Inconsistency became the norm at WTA-level in 2018. Opportunities, as a consequence, abounded. Ten players managed to take their chances more effectively than their competitors, gaining more than 100 places in the WTA ranking in twelve months.
The Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic climbed 170 spots to finish the season ranked at No.69, the biggest improvement among the year-end Top 100. In 2018 she won a single title, at the ACT Claycourt International #1 in Canberra on Sunday, as she defeated 6-4 6-4 Destanee Aiava in a final twice interrupted due to rain.
Jakupovic also partnered Queenslander Priscilla Hon to take out the doubles title. At No.36 the former NCAA standout Danielle Collins shines as the highest-ranked among these players. The Newport Beach champion, who finished 2017 at No.167, sealed 25 of her 33 wins at all levels this season on hard-courts, where she claimed two semifinals in Miami and San Jose to claim her best performances on tour in 2018.
In the last edition of the tournament hosted in Key Biscayne, she became the first qualifier to reach the last 4 (l. Ostapenko), scoring her first Top 10 win over Venus Williams en route. Collins, who earned $327,965 by reaching the last four at Key Biscayne, more than doubling her career earnings at the time, improved her career-high rank in her debut appearance at the Bay Area event, having never previously contested Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic’s predecessor in Stanford.
Collins, however, has lost the last six matches against Top 50 opponents. She had won six of the first 10 Top 50 clashes of the season, beating No.14 Keys (Indian Wells), No.37 Begu, No.16 Vandeweghe and No.8 V.Williams (all Miami), No.43 Cirstea (Rome) and No.26 Suárez Navarro (Eastbourne).
Evidently, in the first half of 2019, she will have to prove herself in her bid to confirm her stunning results and seal her maiden Grand Slam victory. Belinda Bencic gained 128 spots to finish the season at No.37. The Swiss failed to seal her third title in Luxembourg, having previously prevailed in Eastbourne and Toronto in 2015, where she moved beyond the quarterfinal stage for the first time this year.
Bencic showed clear improvements on hardcourts as she reached the last 8 in Washington, DC (l. Petkovic – held 3mp in third-set tie-break) and New Haven (as LL, l. eventual champion Sabalenka) while at Australian Open she upset Venus Williams to become just the sixth player all-time to defeat both Williams sisters before her 21st birthday (also Hingis, Sharapova, Clijsters, Henin, Chakvetadze, and more recently Osaka).
Throughout the season, she gave glimpses of her biggest strength as she defined it in a press conference at Wimbledon. “I always keep playing. You know, I complain, I'm frustrated, but I keep playing, keep fighting.
I would say that's my biggest strength, mentality. It's my biggest weakness, but my biggest strength, too,” Bencic admitted. Alja Tomljanovic, the world No.43 (+108 places) and the No.51 Vika Azarenka (+157 spots) learned the hard way how to fight to come back after injuries and personal problems.
The Croat-born Australian, yet bidding for her maiden tour-level title, lost a couple of finals in Rabat to Elise Mertens and in Seoul against Kiki Bertens, although she completed the season with a 36-24 overall record and a positive mark on each surface.
She played four semifinals and eight quarter-finals at all levels in an efficient, solid season. Tomljanovic, in fact, has a 25-5 record against lower-ranked opponents and a less impressive 11-19 mark against higher-ranked players.
Also Azarenka, at the Us Open, refused to think to her reason just in terms of results, “because I don't think I have had such results before,” she admitted. “But in terms of everything that happened, I think, you know, me just playing and me being out there and fighting, today, I think I put on a great fight.
I'm very happy with the way I approached the match. All that is positive. Being excited to go to the play, being excited about fighting. Right now it's all pluses for me. As long as I put in the work in the offseason, I'll be lights out”.
Anyway, she has not lost her desire and self-belief. “Trust me, I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't believe that,” she told reporters in New York. “I would be home doing a bunch of different things and being successful at those things, but I want to do this”.
Rebecca Peterson missed the chance to defeat No.2 Wozniacki in her first meeting with a Top 10 player in Wuhan in her last match of the season, but she managed to end the campaign at No.55: a significant jump as she had finished 2017 ranked No.196, down from No.142 in 2016.
This year, she advanced to the third round at the US Open, reaching for the first time that stage of a Grand Slam (l. Kanepi), and defeated a Top 30 player for the first time when overcoming No.28 Pavlyuchenkova in the opening match.
As a qualifier, earlier this year, she made her first WTA-level semifinal at Acapulco (l. Voegele). Then on clay, she reached the second round at Roland Garros and clinched the 11th ITF Circuit title at $100k ITF event in Cagnes-sur-Mer: she followed that victory making the Top 100 debut at No.95 and overtaking Larsson to become Swedish No.1 for the first time.
2018 turned into a huge season for young players, like Dayana Yastremska who made history as the first 2000-born player to climb into the Top 100, as our Jovica Ilic wrote https://www.tennisworldusa.org/tennis/news/Rising_Stars/57805/dayana-yastremska-writes-history-for-2000-generation-as-the-first/.
Not too ambitious for a juvenile, she won her maiden title in Hong Kong as she dominated a fatigued Qiang Wang in the title match, before beating Muguruza in Luxembourg to seal her first Yop 10 career victory. Compared to the 2017 campaign, she lost a bit of control in return but, at the same time, she became much more aggressive on serve.
At all levels, she increased her ace rate and significantly improved the percentage of first serve points won to over 65%. She could find more measure on her second serve, but evidently, time is on her side. Twenty-year-old Tamara Zidansek appeared in seven WTA main draws this season, however, judging by her recent progress she is likely to be a fixture at this level for years to come.
A serial champion on the ITF Circuit this year, the Slovene had 54 match wins to her name for the year and those results helped her rise 110 places in 12 months to the world No.70. Anastasia Potapova, who lost the first WTA final ever between two millennials in Moscow to Olga Danilovic and surrendered to Margarita Gasparyan in another runner-up finish in Tashkent, ended the season at No.94 having finished last campaign at No.237.
On ITF Circuit, her best results were runner-up showings at $100k Khimki (l. Lapko) and $60k Rome (l. Yastremska). Potapova got her start in the game thanks to her grandmother, who coaches a regional women's basketball team in Moscow.
"She prepares teams for competitions in the same building where little girls practice tennis,” she said to WTATennis.com in 2016. "I was four and a half, almost five, and she decided to put me into tennis, and I'm so happy she did." Keeping grounded by her longtime coach Irina Doronina, she has good margins for improvements in terms of shape from the baseline, effectiveness on both sides, explosiveness in return on the deuce side, eagerness to step in to seal the point at the net.
Finally, Katie Boulter completed the season at No.100. The Leicestershire-born became the first Brit to enter into the world’s top 100 since Naomi Broady made the same breakthrough in February 2016. Boulter, still limited by the after-effects of the chronic fatigue syndrome that wrecked her 2015 season, confessed her happiness to Simon Briggs on The Telegraph.
“I can't quite describe it... the top 100 has been this milestone that I have been working towards for the past couple of years, but now I'm there it has just inspired me to work even harder,” she said. “I really try not to place too much importance on my ranking day today, I find it can be a distraction from the job I have to do on the court”. It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for them. And they're feeling good.