Women’s tennis is unpredictable and exciting. However, real jaw-dropping moments are still very rare. I’ve been thinking about WTA happenings that left me speechless in recent history and I didn’t have to think too hard to come up with this Top 6 list.
For a super quick overview, you can watch this two-minute video. If you prefer text, read on.
6. Emma Raducanu’s US Open 2021 triumph
Surprise Grand Slam champions are a common occurrence in women’s tennis. However, 18-year-old Emma Raducanu broke all molds when she won the 2021 US Open without dropping a set, becoming the first singles qualifier in the Open Era to win a major title. It was only a month and a half after the success in New York that Raducanu won her first main-draw match on the WTA Tour — in the first round of the Transylvania Open.
The Toronto-born player became the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Virginia Wade in the 1977 Wimbledon Championships. The groundbreaking result propelled Raducanu from 150th position in the WTA rankings to just outside the Top 20. Additionally, numerous sponsors are now fighting for a piece of her star power. So far, she’s made notable deals with Dior and Tiffany & Co.
5. Kim Clijsters’ post-pregnancy Grand Slam titles
When Kim Clijsters retired for the first time in 2007, she already had a career worthy of a tennis legend. Enjoying time away from the WTA Tour, the Belgian gave birth to her first child, daughter Jada in February 2008.
Playing only her third tournament after taking a two-year break and starting a family, wildcard Kim Clijsters went all the way to the 2009 US Open title. From an unranked player she rose to No.19 in the WTA rankings.
Next year, Clijsters returned to New York and defended her title! In 2010, the tennis mom also won big tournaments in Brisbane, Miami, Cincinnati, and the season-ending WTA Championships. At the 2011 Australian Open, Clijsters won her fourth Grand Slam singles title and third of her second career. The Belgian retired for the second time in August 2012.
Having already made it to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and two more kids later, Clijsters decided to play some more on the WTA Tour in 2020. After more than seven years away from women’s tennis, the legendary athlete is back again. Although her win-loss record in the third career is 0-5, the fact that the former world No.1 competing again is a win in itself.
4. Pregnant Serena Williams 2017 Australian Open champion
Only counting Serena Williams’ career achievements would require a week’s worth of work. However, there’s one achievement that stands out in my mind — the fact that the American won the 2017 Australian Open while being pregnant with her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian. How crazy is that? One might argue that she was still very early in her pregnancy, and indeed, she revealed that she was eight to nine weeks pregnant at the time, but in my opinion, it doesn’t diminish her achievement one bit.
Pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on a woman’s body and the negative effects are often experienced at the earliest stage, such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, etc. Since Williams is superhuman, she managed to defeat Belinda Bencic, Lucie Safarova, Nicole Gibbs, Barbora Strycova, Johanna Konta, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, and lastly her sister Venus during the fortnight at Melbourne Park to win her 23rd singles Grand Slam title. Awe-inspiring!
3. Maria Sharapova’s doping ban
In my mind, Maria Sharapova will forever stay remembered for her fighting spirit, work ethic, amazing fashion and superior entrepreneurial skills. However, the shocking moment that marked the Russian’s career, and the past decade in women’s tennis, is definitely the unexpected news conference when she revealed that she had failed a drug test in 2016.
Namely, Sharapova was using a medication called Mildronate pretty much throughout her career and that drug contained Meldonium, which all of a sudden made a list of prohibited substances in 2016. The five-time Grand Slam champion’s agent Max Eisenbud failed to notice the major change in the list of banned drugs.
Sharapova has always been a class act and the way she let the world know about her career-shattering problem was very brave: she organized a press conference and announced her failed drug test in March 2016. In June 2016 the ITF tribunal concluded that she did not do the drug treatment for the purpose of obtaining performance-enhancing benefits. With their decision of a two-year suspension, later reduced to 15 months, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what Sharapova did was not intentional.
In April 2017, Sharapova made her comeback at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, in October 2017 she won the Tianjin Open title, while in February 2020 she retired from tennis at the age of 32.
2. Naomi Osaka’s 2021 Roland Garros media boycott and withdrawal
In order to ensure her well-being and maximize her tennis performance, Naomi Osaka decided it was best for her to completely avoid the media at the 2021 French Open. “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me,” the four-time major champion explained.
Press conferences are a an integral part of every top player’s career and are mandatory at Grand Slams. The highest-paid female athlete in the world Osaka figured she could easily pay the hefty fines and go on with her plan. But it was not so easy…
Osaka won her first-round match at Roland Garros, received a $15,000 fine for skipping the post-match presser, but it wouldn’t be as simple as just paying fines for skipping her duties. The Japanese was informed that repeat violations attract tougher sanctions, including default from the tournament, and trigger a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.
I didn’t expect tennis officials to push Osaka to the wall as much, but what was even more shocking, at least to me, was how firmly the Japanese stood by her beliefs. I expected Osaka to succumb to the pressure, at least to a certain extent, but she showed she was willing to put everything on the line to emphasize just how important for her it was to distance herself from the media. And then came the shocking moment: Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros ahead of her second-round match. She later skipped Wimbledon as well, before making her comeback at the Tokyo Olympics.
Grand Slam champions Ashleigh Barty, Iga Swiatek and Rafael Nadal all commented that they understood media appearances as something a professional athlete must get used to as they greatly contribute to the popularity of the sport and inherently put the bread on their table.
1. Flavia Pennetta’s US Open triumph and abrupt retirement
Flavia Pennetta enjoyed a very successful professional tennis career for more than a decade, but the Italian peaked late, at the age of 33, when she won her maiden Grand Slam singles title at the 2015 US Open. The New York final between Italian friends and colleagues Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci was such a big deal that Italian Prime Minister canceled his other plans and came to Flushing Meadows to watch the match live.
It was Pennetta’s 49th Grand Slam appearance, the longest wait of anyone to win their first major. The triumph lifted her from No.26 to a career-high WTA ranking of No.6 in the weeks following the major.
Why is Pennetta topping my most shocking women’s tennis moments list? During the 2015 US Open trophy ceremony, as a surprise champion enjoying the happiest career moment, Pennetta announced that she would retire from the sport! This announcement made my jaw drop! I expected she would like to play some more, on the wings of her newly-found Grand Slam success in singles.
The Italian hung up her racquet later that year, after losing to Maria Sharapova in the round-robin stage of the WTA Finals in Singapore. Next year she got married to ATP player Fabio Fognini. The couple welcomed their first child, son Federico in May 2017. In December 2019, their daughter Farah was born. Pennetta is currently pregnant for the third time.
Do you agree with my Top 5 most shocking women’s tennis moments? Is there something you would add to the list? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments. (photos: Jimmie48)