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Top 10 players of the Decade - Women

23 dicembre 2009
Rohit Sharma
www.tennisearth.com


The 2000-09 decade can be easily considered as one of the most competitive decade women's tennis has ever witnessed. With no clear domination of a single player, there were twelve different Grand Slam winners from and a series of nail-biting rivalries that regaled the tennis arena with some breath-taking tennis. As we bid goodbye to the past decade, let's take a look at some of the brightest names of the last ten years.

10- Martina Hingis
We kick off our list of the 10 best female tennis players of the decade with the  player who rose to stardom not once but twice in the span of 10 years. Martina Hingis had won five majors by the time the nineties came to a close and was seen as one player who could hold off the rising challenge of players like Venus Williams, Serena Williams and the Belgians Clijsters and Henin. Although her dreams of winning another slam were shattered by a rejuvenated Jennifer Capriati and the Williamses, who repeatedly got the better of the Swiss star, Hingis' Grand Slam resume in the 2000's turned out to be pretty impressive. She made it to the final of the Australian Open three years in a row (2000-02) and managed semifinal berths at the U.S. Open and French Open to confirm her consistency at such a stage in Sport. However, her biggest triumph was the 2000 WTA Championships, where she regained the top form. Hingis' comeback in 2006-07 was marked by three tour titles and quarterfinal finishes in Melbourne and Roland Garros, which won her the 'Comeback player of the year' awards at the 2006 Laureas World Sports Awards and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour accolades. Her elusive career finally came to a sad end when she was tested positive at a drug test conducted during the 2007 Wimbledon. The Swiss player however, maintained her innocence over the entire issue and quietly announced her retirement from professional tennis. The Swiss superstar will always be remembered for the myriad of records she set by winning Grand Slams at such an early age, coupled with her elusive feats and a whopping 43 Sony Ericsson WTA Singles titles she won during her 14 years as a tennis professional. Hingis was included in TENNIS magazine's list of 40 Greatest Players of the TENNIS era at the 22nd position.

9- Svetlana Kuznetsova
At No.9 comes a player who is famous for her quiet yet astonishing rise to super stardom amidst a vast crop of Russian starlets who were making their mark on women's tennis by being a part of the so-called Russian-Revolution. Svetlana Kuznetsova first tasted the Grand Slam success at the 2004 U.S. Open where she silenced some of the biggest names to clinch title glory. Her next major triumph was the Sony Ericsson Open title in 2006 where she regained top form after a disappointing 2005. By reaching the 2007 final at Flushing Meadows in the presence of WTA giants like Sharapova, Williams sisters and Mauresmo, Kuznetsova proved that her previous efforts were not a flash in the pan. Kuznetsova also finished Runner-up at the 2006 French Open to Justine Henin, thereby confirming her all-court finesse. The 2009 season brought another Grand Slam triumph for the Russian, who beat compatriot Dinara Safina to claim her second career major title. In a span of 10 years, Kuznetsova won 10 Sony Ericsson WTA Singles titles which included several tier-I tournaments. Although a lot of her success was somehow overshadowed by compatriots Dementieva and Sharapova's consistent performance through the years.

8- Jennifer Capriati
Jennifer Capriati broke into the international tennis scene in the nineties when she became a teen prodigy by becoming the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist at the tender age of 14. Unfortunately it didn't take her long to be re-labelled, this time as a teenage burnout, as she fell victim to the intoxicating world of drugs and marijuana. At the turn of the millennium, Capriati made rigorous efforts to re-establish herself as the game's powerhouse and achieved the dream by winning her first Grand Slam title at the 2001 Australian Open. Capriati's comeback success continued with a marathon win over Kim Clijsters at the 2001 French Open. She also made it to the semifinals of the other two majors at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows the same year. Her 2002 Aussie Open victory over Martina Hingis was considered by many as the most entertaining match in the Open era. Capriati did come close to winning majors twice at the U.S. Open in 2003 and 2004, but lost closely fought battles to Henin and Dementieva. Her last professional match was at a tier-I tournament in Philadelpha in 2004, although 2001 remains the best year of her career for which she won the Laureas Sportswoman of the Year Award.


7- Lindsay Davenport
Although Lindsay Davenport shone the brightest during the late nineties when she claimed two Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and U.S. Open, 27 of her 55 singles titles came after her triumph at the 2000 Australian Open, making her the first Grand Slam champion of the new millennium. What followed was not only dominating but also miraculous. After her last major triumph, came a series of final finishes with a Williams on the other side of the court. She lost consecutive slam finals to Venus Williams in New York and Wimbledon and finished runner-up again in 2005 to Serena Williams (Melbourne) and Venus Williams (Wimbledon). However, it was Davenport who ended the 35 match-winning streak of the elder Williams in 2000 when she won a three set nail-biter in Linz against Venus. The 2004 season turned out to be an astonishing comeback year for the American, who had managed to win only one title in the past two years. A tour-leading seven instilled the belief in the American that she could regain the top spot in the strong presence of the tour's biggest names. The next year only strengthed her position in the arena when she added few more tier-I titles in her kitty and finished the year as No.1 for the fourth time in her career. With the announcement of her pregnancy with her first child in 2006, Davenport took a break from the tennis world and made a brief comeback in 2007 and won two more titles. She repeated her success in 2008 with two more victories in Auckland and Memphis, but ever since, could not find the primal form to achieve more success on-court. In 2007, Davenport was named the WTA comeback Player of the Year at the association's annual awards.

6- Amelie Mauresmo
Amelie Mauresmo first hit headlines when she reached the final of the 1999 Australian Open, however the media took more interest in the fact that eventual champion Martina Hingis referred to the Frenchwoman as 'half-a-man'. Years later, similar comments hit the news when Lindsay Davenport questioned her playing style by categorizing it to be more masculine on court. Despite being under severe scrutiny and uninvited media attention, Amelie Mauresmo held on to her nerves and her patience to win the first major title of her stellar career by winning the 2006 Australian Open, beating the Belgians, Clijsters and Henin en route to her win. Till 2006, Mauresmo was considered by many as the greatest player never to have won a slam. She came pretty close to reaching finals in 2004 and 2005 at Wimbledon, but lost to Davenport and Serena Williams on both occasions. Although the third year proved lucky for the Frenchwoman who captured the second Grand Slam title by beating Justine Henin in the 2006 Wimbledon final. Despite both her major wins, it was Mauresmo's triumph at the season-ending WTA Championships in 2005, that got her the long due recognition. The subsequent years brought mixed success for the Frenchwoman, who rose to the top spot in WTA Singles rankings and helped her nation win several Fed Cup ties including the title in 2003. Mauresmo's last singles title came in February 2009 on her home-soil in Paris where she captured the Open GDF Suez. However, inconsistent results led the Frenchwoman to finally put an end to her professional tennis career as she announced her retirement from the Sport on December 3rd 2009. Mauresmo was named WTA's Player of the Year for her remarkable 2006 season and also went on to receive France's highest honour - The 'National Order of the Legion of Honour' by French President Jacques Chirac.

5- Maria Sharapova
Glamour Queen Maria Sharapova opens the top 5 list with her super achievements in the tennis arena. Sharapova made a breakthrough start to her career when she beat two time defending champion Serena Williams in straight sets in the finals of the 2004 Wimbledon Championships. The Russian teen prodigy continued her success with the yearend championships where she again beat Serena despite trailing 0-4 in the final set. It was just a beginning of an astonishing rivalry that produced some of the best tennis fans had witnesssed in a really long time. Sharapova reached new heights when she became the first Russian woman to be ranked No.1 in singles, thanks to her consistent performance at majors. Although 2006 remains the best year of her career so far when she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and clinched title glory in Indian Wells, San Diego, Zurich, Linz and finally New York where she beat Justine Henin to prove to the critics that her 2004 success were not a flash in the pan. The next year brought a series of losses at Grand stages for the Russian who only managed one title win in San Diego. Although the year 2008 gave Sharapova her third Grand Slam title at the Australian Open where she beat Serbian Ana Ivanovic in the final to join the elite group of women to have won three out of four Grand Slam titles. The remaining part of the year brought challenging circumstances for the Russian who struggled with injuries but retained the No.1 ranking in May with the help of titles in Doha and Amelia Island.In 2009, Sharapova returned to the circuit after a long injury-layoff of nine months and stunned everyone with a quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros. With a win over Jelena Jankovic in Tokyo, Sharapova returned to winner's circle. For her astonishing achievements in 2004, Sharapova became the WTA Player of the year and also received two ESPY awards for the Best Female Tennis Player (2005, 2007). Sharapova was also named the Best International Female Athlete in the same award ceremony. Sharapova is a regular feature at People's Magazine edition of "50 Most Beautiful Poeple".

4- Kim Clijsters
Beating Sharapova by a small margin for the fourth spot is Belgium's Kim Clijsters, who, from now on, will be considered the 'Comeback Queen of the Decade' with her super human efforts to win a Grand Slam title after a hiatus of almost two years from professional tennis. Although this is not the first time the Belgian has made such an impressive comeback, infact Clijsters' entire career has been full of bounce-backs. Clijsters first came into limelight when she became the first Belgian player to reach a Grand Slam final at Roland Garros, where she lost a closely fought marathon match to a resurgent Jennifer Capriati in a tussle that was highlighted by the longest third set in the history 12-10. The year 2002 turned out to be an extremely successful year for Clijsters who won 7 tour titles including a significant triumph at the season ending shampionships in Los Angeles where she handed Serena Williams her first defeat in six career meetings. With a win over Venus Williams in the semifinals earlier, Clijsters became only the fourth women to beat Williams sisters in the same event. The next year bought continued success for Clijsters who won nine tour titles and ascended to the No.1 spot in rankings, becoming the first Belgian player to achieve the elusive feat. The year 2004 turned out to be an injury hampered season for the Belgian who managed only two titles in Antwerp and Paris. An attempt to comeback to the circuit towards the end of the year re-aggravated the injury which then kept Clijsters out of action for several months. 2005 became the year of comeback for Clijsters who entered the event in Indian Wells ranked No.133 however beat some of the best players on tour including Dementieva, Davenport and Sharapova to claim back-to-back titles in the American continent. Grand Slam glory finally sparked at Clijsters' amazing career when she beat the likes of Venus Williams and Sharapova to win the first of her two U.S. Open titles. Clijsters won a whopping nine titles and regained the No.1 ranking by mid year. The following year brought  a series of challenges in injuries that forced the Blegian to withdraw from several tournaments. Things only got worse in 2007 when Clijsters suffered one loss after the other amidst injury stricken season and finally decided to retire from professional tennis in May. However, the retirement turned out to be a short interval for the Belgian who made a super comeback once again in 2009 and capitalised on the wild card granted by the USTA to win her second major title at the U.S. Open, beating both Williams sisters en route to win. With the triumph, she became only the second mother after Evonne Goologong to claim a major title. For her super success in 2005, Clijsters was named the WTA Player of the Year. She also received the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award for six times between 2001 and 2007. Clijsters remains one of the most popular players in the fraternity with her grace and charm that won her millions of hearts both on court and off it.

3- Justine Henin
With only three spots left, we dig deep into the statistics to find out who should be considered the best of the best. There were several factors taken into consideration to select these fine athletes that included consistency in Grand Slams, number of titles won and overall list of achievements that include both accolades and records set. On the basis of these parameters we found Belgian Justine Henin at the No.3 spot in the list. Henin first hit the headlines when she reached the Wimbledon final in 2001 after her semifinal loss to compatriot Clijsters at Roland Garros the same year. However, it took Henin two long years to establish herself as a power to be reckoned with. Following consecutive losses to both Williamses, Henin then regrouped herself to stop Serena's swashbuckling winning streak of 26 matches at majors by beating the American in three closely fought sets amidst high voltage drama on the partisan clay at Roland Garros. Henin then clinched her first major title by beating Clijsters. Wimbledon saw an immediate scores settlement when Serena Williams beat Henin en route to her title defense at the slick lawns of Wimbledon. However, it wasn't long before Henin took full advantage of the Williams sisters' absence to win the second major of her career at the U.S. Open where she again beat Clijsters for top honours. Henin's Grand slam success continued in 2004 when she managed another major win amidst the famous Russian-revolution in tennis that witnessed the other three slams go to Anastasia Myskina (French Open), Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon) and Svetlana Kuznetsova U.S. Open). Although the high point of the season was Justine's Athens Olympics triumph where she won the Gold medal. Henin's dominance at Roland Garros found a revival when she claimed her second title by beating home-favourite and 2000 champion Mary Pierce in straight sets. Henin failed to live upto expectations in the next two slams where she lost early round matches before succumbing to a hamstring injury, which eventually forced her to miss out the rest of the season. Many consider 2006 to be the year which could have made a huge difference in Henin's career. WIth a usual defense of her French Open triumph, the Belgian was seen as the strongest contendor for  Wimbledon title, however, it was Mauresmo, who handed Henin her second final loss and walked away with the Venus Rosewater Dish. Later that year, Henin avenged her loss to the Frenchwoman at the season ending championships final. The year 2007 turned out to be the most successful season in Belgian's career where she claimed victories in 10 tournaments including two Grand Slams and the year-end championships. Henin's victory over Serena and Venus at the U.S. Open made her only the second woman after Martina Hingis to claim victories over both Williams sisters in the same Grand Slam event. At the onset of 2008, Henin became only the seventh player in history to be ranked for 12 consecutive months, but nagging injuries hampered the first half of the season. Following her loss to Dinara Safina in Berlin, Henin took a shocking decision to retire from professional tennis. Henin cited the lack of motivation to be the primary reason. Even with her retirement decision, Henin created history by being the only player, male or female to retire from the sport at the very pinnacle of rankings. The retirement decision turned out to be hasty one as after exactly 16 months, Henin announced in a press conference that she would make a comeback into the sport in 2010. For her astonishing achievements, Henin was awarded the WTA Player of the Year honour in 2003 and 2007. The Belgian also won the prestigious Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year for her remarkable 2007 season.

2- Venus Williams
When we started our list of the top 10 tennis stars of the decade, we thought it best to keep the parameters simple and easy to analyze, but as we dug deeper, we found how close some of the rivalries were and that how difficult it is to ensure that one's achievements are not under-rated by any means. Similar was the case with the Justine Henin-Venus Williams rivalry. Both players came so close to the second spot that after taking the slam wins and titles into consideration, we had to compare the head-to-head, win-loss and  consistency in majors throughout the decade to find out that the American Venus Williams narrowly edged Henin past for the second spot. Venus' rise to stardom has been a true fairytale which began in late nineties and found it's ultimate summit at the turn of millennium. Williams captured her first Grand Slam title after a long wait of three years when she beat defending champion Lindsay Davenport in straight sets at the green grass of Wimbledon, an affair that would continue for years to come. It wasn't long that Williams proved that she isn't a one slam wonder when she won her second major at the U.S. Open. More success came in her way when she won the Gold medal at the 2000 Sydney olympics to take her winning streak to 35 matches, which was finally ended by compatriot Davenport in Linz. The next year brought more Grand Slam success for the American, who, despite surprising losses in Melbourne and Paris, reigned supreme at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Williams followed up with her Grand Slam success to win her fourth major title at Flushing Meadows, when she beat sister Serena in the final. It was the first time in the Open era that two sisters had competed a Grand Slam final. Despite such enormous form, Williams decided to stay out of competition citing anemia as the reason. In professional terms, year 2002 turned out to be the most significant year for Venus who captured seven titles and ascended to the top of the rankings, thereby becoming the first African-American woman to be ranked as high as No.1. Although her four consecutive Grand Slam finals losses to sister Serena left Venus in a limbo, Venus, regrouped herself to make it to the final of Wimbledon for the fourth year running. To her dismat though, she could not stop Serena and lost the three set final amidst grimaces on her face (due to injury). With an injury-hampered season, Venus decided to sit out of competition and as a result finished the year outside top 10 for the first time in six years. Williams' struggle with form coupled with personal tragedy in her half-sister Yetunde Price's death played it's role and the grief-stricken star experienced inconsistent results, with an exception of titles in Charleston and Warsaw. The year 2005 witnessed Venus' revival at Grand Slams when she became the lowest seed ever (No.13) to win the singles title at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Williams saved a match point en route to victory over Lindsay Davenport in the longest Grand Slam women's final ever. Williams continued her solid play with a place in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open where she lost to eventul champion Kim Clijsters. Venus made a bad start to the 2006 season when, due to a wrist injury, she missed the first three months, and later re-aggravated the pain to eventually make a firm decision of sitting out of the competiton for the rest of the season. Year 2007 set more records for Williams, who won her fourth Wimbledon title as the lowest seed (No.23), breaking her own record set in 2005. Although, with no other significant win in hand, Williams ended the year as World No.8. The next year started on similar pattern when Williams performed miserably in both Melbourne and Paris. However, her fifth triumph at Wimbledon put her in the elite list of champions who won the championships atleast five times. Williams continued her thrilling form and captured titles in Zurich and at the season ending WTA Championships in Doha, which helped her finish the year as No.6 in the world. The last season brought significant results for Williams, who, after a disappointing loss at the Australian Open, captured consecutive titles in Dubai and Acapulco. She managed to reach her eighth Wimbledon final, but lost it again to younger sister Serena Williams. With a final finish at the yearend championships, Williams closed the season with high hopes of regaining the top spot in the year 2010. For her notable achievements, Williams was named the WTA Player of the Year in 2000, She also earned herself the ESPY awards for best tennis player and best female athlete in 2001 and 2006. Williams also holds the record of fastest serve at 129 mph.

1- Serena Williams
And this leaves us with the top spot in the list that goes to the most deserving player of the decade - SERENA WILLIAMS. Serena shot to super stardom in 1999 when she beat some of the biggest players in the circuit to win her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open. More success followed when she won titles in Hannover, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Though her failure to follow up with her astonishing success at Grand Slams left tennis pundits doubting the her capabilities. 2001 brought initial success for Serena who captured the year's first title in Indian Wells amidst high voltage drama and catcalls as a result of match fixing allegations between the sisters. Williams did not perform as expected in the next few events including Wimbledon and French Open where she lost to a resurgent Jennifer Capriati rather tamely. Williams rebounded during the U.S. hardcourt season and captured title in Toronto to emerge as one of the favourite for the U.S. Open. She reached the final at Flushing Meadows but fell victim to elder sister Venus in the first sister final in the open era. Williams then finished the year on a high note by winning the season ending championships. The year 2002 turned out to be the best season in Serena's career which marked the beginning of the American's Grand Slam winning streak that ended in Melbourne when she re-christened her achievement as 'Serena-Slam'. Serena got the better of elder Williams in all four finals and prepared herself for the title defense at Roland Garros. In a controversial semifinal match, Williams lost to eventual champion Justine Henin and her majors winning streak came to an end. The fiesty Williams then re-focussed herself by not only settling scores with Henin, but by successfully defending her Wimbledon crown as well. Due to an injury hampered summer, Serena decided to sit out of competition till the end of the year. Williams' performance witnessed a major hit due to personal life tragedies and injuries which kept her on the receiving end for most of 2004 and managed to win only two titles in Miami and Beijing. The following year brought another Grand Slam success for Williams who capured her second Australian Open title by beating some of the best players in the circuit. Unfortunately she injured her wrist once again that forced her to withdraw from the French Open, followed by an early round exit at Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open, Serena lost to Venus Williams in the fourth round and did not play for the rest of the season, thereby falling out of the top 10 for the first time since 1998. The 2006 season did not change the story much for Williams who lost in the third round at the Aussie Open and missed the next six months due to injury, thereby moving outside the top 100 in the WTA rankings. At the U.S. Open, Williams was granted a wildcard and produced some impressive results before losing to Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo. Serena started the 2007 season ranked as lowly as No.81 but defied all odds to beat Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 quite handily to win the eighth Grand Slam of her career. Williams dedicated her win to her late sister Yetunde, whom she credited as inspiration for her win. The American next won her home tournament in Miami where she beat Henin from a match point down. Although, the Belgian's improved play denied Williams another chance in the next three majors where she lost to Henin in contrasting style. Serena again saw injury get the better of her and withdrew from the season ending championships despite qualifying for it. Williams failed to defend her Aussie Open crown in 2008 and took a break from the sport. Although her record-tying fifth title (with Steffi Graf) provided Serena with a huge sigh of relief, she performed miserably once again at Roland Garros. Williams saw a sudden rise in her form when she made the finals of Wimbledon for the fourth time but lost the title match to none other than big sister Venus Williams. Serena refused to fall victim to circumstances and won the U.S. Open for the first time since 2002. The victory gave Williams the much needed return to the top spot, which she later handed to Serbian Jelena Jankovic. The start of the 2009 season brought a milestone achievement in Serena's career when she captured the double figure in Grand slams by winning the Australian Open. An injury struck claycourt season followed her QF loss to eventual champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, but somehow helped her to regain the momentum at the green grass of Wimbledon where she avenged her loss to sister Venus with a straight sets win. Williams remained quiet for the rest of the season before a fantastic run at the U.S. Open semifinals, where she lost a lot more than just a match. Her U.S. Open tirade got her a two year probation in Grand Slams and a whopping $175,000 fine, but all that did not stop her from winning the third biggest title of the year in Doha at the yearend championships. For her truly remarkable feats, Serena was named WTA Player of the year twice (2002, 2008) along with a series of other accolades that include two ESPY awards and numeorus Laureus Sportwoman of the Year and AP Athlete of the Year awards.