As a collective effort, the WTA may not have produced a season to remember in 2010.  But many of its familiar and several of its less familiar denizens did.  We memorialize their achievements below.

Wozniacki:  Stagnant for most of the first half, the Pole-Dane reached her first Premier Mandatory final at Indian Wells but suffered an ankle injury that hampered her clay and grass campaigns.  After an embarrassing rout at Wimbledon, however, Wozniacki collected herself and reeled off an outstanding second-half surge, featuring six finals and five titles in eight tournaments.  Securing the inaugural edition of her home event in Copenhagen, the future #1 then swept to consecutive titles in Montreal and New Haven within a six-day span.  At the US Open, she scored her first career victory over a former #1 before succumbing to fellow breakthrough artist Zvonareva in the semifinals.  Shrugging off that listless performance, Wozniacki thundered through the Asian fall season until she intersected with the equally scorching Clijsters in the Doha final.  Unruffled so far by the controversy surrounding her Slam-less #1 status, Caroline will face an increasingly polarized reception in 2011 until and unless she wins that elusive major.  The new #1 should refine her schedule in order to pursue that goal most effectively, but regrettably she has shown little sign of doing so.  On the other hand, Wozniacki just turned 20 this summer and has displayed a maturity exceptional for her age; her cherubic, ever-smiling visage also represents the WTA better than the churlishness of fellow Slam-less #1s Jankovic and Safina.

Zvonareva:  Never lacking in talent and versatility, the volatile Vera imploded in Melbourne yet erupted in a positive way just two majors later at Wimbledon.  After a stunning three-set upset over Clijsters, Zvonareva burst into her first Slam final on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club, where she mustered more resistance against Serena than the scoreline suggested.  Disproving the commentators who attributed her breakthrough to an upset-riddled Wimbledon draw, the Russian repeated the feat at the US Open with a smart, balanced brand of tennis that flustered less tactically subtle foes.  Nevertheless, her excruciating disintegration in the final revealed that her affinity for tear-soaked melodrama hasn’t entirely vanished.  (We’re waiting for the endorsement contract with Kleenex.)  More often poised than petulant during the fall, Zvonareva marched to her debut Premier Mandatory final in Beijing and another semifinal at the year-end championships, falling to #1 Wozniacki on both occasions.  Since she defends few points early in 2011, she could challenge the Pole-Dane for the top spot if her momentum continues.  With question marks currently surrounding most of the WTA elite, the Russian should carpe the diem while she can.  A former semifinalist at the Australian Open, she might find its medium-speed surface suited to her style.

Clijsters:  Brilliant in the final of the season-opening Brisbane event, the understated Belgian recaptured the momentum in her storied rivalry with Henin by seizing all three of their meetings in three sets, two in uncannily similar fourteen-point third-set tiebreaks.  Her next two hard-court events ended ignominiously with ambushes by Petrova and Kleybanova, demonstrating the inconsistency typical for such comebacks.  But Clijsters proceeded to win her next 18 matches in the United States, a run that extended from Miami through the US Open and included six victories over former #1s.  Despite a physically and emotionally exhausting semifinal against Henin at Key Biscayne, she dominated a hobbled Venus in the final.  Likewise, a labyrinthine three-set semifinal against Venus in New York did not deplete her reserves for a one-sided final against Zvonareva.  Thoroughly outclassed by Sharapova for nearly two sets in the Cincinnati final, the Belgian clawed herself back into the contest with a resilience too often absent from her rivals.  In many of her most notable victories, however, Clijsters looked commanding early, faltered when victory lay within her grasp, and then mentally regrouped to seal the match.  While this pattern doesn’t produce this crispest, most aesthetically laudable tennis, it does provide compelling drama.  Clearly most comfortable on the American hard courts, she now should attempt to consolidate her legacy by winning a major outside New York.

Serena:  Taking her strategy of “play a little, win a lot” to unprecedented heights, Serena entered just six tournaments in 2010 and still walked away with half of the season’s majors for the second consecutive year.  Her signature moment came in the Australian Open quarterfinal, when she trailed 6-4, 4-0 to a ferociously intent Azarenka before summoning her own ferocity and overcoming a deficit that almost any other player would have found insurmountable.  Together with Henin, Serena delivered the most scintillating final of the Grand Slam season (for men or women), relying on spine-tingling serving and her peerless willpower to conquer both the Belgian firecracker and an injury that soon forced her out of competition.  Setting new ace records with each successive Wimbledon, the 13-time Slam champion roared—often literally—through the fortnight, when she displayed the athleticism and shot-making talent that many have emulated but very few have equaled.  Then Serena abruptly disappeared.  If history serves as any guide, she should spring back into contention almost instantly when she returns.

French Open finalists:  Just a year before, few observers would have expected Stosur to reach the second Saturday at Roland Garros.  Just a week before, even fewer observers would have expected Schiavone to caress the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen with clay-smeared hands.  Yet the Australian courageously dethroned Henin in a tense three-setter before conquering Serena in an even more suspenseful epic.  The first two sets of that quarterfinal recalled the Serena-Azarenka encounter in Melbourne, in which the American somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Boldly rewriting the script, Stosur saved a match point with a sparkling forehand passing shot and then became the only player to defeat Serena at a Slam in 2010.  When she thumped a listless Jankovic a round later, a maiden major seemed firmly within her grasp.  Swaggering through the draw’s less star-studded lower half, though, Schiavone stunned Stosur and an international audience by rising to the occasion in the most important match of her life.  Rather than drifting complacently away after this most implausible triumph, the exuberant Italian notched a quarterfinal appearance at the US Open and another Fed Cup title for her beloved nation.  Despite an injury-plagued summer, Stosur likewise reached the quarterfinals in New York, where she took a set from eventual champion Clijsters.  Both players enjoyed their debuts at the year-end championships, where the Aussie avenged the Roland Garros defeat before reaching the semifinal.  A dark horse no longer, Stosur owns the second-best serve in the WTA after Serena and one of the finest forehands.

Li:  With consecutive Melbourne victories over future #1 Wozniacki and former #1 Venus, the Chinese superstar advanced to the first Slam semifinal of her career.  While the quality of tennis in those marquee wins oscillated between the uninspired and the abysmal, Li once again showed her competitive tenacity against heavily favored opponents. In the semifinals, moreover, she dragged defending champion Serena into two tiebreaks before reluctantly conceding the American’s superiority.  Coinciding with the semifinal dash of her compatriot Zheng, her Australian exploits garnered valuable attention for tennis in a region where the sport hopes to expand.  Fresh from a Birmingham title over Sharapova, Li dispatched two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist Radwanska at the All England Club en route to the quarterfinals herself.  A proud patriot who fell one win short of a medal at the Beijing Olympics, she thrilled her compatriots again by reaching the semifinals at the Premier Mandatory event held in the same stadium.  Yet Li remains a mercurial, enigmatic shotmaker who sprinkled losses to Malek, Baltacha, Bacsinzky, and Zakopalova amidst her prestigious triumphs.  We expect equally jagged peaks and valleys in 2011.

Peer:  Whether or not a fan of Shahar, anyone who followed the Dubai Debacle of 2009 must have relished the Israeli’s unexpected semifinal run at the Persian Gulf tournament this year.  Victories there over Wozniacki and Li heralded a resurgent campaign for the promising but long-dormant Peer.  If she hadn’t collided with the Williams sisters more often than she would have preferred (five losses), she might have progressed even deeper into draws.  Nevertheless, Peer reached the second week at two majors and the semifinals at two Premier Mandatory events, not only placing herself close to contention for Doha in 2010 but in an auspicious position for 2011.

Petrova:  Exactly one player defeated Serena, Venus, and Clijsters this year.  Overcoming the latter two opponents at majors, Nadia inflicted the most lopsided loss of Kim’s career at the Australian Open.   Her characteristic ebbs and flows continued with losses to such unremarkable names as Stefanie Voegele and Anastasija Sevastova, but the Russian veteran crafted plenty of satisfying memories to mull as she sips her vodka during the holiday season.  Having witnessed several of her feckless performances on grand stages, we enjoyed watching her disbelieving glee at these stunning upsets.

First-time Russian titlists:  Even as many of the more experienced countrywomen fizzled and floundered, a pair of rising Russians broke through to claim the first two titles of their career.  Ambushing Clijsters in a third-set tiebreak at Indian Wells, Kleybanova held her first trophy at Kuala Lumpur before continuing her Asian exploits at Seoul in the fall.  Also a finalist at Bali, the burly ball-bruiser aims to carve out a regular residence in the top 20, while her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova targets a loftier objective.  The former junior #1 first opened a window onto her brilliance at Indian Wells in 2009, but she had stalled somewhat until scoring titles at Monterrey and Istanbul this year, where she outlasted Vesnina in the longest final of the WTA season.  Sagging sharply towards the end of the 2010, Pavlyuchenkova probably can claim a position in the top 10 if she can resolve her recent serving woes and reduce an injury rate alarmingly high for such a young player.

Martinez Sanchez / Rezai / Pironkova / Kvitova:  Each of them had their week in the sun, or, in the case of the last two, their fortnight.  None of them has accomplished anything worthy of note since then, and they probably lack either the physical and mental consistency (Rezai, Kvitova) or the firepower (Martinez Sanchez, Pironkova) to impose themselves as consistent contenders.  But at Rome, Madrid, and in the great temple of tennis itself, however, they conquered no fewer than five players who have held the #1 ranking.  The improbability of those upsets and the magnitude of their setting converge to merit a mention here.

Kimiko Date Krumm:  Simply by returning to the battlefield at age 40, she would have deserved inclusion among the most memorable performers in an often pallid 2010.  The 40-year-old Japanese dynamo did far more, however, as Sharapova, Safina, Stosur, and Li can attest.  More durable than many players a generation her junior, Date battled through a gripping series of marathons and often unhinged rhythm-oriented baseliners with her distinctively arrhythmic, unpredictable style.  Here’s hoping that she continues to defy Father Time for at least another year, exhibiting her refreshingly unassuming joy for the game.

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Our next article shifts from the nice to the naughty, reflecting upon the most notable disappointments of 2010.  Who hopes that the new year holds more promise than the old?  Answers to come.

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