Women's review 2008
Serena and Venus Williams turned back the clock and Ana Ivanovic broke her major duck in 2008.
By Graeme Mair
Last Updated: 09/06/09 11:51am
There was something for almost everyone in women's tennis during 2008 as the Grand Slams were shared between four different players.
Maria Sharapova started the year with an 18-match winning streak, including victory at the Australian Open, and looked capable of dominating.
But the remainder of Sharapova's season was blighted by a rotator cuff injury that eventually forced her to sit out the final five months.
World number one Justine Henin walked away from the sport just prior to her French Open defence, opening the door for a new champion at Roland Garros.
Ana Ivanovic saw off Dinara Safina to claim her maiden major in Paris, but the rest of the year largely belonged to the resurgent Williams sisters.
Venus captured her fifth Wimbledon singles title without dropping a set, seeing off her younger sister in the final.
But Serena soon got over that disappointment by storming to the US Open crown, the first time she had won her home major for six years.
After Henin's abdication. the world number one ranking switched several times as Sharapova, Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Serena all enjoyed short stints. Jankovic, who was a model of consistency without managing to win her first Grand Slam, eventually finished the year in top spot.
Player of the year - Serena Williams
Williams was fit, healthy and motivated for long stretches of 2008 and reminded everyone of her talent.
The American won four times on the WTA Tour and finished the year in style with a third US Open crown, her ninth Grand Slam victory.
Her play at Flushing Meadows evoked memories of five years ago when she was the undoubted queen of women's tennis.
The only other serious player of the year contender was Jankovic.
Jankovic also bagged four titles and her relentless schedule - 22 events in total - allowed her to finish the season as world number one.
But the Serbian's nearly-woman status in the Grand Slams - defeat to Williams in the US Open final and semi-final exits in Australia and France - mean question marks remain over her ability to produce under the highest pressure.
Rising star - Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki collected four titles between August and November to emerge as the latest teen sensation.
The 18-year-old prefers to stay at the baseline where she can use her speed, fitness and retrieving skills to wear down opponents.
Wozniacki has so far enjoyed her best results on hard courts and indoor carpet, although also has a good pedigree on grass having been Wimbledon junior champion in 2006.
The Dane is the most eye-catching member of a promising group of young players who made their presence felt in 2008.
World number 10 Agnieszka Radwanska is the highest ranked of the latest crop of talent, while Alize Cornet (#16), Victoria Azarenka (#15) and Dominika Cibulkova (#19) all finished the season ranked inside the top 20.
Most improved - Dinara Safina
Safina emerged from the shadows of older brother Marat with a breakout season.
She already possessed the powerful serve and groundstrokes to be an elite player, but had previously lacked both the fitness and temperament to make the most of her talents.
But a leaner, more focused Safina emerged in 2008 and enjoyed her best Grand Slam result with a final appearance at the French Open, where she lost out to Ivanovic.
Her performance at Roland Garros provided the catalyst for a fine run of form that included titles in Los Angeles, Montreal and Tokyo and a run to the last four of the US Open.
The Russian finished the year at a career high position of third in the world rankings and with a realistic hope of making a major breakthrough next year.
Comeback - Venus Williams
The elder Williams sister came into 2008 with question marks once again surrounding her form and motivation.
Her early-season displays - a succession of quarter-final exits and worse - appeared to cement the prevailing view that her best days were firmly in the rear view mirror.
But Wimbledon has often brought out the best in Williams, and she arrived as a four-time winner and defending champion.
SW19 once again proved just the tonic as her huge serve and booming groundstrokes took her to a fifth title without dropping a set, sealed by beating younger sister Serena in the final.
And Williams maintained some of that momentum during the hard court season with back-to-back titles in Zurich and the season-ending Tour Championships. She finished the season at number six in the world rankings.
Best performance - Ana Ivanovic at French Open
Ivanovic seduced tennis fans around the world with her maiden Grand Slam triumph at the French Open.
Paris seemed a fitting venue for the elegant Serbian to win her first major, having lost to Sharapova in the final of the Australian Open.
She was unstoppable in the French capital, losing just one set - to compatriot Jankovic in the semi-final - en route to the title.
Safina was blown away in a one-sided final to confirm Ivanovic's status as the new darling of Roland Garros.
Match of the year - Ana Ivanovic v Jelena Jankovic, French Open semi-final
All four Grand Slam finals were one-sided processions with many of the best matches being reserved for the earlier rounds at the big tournaments.
The all-Serbian affair between Ivanovic and Jankovic at the French Open provided a high quality encounter that took both players to the depths of their mental and physical reserves.
Each came into the match looking to shed a reputation for flakiness under pressure.
Ivanovic, who had won seven of their previous eight meetings, came from an early break down to win the first set 6-4.
But Jankovic responded by racing through the second set 6-3 and moving a service break up at 3-2 in the decider.
With the winning line approaching, the nerves that had tormented Jankovic so often in the past once again surfaced and Ivanovic seized the moment, reeling off four of the next five games to secure victory.
Low point - Justine Henin's premature retirement
Henin made a shock decision to call it quits in May, just prior to the French Open where she was due to be the three-time defending champion.
The Belgian walked away from the sport aged just 25 and ranked number one in the world, leaving a huge void.
While collecting seven Grand Slam titles in six years from 2001, Henin had proved that small could still be beautiful in professional tennis. Of the four majors only Wimbledon remained unconquered, although she twice reached the final.
Standing at just under 5ft 6in, Henin combined flawless technique with an oppressive will-to-win - she often appeared to want it much more than her rivals.
Henin, however, never seemed comfortable off court under the scrutiny that her achievements created and, at times, looked to be pushing her body to beyond its limits, as evidenced by frequent injury and viral problems.
Her personal life had been characterised by tragedy, feuding and divorce and the snap retirement came after being reconciled with her family the previous year.
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