Unlike for the American men, 2012 was a welcome surprise for the women. We saw the American women reach the second week at all four Grand Slams, and we had new faces to cheer on.
From Serena Williams, who ended 2012 with a firm grip on the WTA tour, dominating the second half of the season, to Sloane Stephens and Christina McHale continuing to break through into the Top 20—it makes 2013 very intriguing.
It also begs the question: Can sister Venus, surprise 2012 player Varvara Lepchenko or young guns like Stephens and McHale back up Serena and make an impact at the Slams?
What can we expect from the ladies in the 2013 season?
Coming off a title in Brisbane last week, it’s hard not to pick Serena for the title in Melbourne. Having lost earlier (than usual) last January to Ekaterina Makarova, you can bet Serena is more motivated than ever to nab title No. 6 Down Under. And we all know that when Serena is determined, she plays her best.
But for 2013, look for Serena to grab a title that has eluded her for 11 years, the French Open. With a certain clay-court specialist no longer in the picture (ahem, Justine Henin), and after basically handing the title over to Maria Sharapova last season, Serena will be looking for redemption in a city she calls her second home. It's time for Serena to rejoin that winner’s circle.
All and all, the real question for Serena in 2013 is not if she can win the majors, but if Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova can challenge the American. As of now, it’s hard seeing anyone ousting Serena at the Slams.
The main thing surrounding Venus is her health. Ever since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome back in 2011, Venus has struggled. But she continued to battle in 2012 as we saw last summer in Cincinnati and at the U.S. Open.
Late last fall, she won her first WTA tournament in over two-and-half-years at the BGL Luxembourg Open. Venus was even quoted last week saying she plans to defend her Olympic gold medal in the 2016 Olympics.
So far in 2013, she went undefeated at the Hopman Cup. If Venus is healthy, she can get quality wins. The likelihood of her lifting another Grand Slam trophy is slim, but a deep run is not. Her desire is still there, and it might be enough to continue to push through in 2013
After losing to Serena in Brisbane last week, Stephens got high praise from the 15-time Grand Slam champion, saying (via USA Today), “I think she can be the best in the world one day so it was a great match.”
Stephens took a major step last season toward the top of the WTA game, as she became a tennis household name thanks to her fourth-round run at the French Open and her friendly personality both on and off the court. With the firepower she possesses on the court, look for Stephens to avoid the sophomore slump that plagued Melanie Oudin and continue to climb into the Top 20.
Just a step behind Stephens is McHale, who also posted a nice 2012 but still needs an extra key to reaching the second week at Slams.
She has defeated the world's best in the past (Caroline Wozniacki in 2011, Victoria Azarenka in 2010), but sometimes the hardest thing is backing it up in the next round. Stephens showed that at the U.S. Open after defeating Francesca Schiavone. McHale has a strong groundstroke game and should maintain a Top 40 ranking this season.
As for 26-year-old Lepchenko, it’s hard to see her backing up her results (fourth round at the French Open) in 2013. She is already struggling in the warm-up events leading to the Australian Open, losing early in Brisbane and Sydney.
And it gets worse: Lepchenko’s best result in Melbourne is the first round. On the other hand, Lepchenko will be seeded 21st and as of now still maintains a Top 25 ranking. She could rise in the ranks if she can get to the middle week in Melbourne.
Lastly, Taylor Townsend is also worth mentioning. She beings her first season as a pro after finishing world No. 1 on the junior circuit. She is already being compared to Serena Williams and will be one to watch as she becomes a part of the next generation in women’s tennis.
Bottom line for American women’s tennis: Look for Serena to continue her dominance and the next generation of players to step up in 2013.