Editor’s note: This week, we will unveil our top moments from the 2022 season. Here’s a look at the categories:
- Monday: Top match
- Tuesday: Biggest upset
- Wednesday: Top rivalry
- Thursday: Most unexpected champion
- Friday: Best celebration
The 2022 season began with Ashleigh Barty, the No.1 player in the world, winning Adelaide. From there, plenty of events ended with the odds-on favorite player emerging. But along the way, there were also many surprise champions. But which was the biggest surprise? Look no further:
Anna Blinkova, Cluj-Napoca
I didn't see Anna Blinkova coming. The former junior No.3 seemed poised for a smooth transition to the tour when she debuted in the Top 100 in 2018 at the age of 19. But a 4-17 tour-level record in 2021 saw her slump back out of it, and over the first 10 months of 2022 she tallied a mere two WTA main-draw wins. She arrived in Cluj-Napoca ranked No.138, and had to navigate qualifying to reach the main draw.
A first-round win over Anastasia Zakharova was followed by four consecutive three-set triumphs over Wang Xinyu, Anhelina Kalinina, Anastasia Potapova and Jasmine Paolini; the middle two were Blinkova's first Top 50 wins since January 2020. And the quality was top-notch in all of them; particularly impressive were Blinkova's nimble footwork, much-improved speed and most of all stellar play in the forecourt. She was rewarded with a maiden WTA title and a return to the Top 100. -- Alex Macpherson
Tatjana Maria, Bogota
In hindsight, perhaps this result doesn't seem as surprising given what Maria did two months later at Wimbledon. But in April, Maria had not won back-to-back tour-level main draw matches on the WTA Tour since the summer of 2019, let alone since coming back from having her second daughter last year. At 34 years old she was ranked No.237, with just one WTA title to her name, won back in 2018 on the grass courts of Mallorca.
Just as Blinkova did, Maria came through qualifying to win the title in Bogota. Her best win of the week came over No.80 Rebecca Peterson in the Round of 16 and she held her nerve against another qualifier, Laura Pigossi, to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in the final. Maria was one of the feel-good stories of the 2022 season and it all started in Bogota. -- Courtney Nguyen
Anna Blinkova, Cluj-Napoca
I agree with Alex, who provided all of the reasons why Blinkova was such a surprising champion. Truthfully, Blinkova’s results were hit-or-miss even when she peaked inside the Top 60, but she had some big hits. For most of the past two seasons at tour level, though, the 24-year-old provided almost exclusively misses.
Despite some good ITF Challenger results early in the season, Blinkova couldn’t even really get going this year at WTA 125 level, where she had won her previous biggest title (2019 New Haven). She posted a solid runner-up showing at Saint-Malo, but then lost before the quarterfinals in her next four WTA 125 tournaments.
So there was not much evidence that Blinkova could turn around her tour-level performance in Cluj-Napoca, but her game came together on the indoor hardcourts and she hit a home run. The promise is there, and a few more big-point results in the first half of 2023 could propel Blinkova back into the vicinity of her career-high ranking of No.54. -- Jason Juzwiak