WTA Year in Review: Top 5 Women in the World

Sofia Kenin, 2020 WTA Player of the Year

2020, by all measures, was an unusual year, and the tennis world did not get through the year unscathed. A change in ranking calculations, tournament cancellations, revised tournament dates, and players opting out of tournaments all contributed to how the final rankings played out. The end result is a WTA Top 5 ranking list that really does not accurately reflect, in my opinion, the actual on court performance of the players. Nevertheless, we’re here to count them down and look at their seasons.

Upon stoppage of play due to the pandemic, the rankings were frozen.  When play resumed in late summer the method for calculating rankings was adjusted to protect those players who elected not to travel to events. Instead of points remaining with a player for a year, the rankings are based on the best 16 tournament results from March 2019 to December 2020.
Using this ranking method, the Top 5 WTA players are:

2020 WTA Top 5

#1 Ashleigh Barty
#2 Simon’s Halep
#3 Naomi Osaka
#4 Sofia Kenin
#5 Elina Svitolina

#5 Elina Svitolina

Elina Svitolina had an inconsistent start to 2020. Svitolina lost in the first round in Brisbane and Dubai to players with significantly lower rankings. At the first Major of the year, the Australian Open, Svitolina lost relatively early, in the third round. Those early losses were offset by a title run in Monterrey, Mexico.

Opting not to travel to the United States during the pandemic, Svitolina did not play again until September in Italy.
At the Italian Open she lost in the quarterfinals but was able to follow that tournament with another title run in Strasbourg, France.

At Roland Garros, Svitolina lost in the quarterfinals to the surprise semifinalist Nadia Podoroska of Argentina.

Svitolina likes to play a lot of matches to keep her rhythm, and her results in 2020 reflect that lack of tournament matches. Having made two Grand Slam semifinals in 2019, the results in 2020 were disappointing. Svitolina ended 2020 with a record of 19-9 and a prize money total of $625,299.

#4 Sofia Kenin

Kenin received the most improved player award from the WTA in 2019 as she saw her ranking rise from #138 to #39. Her strong play continued into 2020. Claiming the Australian Open title in January, defeating World #1 on the way, Kenin became the youngest American to win a Major since Serena Williams in 2002, and the youngest American to reach the Top 10 since Serena Williams in 1999.

At the US Open, Kenin reached the Round of 16 where she was defeated by Elise Mertens.

Moving to the red clay in Europe, Kenin was soundly defeated in her first match by Victoria Azarenka 6-0 6-0.  With that result, expectations were low heading into the rescheduled Roland Garros tournament.

With her father/coach “subtlety” coaching from the stands, Kenin fought her way to another Major final. Kenin lost the French Open final to the surprise Polish youngster Iga Swiatek. Kenin went 24-9 in 2020 and earned $4.3 million. For her outstanding results Kenin was named the WTA Player of the Year.

#3 Naomi Osaka

The beginning of 2020 saw Naomi Osaka upset at the Australian Open by the American teenager Coco Gauff.

When the season began again after the extended Covid break, Osaka reached the final of the Cincinnati Open; however, she withdrew from the final with an hamstring injury, handing the title to the resurgent Victoria Azarenka. Osaka made her mark at the tournament by planning to sit out her semifinal match in support of the Black Lives Matter protests. In the end all, matches were postponed but the unveiling of Osaka as an athlete activist had begun.

Osaka’s US Open campaign resulted in her second US Open title and her third title at a Major. Osaka was able to defeat Azarenka in the final in a match where she had to fight her way back from losing the first set.

For each match she played at the US Open, Osaka entered Arthur Ashe stadium wearing a mask emblazoned with the name of a victim of police brutality. Naomi Osaka had found her activist voice and for that Sports Illustrated named her one of their Sportspeople of the Year for 2020.

Osaka ended her year at the US Open, withdrawing from the French Open with a hamstring injury. Her win loss record of 2020 stands at 16-3 with a paycheque of over three million dollars.

#2 Simona Halep

Simona Halep had another very consistent successful year, although she did not win a Major title. Reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, Halep did not drop a set until she was defeated by Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

Halep won the Dubai Duty Free Championship in February, defeating Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka, Jennifer Brady, and Elena Rybakina.

Opting not to travel to the United States when the season resumed at the end of the summer, Halep restarted her season in Prague, taking the title there by defeating Elise Mertens in the final. Halep also reached the final at the Italian Open, but she lost to Karolina Pliskova.

At the French Open, Halep suffered a surprise round of 16 defeat by the eventual winner Iga Swiatek. Halep finished the year with a 23-3 record and almost $2 million in prize money.

#1 Ashleigh Barty

In 2020 Barty played a total of 14 WTA matches and had an 11-3 record. Barty won the warm up event in Adelaide and followed that up with a run to the semifinals in her home Major at the Australian Open. Perhaps it was the pressure of playing at home; Barty lost in straight sets to the eventual winner Kenin. The World #1 followed that with a run to the semifinals in Qatar, where she was defeated by Petra Kvitova.

When the WTA season restarted after the pandemic break Barty elected to stay in Australia. With the revised ranking system the WTA adapted for 2020, The Australian managed to retain the top spot in the rankings. In 2020 Barty only won one title and earned just over $1 million.

When play will resume in 2021 it will be interesting to see how these top five spots are filled. World #1 Barty will have a lot of ranking points to defend. Barty will not have played competitive matches in almost a year.

Meanwhile, Kenin has now played in two Major finals, taking home one of the titles. Osaka has added a third Major title to her trophy cabinet and Halep played tough throughout the year.

It will also be interesting to see how the young Polish star, Iga Swiatek, responds to the pressure that follows a Major win.

Main Photo from Getty.