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Swiatek Hangs On to Top Spot: Best WTA Stories of 2023

by Pete Borkowski

December 12, 2023

As 2023 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at the highs and lows of the WTA season.

Overdue Breakthroughs

For the first time in over a decade, three of the four Grand Slam champions were first-time winners.

None of the three were massive surprises as they had all reached major finals before. Victory at the highest level was expected, at least for two of them, but had so far proven elusive.

First up was Aryna Sabalenka, who had gained a bit of a notorious reputation for falling short at majors. But at the Australian Open, she finally put all the pieces together, reaching her first Grand Slam final without dropping a set and then outlasting Elena Rybakina in a thrilling three-set final to claim that elusive major.

Sabalenka was one of the most dominant forces on tour in 2023, reaching the semifinals or better at all four majors, adding a WTA 1000 title in Madrid where she took down the world No. 1 Iga Swiatek. Eventually, after reaching the US Open final, Sabalenka managed to wrestle the top spot away from the Pole and came within a match win of finishing the season ranked No. 1.

Marketa Vondrousova’s victory at Wimbledon was the most surprising, as the Czech arrived at the All-England Club unseeded and with just four match wins on grass in her career. But the 2019 French Open runner-up found another gear, upsetting two Top 10 opponents on her way to becoming the first unseeded women’s singles champion in Wimbledon history.

Of the three first-time winners, Coco Gauff’s victory at the US Open was probably the most expected, as the young American has been touted as a future star since she first broke onto the tour at age 15.

Since that run at Wimbledon in 2019, Gauff had cemented herself among the world’s best, but struggled to finish the job late in tournaments. That changed in 2023 when she won four titles, tripling her career total. That included a summer run where she went 18-1 and was undefeated on home soil (the lone loss coming in Montreal), claiming the titles in Washington, Cincinnati (her first WTA 1000 title) and finally her first major title at the US Open.

Gauff finished the season at a career-best No. 3 in the world.

Stars Say Goodbye

In 2022, the retirement of Serena Williams was one of the biggest moments of the year in all of sport, not just in the tennis world.

While no one of her caliber called it a career in 2023, plenty of top-tier players, particularly in the doubles game, played their final matches this year.

Major champions Samantha Stosur, Sania Mirza, Barbora Strycova, and Coco Vandeweghe all retired from the game in 2023.

Anett Kontaveit announced her sudden retirement and played her final event at Wimbledon, less than a year after being ranked No. 2 in the world.

Mom Power

Coming back to sport after giving birth is incredibly difficult to say the least. But a couple of women did an impressive job of it in 2023.

Former world No. 3 Elina Svitolina returned to the tour just six months after the birth of her daughter and it did not take long for the Ukrainian to refind her form.

Svitolina needed just two months to get her hands on a trophy, winning the WTA 500 title in Strasbourg in May, less than a year after giving birth. She followed that up by reaching the quarter-finals of Roland-Garros, beating No. 9 Daria Kasatkina on the way, and did even better at Wimbledon, getting to the semifinals by upsetting the World No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the last eight.

Read also: How the Rest of 2023 Went for Jessica Pegula

Her season ended in the third round of the US Open with a hard-fought three-set loss to world No. 3 Jessica Pegula.

Caroline Wozniacki had given birth to two kids since she had last played a tennis match. But the former World No. 1 made her return to the tour in Montreal and started off with a win over Kimberly Birrell of Australia.

The Dane only played three events in 2023, with her best result coming at the US Open where she reached the third round, beating No. 11 seed and Miami champion Petra Kvitova in the second round, before falling in three sets to the eventual champion Gauff.

Still Swiatek

Iga Swiatek spent much of 2023 on top and added her fourth Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros, but she was not the dominant force she was a year ago. She failed to replicate much of her success, winning two fewer titles overall on the season, and found herself fighting to maintain her grip on her No. 1 ranking.

After the US Open, she found herself knocked off the top of the mountain by Sabalenka, falling to No. 2 in the world after a year and a half in the top spot.

Slipping out of No. 1 seemed to light a fire under the Pole in the final months of the season. She dominated the field in Beijing to claim her first WTA 1000 title of the year.

At the WTA Finals, Swiatek made a statement, winning the title without dropping a set. That included a critical showdown with Sabalenka in the semis which set up the Pole to steal the No. 1 ranking back in the final match of the year, a 6-1, 6-0 demolition of Jessica Pegula.

Despite the challenges she faced, Swiatek ended the year in the same place she started: on top of the world.

Canada Climbs the Mountain

Swiatek may have been the top player in the world at the end of 2023, but Canada laid claim to being the top nation.

Following in the footsteps of their male counterparts from 2022, the Canadians won their first Billie Jean King Cup title in November, defeating a Swiatek-less Poland as well as traditional tennis powers Spain, Czechia and Italy to lift the trophy.

Canada had been a little lucky to reach the Finals in Seville, having narrowly snuck through qualifying on the heels of a dramatic Leylah Annie Fernandez performance in Vancouver. The young gun continued her brilliant play in Spain, going 5-0 including a decisive doubles match upset over the Czechs in the semis and scoring the clinching point against Italy in the final.

Marina Stakusic was the breakout star in her debut, going 3-1 in Seville with her three victories being the three biggest rankings-wise in her career to date. US Open champion Gabriela Dabrowski added three doubles wins plus the decider in qualifying to cap off what was a strong year for the veteran.

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