Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Another WTA Tour season is now in the books, and the 2007 show was stolen by the growing Belgian legend that is Justine Henin.
Henin opened what would be her career year as Henin-Hardenne, but she wound up skipping the year's first major, the Aussie Open, while separating from her husband of just over four years, Pierre-Yves Hardenne.
The 25-year-old Henin led the tour with a double-digit 10 titles (in only 14 events), including huge wins at the U.S. and French Opens and season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, where she captured the title by outlasting Aussie Open runner-up and former world No. 1 star Maria Sharapova in an epic three- hour, 24-minute marquee finale in Madrid. The diminutive star fought back to prevail in three-set, come-from-behind fashion in Spain, as she trailed by a set and 3-4 before mounting a thrilling comeback for a 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 decision. The match was the 12th-longest in the history of the women's tour.
"This was one of the best moments of my career; to finish an amazing year with an amazing match, the longest I've ever played, makes me very happy," Henin said.
World No. 1 Justine Henin is the reigning U.S. Open, French Open and Sony Ericsson Championships titlist.
She is now the back-to-back Championships queen, as the 5-foot-5 slugger bested Amelie Mauresmo in last year's finale in Madrid.
The seven-time major titlist and Olympic gold medalist Henin was a sparkling 63-4 in '07 (for a lofty .940 winning percentage) and many consider her to be the Roger Federer of the women's game (well, I do, at least). The only meaningful trophy missing from her ever-expanding case is the Wimbledon dish. The Belgian star even owns a Fed Cup championship (2001).
Henin's 2007 winning percentage was the best since Steffi Graf posted an incredible .977 mark in 1989.
The speedy Henin finished as the year-end No. 1 for a second straight year and the third time in five seasons. She did not lose after Wimbledon (in July) and heads into 2008 riding a torrid 25-match winning streak.
She enjoyed a $1 million windfall in Madrid, became the first woman to eclipse $5 million in one season (collected nearly $5.4 million) and is the first woman to win double-digit titles in one season since Martina Hingis notched 12 championships 10 years ago.
By the way, the record for most women's singles titles in a season in the Open Era belongs to Margaret Smith Court, who piled up 21 way back in 1970.
Henin, who is now fifth all-time in career earnings among the ladies at $18.94 million, also became the first woman since Graf in 1996 to capture the U.S. Open, French Open and season-ending Championships in the same campaign. And the gritty stalwart was an amazing 21-1 against her fellow Top-10 stars for the year.
FYI, Henin has won the last three French Open titles, four of the last five, and she's appeared in 10 of the last 19 major finals overall.
A flat-out stud.
Henin is up to 11th on the all-time WTA titles list, with 39 wins, as she passed the likes of Tracy Austin, Conchita Martinez, Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams and Helga Masthoff (yes, Helga Masthoff) this season.
The Liege native only needs to win 128 MORE TITLES to equal the record of 167 set by Martina Navratilova. Is it just me or does 167 seem like an insane amount of titles?
This year's other major championships were claimed by the sisters Williams, as Serena captured the Aussie Open and Venus nailed down a fourth Wimbledon crown. Serena seemingly came out of nowhere to prevail in Melbourne, as she was coming off a 2006 campaign that was plagued by injuries and hadn't won a tournament of any kind since the '05 Aussie Open -- an unlikely two-year drought.
Serena Williams captured the Aussie Open in 2007 and also prevailed at Miami's Sony Ericsson Open, the so-called "Fifth Slam."
But after running the table at the Oz Open, Serena kept the good times rollin' by capturing the so-called "Fifth Slam" in Miami in April, as she ousted her arch-rival Henin in the final in south Florida. But, unfortunately for the powerful American, she would battle injuries once again and appeared in only one semifinal in her last nine events of '07. She lost to her nemesis Henin in the quarterfinals at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, capturing only one set in those three setbacks in the process.
The eight-time major titlist Serena's season officially came to a close when she pulled out of last week's season-ending Championships due to a left knee injury. She was forced to retire from her opening round-robin match in Madrid.
Serena's fellow former world No. 1 and big sister Venus stunned the tennis world by claiming a fourth Wimbledon championship back in July. It was Henin who headed to the "Big W" as the favorite, but the sturdy Belgian was shocked by fitness-challenged Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in the semis, and the six- time major champion Venus then handled Bartoli in the finale for her second surprise Wimby title in three years.
Venus finished the year ranked eighth in the world and qualified for the exclusive season-ending Championships, but she decided not to play in Madrid due to some ongoing dizziness issues. She finished the year with three titles, giving her 36 for her Hall-of-Fame-type career.
A pair of Serbs made big splashes on the women's circuit, as busy-body Jelena Jankovic paced the tour with 72 match wins (72-25) and recorded four titles, while Ana Ivanovic landed in the French Open final and won a trio of tourneys. The two women are currently ranked third and fourth, respectively, on the planet and figure to make even more noise in '08.
Roland Garros runner-up Ana Ivanovic is one of the most promising young players on the WTA Tour.
World No. 2 Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova enjoyed yet another solid campaign, as she reached her second U.S. Open final in four years, went 55-20 and secured a title in New Haven the week before the '07 U.S. Open commenced. She placed inside the year-end Top 5 for the third time in four years and quietly has performed in three of the last 13 Grand Slam finals.
Kuznetsova also clinched the 2007 Fed Cup championship for Russia when she outlasted Francesca Schiavone in the third rubber in the Russians' 4-0 pasting of the reigning champion Italians in Moscow. Kuznetsova also captured the second match in the best-of-five tie to give Russia a commanding 2-0 lead.
The aforementioned former top-ranked Sharapova is currently sixth in the world, as her season was disrupted by injuries, mostly of the shoulder and pectoral variety. But at least she capped her year in fine fashion by going 4-1 at the season-ending Championships, and pushing Henin to the limit in a blockbuster finale in Madrid.
Sharapova went 40-11 this year, but corralled only one title, in San Diego back in August. The Russian superstar also experienced a steady decline at the majors, as she was tattooed by Serena in the Aussie Open finale; was whipped by Ivanovic in the French Open semis; was flattened by Venus in the fourth round at Wimbledon; and was shocked by promising Pole Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round at the U.S. Open, where she was the defending champ at the time.
Another Russian enjoyed what you would call a breakthrough campaign in 2007, as Anna Chakvetadze crossed the finish line at No. 7 in the world, thanks to 59 match wins (59-20) and four titles. The future sure looks bright for this 20-year-old Muscovite.
Chakvetadze, like Kuznetsova, was also part of the Russian Fed Cup championship team, as she got the hosts off to a 1-0 start with a victory in the opening rubber in her native Moscow.
An additional youngster to keep your eye on is Hungarian teen Agnes Szavay. The 18-year-old captured her first two career titles, among 56 match wins, and soared all the way to the QFs at the U.S. Open.
Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova appeared in finals at the Aussie Open and season-ending Championships this year.
Some other teenagers on the move are 18-year-old Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and 16-year-old Austrian Tamira Paszek, who both reached the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. Paszek also landed in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Honorable mention this year goes to ninth-ranked Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, who was a two-time tournament winner (among 52 match wins) and secured a berth in the season-ending Championships (albeit one that came when Venus decided that she wasn't going to play). The perhaps underachieving Hantuchova, however, failed to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal this season and hasn't landed in the elite eight at a major since the 2003 Aussie Open, which, at the time, marked her third straight appearance in a Grand Slam quarter.
This year turned out to be a lost one for the aforementioned former world No. 1 Mauresmo, who battled injuries (specifically an appendectomy) all year long. Coming off a year in which she captured her first two career Grand Slam titles, the athletic Frenchwoman never got it going in '07, securing only one title, way back in February, and going 28-15 for the year. She upended the great Henin in last year's Aussie Open and Wimbledon title bouts.
Mauresmo opened this year ranked third in the world, but currently finds herself at No. 18. She'd finished the previous six years inside the Top 10.
FYI, the only Frenchwoman inside the Top 10 right now is Bartoli (10th).
The year also marked the comeback of another former world No. 1, Lindsay Davenport, who won two titles in only three events (Bali and Quebec) in her return. The big American was off the tour for about a year, as she took time off to start a family, which she officially did in June with the birth of her first child, a son named Jagger. Davenport is married to former Southern Cal tennis star and one-time ATP player Jon Leach.
The past season also saw the retirements of former top-ranked women Martina Hingis and Clijsters. The former U.S. Open champ and four-time Grand Slam runner-up Clijsters succumbed to mounting injuries, but mostly called it quits due to an impending marriage to former Villanova basketball player Brian Lynch, who plays pro ball in Clijsters' native Belgium. Quite simply, Clijsters wanted to start a family more than she wanted to continue on the WTA Tour.
Clijsters, who announced last year that she would retire from tennis at the end of the 2007 season, competed in a mere five events and claimed only one title this year. She hung up her racquet in May after dropping her opening match at a tournament in Warsaw.
Hingis, who returned to tennis at the beginning of 2006 after a three-year retirement brought on by injuries earlier in the decade, abruptly quit the circuit again two weeks ago, after announcing that she'd tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon this summer. The 27-year-old "Swiss Miss" adamantly denies taking any drugs and has vowed to clear her name.
The five-time major champion Hingis struggled with injuries this year and posted a pedestrian 24-13 record, which included her last title, in Tokyo, back in February.
Perhaps the most significant news item in women's tennis this year, however, was the fact that they achieved equal prize money at Wimbledon for the first time in history, a campaign started by the legendary Billie Jean King over 30 years ago.
The tour will swing back into action on December 31, with the start of some Aussie Open tune-ups in Auckland and Gold Coast. The big '08 Aussie show will commence January 14 at Melbourne Park.