This could be a year of significant change in women’s tennis, as the world’s top eight seem well-placed to cement their positions in the rankings.
Ever since Serena’s powers began to wane, the WTA tour has been notoriously unpredictable because so many different players have won tournaments and so many new players have won Grand Slams.
However, the best in the world now have an opportunity to alter the narrative and assert their dominance over women’s tennis.
This should certainly be the case in the Grand Slams, as three of last year’s winners – Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep – are good enough players now that they can be reasonably be expected to win majors every season.Embed from Getty Images
My conservative prediction is that at least two of the three players mentioned will pick up at least one Grand Slam title in 2020.
It is much more difficult to anticipate which two, and which majors they will win, but I will try anyway. I think Osaka will retain the Australian Open and Barty and Halep will swap majors – the Australian will take home the Wimbledon crown and the Romanian will win her second French Open.
As for the US Open, I think that will be won by Belinda Bencic. She enjoyed a fantastic year in 2019 and she performed superbly to reach the last four at Flushing Meadows, so I think she can go all the way and claim her first Grand Slam title when she next competes there.
All four of the women I have mentioned are in the world’s top eight. And all four of them will win other tournaments during the year as well. So I am very confident that, barring injury, they will all line up at the season-ending WTA Finals.
This brings me neatly on to my next point. In the last six years, there have been at least three changes to the eight that have contested the last WTA event on the calendar.
WTA Finals Participants 2012-19 (green=winner, red=injured, bold=different from previous year)
But in 2020, it could be the exact same eight that went to Shenzhen in 2019. Here are the cases for the other four:
Karolina PliskovaEmbed from Getty Images
The Czech, 27, must deal with the same kind of narrative that plagues every top player who is yet to win a Grand Slam title. Namely, when is she going to win one?
It is very hard to tell when, or even if, Pliskova will win a major. She undoubtedly has the talent, but she has stumbled repeatedly in the tight matches that have mattered the most.
Nevertheless, the big-serving Czech is arguably the most consistent performer on the WTA tour. She has won at least two titles during each of the last four years and she has qualified for the WTA Finals in every one of those seasons. It is extremely likely that she will continue both trends in 2020.
Bianca AndreescuEmbed from Getty Images
In September 2019, the 19-year-old Canadian became only the second teenager to win a Grand Slam title in the last decade.
Ordinarily, this would make Andreescu an obvious pick for major titles in the following year. However, she suffered a nasty-looking knee injury at the WTA Finals, which has ultimately led to her withdrawal from the ASB Classic in Auckland – her first scheduled event of 2020.
Consequently, even if the Canadian takes part in the Australian Open, her chances of winning it will be greatly diminished. That’s one Grand Slam gone.
The next two majors will also be very difficult for Andreescu to win because she has played so few matches on clay and grass in her career (just 17 on each since she turned professional in 2017). Of course, the teenager has confounded expectations before and could do it again, but it is undoubtedly unlikely.
That leaves the US Open. This will probably be her best chance of Grand Slam glory in 2020. She has already won there, and she is very good at hard court tennis. However, the knee injury that is currently keeping the Canadian on the sideline was her third significant injury of 2019. If she does not find a way to keep herself fit for more of the year this time, she will find it very hard to get right to the top of the rankings – even though she clearly has the talent to do so.
Petra Kvitova and Elina Svitolina
These are the two players most at threat in the top eight. And they are vulnerable for very different reasons. Kvitova’s ranking is at risk because she does struggles to maintain top form and fitness throughout the season, while Svitolina may drop in the standings because even her best performances are not always good enough to win matches.
Having said all that, the Czech and the Ukrainian are both superb players who would certainly be worthy WTA finalists in 2020. They just might need to do a bit more to retain their places than they have done previously – particularly if other players lower down the rankings raise their game.