2012 was perhaps the best year of the WTA for quite some time and I thought it would be good to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Top 10. Do these players have subtle strengths which make them the best or do they have less weaknesses than those below them?
Here's my thoughts:
#1 Victoria Azarenka
- Currently the best returner in the game, always looks to be aggressive and probably is at her most dangerous when her returns are working.
- Excellent neturaliser of the point. She may not hit a huge amount of winners but is excellent at controlling the point with a series of well-timed, clean, flatly hit shots before eventually finding an opening to attack.
- Shots very rarely break down and gets excellent depth, which means it's harder to attack as she can push players back.
- Serve is ineffective for a #1. Generates little pace off it and it is to start the point more than anything else. Second serve can also break down and will throw multiple DF's if it's completely off.
- Doesn't move that well to her FH side, although she has improved that in recent months.
- If hard-hitters are at their best then they can hit through her defense, and she doesn't have the weaponary to match them. If the match isn't on her terms then she's in trouble.
#2 Maria Sharapova
- Probably the strongest mentally out of all the players. Her mental stamina and endurance allow her to win matches even if she's playing badly, as it allows her to keep in control and her opponents won't be able to keep their levels above hers.
- Big hitter and when on can hit through anyone.
- First and second serves are always aggressive and when working allow her to be aggressive straight away and put pressure on opponents.
- When serve is off it will break down with alarming results. Throws in too many DF's.
- Inconsistency off the ground mean she can get dragged into marathons when she really should be winning easily. If Plan A isn't working she has nothing else to go to.
- Lack of general feel means if she's rushed she has no option but to play low percentage tennis, with little success. Both Azarenka and Williams expose this time and time again against her.
#3 Serena Williams
- Her serve is currently THE shot on the WTA. It can carry her through matches when her ground game is AWOL, as she can simply serve her way through opponents.
- One of the very few players whose defense is as good as her offense. Means she can be almost unplayable when her game is on.
- Believes she's the number 1 at all times and can have won matches even before a ball has been hit, simply due to the fact players don't believe they can beat her.
- Can be very up and down mentally. If things aren't going her way then she can go into complete meltdown. Opponents can get inside her head and cause her to doubt her ability.
- Footwork can be lazy and mean her ground-game can look extremely awkward and messy if she's not moving well.
- Motivation can be questionable in minor matches.
#4 Agnieszka Radwanska
- One of the very few players who can say they are an all-court player. Excellent touch and feel means if she gets matches on her terms that she can spin a web against opponents.
- Excellent movement and anticipation skills mean she can get a huge number of balls back and force her opponents to go for too much and make too many errors.
- Can rely on more than just a Plan A if things aren't going her way and stays solid mentally the vast majority of the time.
- Doesn't generate any real pace which means she struggles to hit through opponents.
- Second serve is one of the worst shots in the Top 10.
- If players are playing their best she can struggle to make any real impact as doesn't have the weapons to counter-act them.
#5 Angelique Kerber
- One of the best on tour at turning defense into offense. Is aggressive in defense which allows her to at times turn a rally onto her terms with just one shot. Can make her opponents feel that they can't hit through her.
- To back up last point, she's also one of the best movers around.
- Can hit winners off both sides despite being smaller than the average player.
- If opponents don't give her any pace, she finds it very difficult to make her own, and doesn't have the required patience if her matches turn into wars of attrition.
- Serve isn't a weapon and second serve can be attacked.
- Can check out of matches if things aren't going her way.
#6 Sara Errani
- One of the very few players these days who understand how to play on clay. Spin she generates on FH means she can make her matches very physical despite being smaller and lighter than most of her opponents.
- Excellent touch and feel, drop shots are some of the best on tour.
- Moves well.
- Next to no serve which means both first and second serve can be attacked with ease.
- Doesn't have any answers if hard-hitters are playing well as she doesn't have the weapons to counter-act with.
- Needs a slow court for her game to be effective.
#7 Li Na
- Probably the best player currently at being able to change direction aggressively. Also one of the few players who can combine power with width, which means her ball is always going away from the opponent.
- Her power can allow her to hit through majority of opponents.
- Moves well and is an athletic player.
- Very inconsistent. Can throw away matches by simply being unable to get the ball in court and another player who if Plan A isn't working as nothing to fall back on.
- Weak mentally which means she can lose concentration and spend her time shouting at her husband rather than focusing on the match.
- Poor returner.
#8 Petra Kvitova
- The biggest hitter on tour currently. If her ground game is on then she can be almost unplayable.
- One of the very few players who can mix power with variety. Slice and volleys when working mean she has a dimension to her game that most of the opponents don't have.
- Very difficult to stop when she's on a roll.
- Never looks in the best shape, which mean her movement, which isn't the strongest part of her game anyway, is compromised further.
- When game is off she is another player who looks as if she has more chance of hitting the stands than hitting the court.
- Needs conditions to be in her favour for her to play her best, as she struggles physically in hot, humid and slow conditions.
#9 Samantha Stosur
- Her game is about massive topspin, rather than power, which means she can be a very difficult proposition for her opponents who have to face a style that is rare on the WTA.
- Kick serve is the best on the WTA and again gives her opponents a look at something that they just aren't used to.
- Defensive BH slice is good and BH down-the-line when working can be dangerous.
- BH might be dangerous when working but most of the time it is one of the weakest shots in the Top 10. Can be attacked and will breakdown the vast majority of the time.
- Will shank and mishit her FH if her timing is off.
- Against the tall big-hitters, her serve moves from being a huge weapon to liability, as she rarely does anything with it other than kick it up, which goes to their strike-zone.
#10 Caroline Wozniacki
- One of the most consistent players out there and defensive skills allow her to get balls back that most others wouldn't be able to get too.
- In superb physical condition, she wins the vast majority of attritional matches as she can grind her opponents down physically.
- Solid mentally.
- Doesn't generate enough power overall and means she struggles to hit through opponents. It also means she has nowhere to go if hard-hitters are playing well, they can simply hit through her as her ball doesn't really go anywhere.
- FH is ineffective and will break down if pressured.
- Next to no feel in her game.