Top 30s in 2018: Women, 5-1

Simona Halep

No. 5: Naomi Osaka
At the start of the year, very few people knew who she was when she was ranked No. 68. In January, she began to step up and began working with the brilliant coach, Sascha Bajin, who was around for many years with Serena Williams. Osaka reached the fourth round at Australia, upsetting Ash Barty before losing against Simona Halep. And ka-boom, the spirit rose quickly. She won Indian Wells, and at times, the now 21-year-old was up and down, but at the US Open, she was incredibly confident, banging the ball, with her terrific first serve, her forehand and her backhand. In the final, she jumped on Serena in the third set, and in the last game, instead of becoming nervous, she was very cool and she hit three amazing serves. She won it all, and she cried a lot. During the fall, she looked pretty good, but at the WTA Final, she was emotionally exhausted, and didn’t win a match. In a sense, that didn’t matter, because she is young and she needs to understand what she needs to do, week after week. Osaka is a darn good player and she will get even better in 2019. Will she win another major? I think so.       

No. 4: Elina Sviolina
There are times when it is so hard to figure out the Ukrainian. Some weeks, she looks spectacular, and other weeks, she was maudlin. But at the end of the year, she won the WTA Final, beating Caroline Wozniacki, Katrina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens. She was so locked in, attacking fast, digging it out and hitting deep. She is very strong and she can stay out there for a very long time. But, that hasn’t helped her at the Grand Slams, because then, her brain explodes. She has yet to reach into the semis at the majors, which was difficult. In 2018 at the Aussie Open, she managed to reach the quarters, but Mertens out hit her. At RG, Wimbledon and the US Open, she did almost nothing. Eventually, Sviolina will figure it out, just like Wozniacki did. Patience is the key. In 2019, she has to breath and hold it.        

No. 3: Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki is the committed grinder. She finally won a Grand Slam, grabbing the 2018 Australian Open, beating Halep 6-4 in the third. That was an amazing story. As she has said, she will remember that, forever. The 28-year-old has been around for a long, long time, 13 years, in fact. She plays a lot, and her backhand is one of the best in the world, crosscourt, especially. She has improved her so-so forehand, and she can chase down any ball, running left, right and straight. However, there were many months that she didn’t play terrific from February through September. Then, she won Beijing, which was solid, but at the WTA Final, she lost two matches and she was gone. It is pretty clear that Wozniaki is addicted to tennis. However, soon enough, perhaps in the next couple years, she will retire. She has won 610 matches, and she has lost 247 matches. She has been No. 1, for a long time, and she has won 30 titles. So what’s left?  Another major, absolutely.   

No. 2: Angie Kerber
When she is happy, the German played extremely well in 2018, winning Wimbledon and reaching the semis at the Aussie Open. The 30-year-old has been so stable, she rarely gets tired, and she races back and forth. Over the years, she was steady, but there were times that she wouldn’t go for it, and eventually, against the great players, she would lose. But, since 2016, she decided that if she is going to win a Grand Slam, she has to push herself, and go for the lines. And she did. She has won 12 titles, which is not huge at all, but it is respectable. Kerber has won two majors, and she certainly wants more. She won the Australian Open in 2016. Can she do it again in 2019 at the end of January? Sure, she can as long as she can smack the ball, frequently.  

No. 1: Simona Halep
It took so long for the Romanian to rise up at a Grand Slam. She was always very good, but at the majors, she would be so close, but right at the end, she pushed back. However, in early June, she reached the final at Roland Garros, and in the third set against Stephens, she kept pounding on the balls, swinging hard and hitting the lines. She kept her cool. She won, and she took a huge breath. Without a doubt, Halep can get hurt and complain about it, but she always stays in there. She is so strong and she can run and run until the sun goes down. Yes, she has only won one Slam, unlike Serena and Venus Williams, but the 27-year-old Halep can grab another major, on clay and on the hardcourts. At the Australian Open, she will be favored, not because she is much better than the rest, but because finally, she truly believes in herself. In 2019, she will push ever harder.