Has there been a tennis season when the beginning and the end looked so different, and not merely because empty stadiums have given way to filled arenas? In February, after the Australian Open, where Naomi Osaka of Japan won her second consecutive Grand Slam singles event and the fourth of her career, she appeared ready to take control of the sport. Ten months later, she is on indefinite leave as she deals with her mental health. No one knows when, or if, she will return.
Serena Williams made the semifinals in Australia and appeared poised for a serious try for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. She has been sidelined with injuries since the early summer. Ashleigh Barty of Australia, the 2021 Wimbledon champion, passed on the last two months of the season after an exhausting half-year on the road.
The American Sofia Kenin, who arrived in Australia as the defending champion, endured an emergency appendectomy, Covid-19 and a split with her father and coach, Alex Kenin. She tumbled out of the top 10. Simona Halep of Romania, the No. 2 seed in Australia, battled injuries and is now ranked 22nd.
The only player to make it back to this championship from 2019, the last time it was played, was Pliskova of the Czech Republic. In place of the usual stars are players like Maria Sakkari, a 26-year-old from Greece with a physique more typical of a mixed martial arts fighter than a tennis player. She cracked the top 20 only last year.
The biggest name in the game at the moment, Emma Raducanu of Britain, the qualifier who won the U.S. Open in September, is not here because she did not qualify. The qualification requirements were made when everyone just assumed that anyone good enough to win a Grand Slam event would certainly be among the top-ranked players still playing at the end of the year. In a perfect world, the tour finals would feature all the Grand Slam champions and finalists.
Alas, this championship has just a single Grand Slam singles champion from this year, Krejcikova, known until recently as a doubles specialist, who came out of nowhere to win the 2021 French Open. There is just one other Grand Slam finalist — Pliskova, who lost to Barty at Wimbledon. There, Barty looked like she might not lose again for a while, but she did not even make the second week of the U.S. Open and called it a season.