2013 Season In Review: Part I
Published November 11, 2013 12:02
Following Serena Williams' stellar second half of 2012, the expectation was that she would continue to dominate when the tennis world sprung into life again Down Under in January.
However, just as it had 12 months earlier, the opening stanza belonged to Victoria Azarenka.
While preparation for her Australian Open defense did not go entirely according to plan - a freak toe injury forced her out of Brisbane - once in Melbourne everything began to fall in place. Showing grit, big-match temperament and no little skill, she overcame a few tricky hurdles, most notably an inspired Sloane Stephens in the semifinals, before winning an early contender for match of the season in the final against Li Na.
And the wins kept coming as the tour made its whistle-stop tour of the Middle East, with an imperious week in Doha, ending in another epic victory, this time against Williams.
Azarenka, though, was not the only player to enjoy a fruitful start to the season. Elsewhere, Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska, Mona Barthel and Petra Kvitova all tasted success at Premier level events in Brisbane, Sydney, Paris and Dubai, respectively.
For Williams, this was a sign of things to come, but as the tour moved stateside it was time for another of the game's major players to take centre stage. Following a surprisingly one-sided loss to Li Na in Melbourne, Maria Sharapova did not resurface until Indian Wells in March.
Since being crowned champion as a teenager back in 2006, Sharapova had suffered a number of near misses at tennis' 'fifth' major. This time, however, she was not to be denied, romping home to the title without dropping a set.
The Russian was unable to repeat the trick in Miami, where she ran into her nemesis, Williams, in the final.
Unlike recent meetings between the two, the Miami final was a hotly contested affair, with the American - who had by now overtaken Azarenka to become the oldest No.1 in WTA history - weathering an early storm to prevail end 2013's opening chapter in fine style.