Was there a tennis season where the beginning and the end looked so different, and not just because empty stadiums have given way to filled arenas? In February, after the Australian Open, where Japan’s Naomi Osaka won her second consecutive Grand Slam event and the fourth of her career, she seemed poised to take control of the sport. Ten months later, she is on indefinite leave to deal with her mental health. No one knows when or if she will return.
Serena Williams made it to the semifinals in Australia and looked set for a serious attempt at a record-breaking 24th Grand Slam title. She has been sidelined with injuries since the beginning of the summer. Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, the 2021 Wimbledon champion, passed the final two months of the season after an exhausting six months on the road.
American Sofia Kenin, who arrived in Australia as the defending champion, underwent appendix surgery, Covid-19 and a split with her father and coach, Alex Kenin. She dropped out of the top 10. Romania’s Simona Halep, the No. 2 seed in Australia, battled injury and is now in 22nd place.
The only player to bring this championship back from 2019, when it was last played, was Pliskova from the Czech Republic. Instead of the usual stars, players like Maria Sakkari, a 26-year-old from Greece with a physique more typical of a mixed martial arts fighter than a tennis player. She only broke the top 20 last year.
The biggest name in the game right now, Britain’s Emma Raducanu, the qualifier who won the US Open in September, isn’t here because she didn’t qualify. The qualification requirements were created when everyone just assumed that anyone good enough to win a Grand Slam event would surely be among the top-ranked players still playing at the end of the year. In a perfect world, all Grand Slam champions and finalists would be in the final of the tour.
Sadly, this championship has only one Grand Slam champion in singles this year, Krejcikova, known until recently as a doubles specialist, who came out of nowhere to win the 2021 French Open. There is only one other Grand Slam finalist: Pliskova, who lost to Barty at Wimbledon. There, Barty looked like she wasn’t going to lose for a while, but she didn’t even make it to the second week of the US Open, calling it a season.