slam semifinal was at this year’s Australian Open, against then-World No.37 Elise Mertens in the quarters. However, she suffered a shocking 4-6 0-6 loss, and for the rest of the year didn’t even come close to making the quarters of any of the other Slams. Surprisingly, Svitolina endured a rough patch on the regular tour post-French Open, but managed to turn it around with a stunning run to the title in Singapore.
Once again, crossing the barrier aka a Slam semifinal will probably be the biggest goal of Svitolina’s 2019. I believe she can do it, after showing some positive tennis in Singapore. I think she will be one of the most consistent players again and as usual, add more WTA titles to her already packed trophy cabinet.
3. Naomi Osaka (Current Rank: 5)
What a year it was for Naomi Osaka, who stole fans’ hearts left and right with stunning victories in Indian Wells and the US Open. Naomi’s a hoot on and off the court and her popularity round the world is just rising and rising. Question for Naomi is, will she be able to back up her stunning year? Right after her US Open victory, she backed it up with a run to the finals in her home tournament in Tokyo and semifinals in Beijing but lost all her three round robin matches in Singapore where she just seemed fatigued physically and mentally.
Early signs after New York showed that Osaka can handle the pressure from the media, but her 2019 results will definitely be a clearer indicator of whether she can do it. With the right mindset and right attitude, I definitely think she can. I won’t be surprised if she picks up another Slam in 2019 (I’m thinking AO!) and with coach Sascha Bajin backing her up, I think Osaka will enjoy another stellar season.
2. Karolina Pliskova (Current Rank: 8)
Karolina Pliskova has become one of the most consistent players on the tour in recent years and she enjoyed a decent 2018 where she won two titles and picked up 49 wins, the most of any player this year. A great stat for Pliskova – in 24 events, she has only lost in her opening round once! (Rome, i. Maria Sakkari in three sets) Something that has definitely improved from her early days is her movement around the court and a quality that is underrated with Pliskova is her ability to tough out three-set matches. In 2018, she was 16-6 in three-set matches.
Since the US Open, Pliskova has been working with Conchita Martinez and it’s definitely been a fruitful partnership thus far. Particularly, the first set and a half against Stephens in Singapore was truly Peak, Accurate and Aggressive Pliskova and while she lost her way from then on in the match (can be attributed to fatigue), it was still positive signs to see Pliskova trying to come forward as much as possible. I actually think she can win a Slam this year (US Open probably) but we shall see…
1. Simona Halep (Current Rank: 1)
I’ve gone for Simona Halep to end 2019 at the pinnacle of the rankings for the third straight year. It was an absolutely stunning season for the Romanian, who showcased absolute consistency during the first eight months of 2018, and also finally achieved her first Grand Slam at the French Open. Her mental strength has been one of the key parts to Halep’s successful year – she has been able to reset from deficits in matches and disappointments so well. Unfortunately for the Romanian, injuries started to thwart her game post-Cincinnati, and she wasn’t able to win a match for the rest of 2018, and had to opt out of the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Halep’s long-time coach Darren Cahill has decided to leave her coaching team, so Halep has officially decided to start the new year without a coach. It will be interesting to see if Halep can continue to be mentally strong in her matches, as Cahill has been the one who has helped her so much in the mental aspect of her game. For now it’s a yes for me, and I think Halep will continue to be the most consistent player on the tour.
Other possible candidates
Out of the top eight in the rankings, only Kvitova is not present in my year-end 2019 top ten list. Even though she managed to win five titles in 2018, her end to the season was so disappointing and fared so badly in all the four Slams. You never know with Petra though and it won’t be a surprise at all if she ends up in the top ten at the end of next year.
Kasatkina’s currently sitting at No.10 in the rankings and I’m surprised she has already broke the top ten amidst a flurry of inconsistencies this season. Her highs have been pretty high though, most notably the French Open quarterfinals and a title in her home country in Moscow. I’m very interested to see how Kasatkina’s 2019 season goes…
Similarly, I’m interested to see how Bertens’ 2019 goes on. She’s currently at No.9 and has the opportunity to climb even further up the rankings as she doesn’t have many points to defend up to clay. However, Bertens is a huge confidence player and I’m worried she will feel the pressure to deliver after her breakthrough 2018. If she plays the way she did post-Wimbledon though, the sky’s the limit for the Dutch player.
Barty ended the year on a high with the biggest title of her career in Zhuhai and was also one of the most consistent players of the year. The thing with Barty is that she’s so good at defending players below her ranking, but when she faces higher-ranked players, her game’s just not yet good enough to outplay them. Definitely has the potential to be a top ten player but I don’t think she’ll get there this year.
Been very impressed with Goerges with how she’s been able to grit out wins when she’s not playing at her best. Won’t be surprised if she manages to sneak into the top ten by the end of the year.
Keys seriously has huge untapped potential but injuries have unfortunately been her stumbling block in her career. She definitely can be a top ten player if injuries can stop annoying her!
Oh, Ostapenko… 2018 was such a rollercoaster ride for the Latvian and there’s no doubt 2019 will probably be the same with her all-out aggressive game. When she’s on though, she can beat anyone, which is why she’s definitely a potential candidate to be a top-tenner.
Everyone seems to be on the Wang Qiang bandwagon after her stunning campaigns during the Asian swing. She has barely any points to defend up till February, and I think she has potential to continue rising up the rankings.
Thanks for reading! 🙂