My 2021 WTA awards picks — Catching up with Kennedy Shaffer — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, November 30, 2021

Happy Tuesday everyone! It’s officially the off-season and as we wrap up November — what!? — I figured this would be a good day to dive into my votes for the 2021 WTA awards.

I’m super excited to be a voting member this year for the first time, especially since we had a full calendar of some extraordinary tennis. I figured why not be 100% transparent in my choices and reasoning for my voting. I’m actually really curious to see how the rest of the media votes on these awards. Most of the awards don’t have a clear frontrunner, but perhaps two or three. I hope the WTA releases the percentages for the Top 2 or 3 for each award because the margins are that close, in my opinion.

With that said, lets get started!

My WTA awards ballot

2021 WTA Player of the Year
Ashleigh Barty (AUS)
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE)
Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)
Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Emma Raducanu (GBR)
Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)
Iga Swiatek (POL)

First off, with all due respect to both Naomi Osaka and Emma Raducanu, I’m not a fan of the WTA automatically including Grand Slam champions in their list for Player of the Year. Sure, it makes sense, but besides Slam glory, both players didn’t do much on the WTA Tour itself.

There are two players I think most agree on: Barty and Krejcikova. Barty captured 5 titles in 2021, including Wimbledon, Miami and Cincinnati, while also headlining the rankings the entire season. It’s mighty impressive, but that No. 1 ranking has a tiiiiiiinnnyyy asterisk because of the WTA ranking freeze and 2019 points being included in that. The Australian also struggled with some injuries and packed up her bags early before the end of the season. While her season was the most dominant on paper, I struggle giving her my vote.

It would be easy to give Barty my vote in this case if this was solely a singles award. With that said, the WTA Player of the Year is someone that has the best year all-around in both disciplines, which is why I voted for Barbora Krejcikova. The Czech only made her Top 100 singles debut late in 2020, but found herself finishing this year in the Top 5. Obviously her French Open crown takes the cake, but her debut WTA singles title the week before and then a third title in Prague on the hardcourts were standout moments. She was extremely consistent, reaching another final at the WTA 1000 in Dubai and the quarterfinals of the US Open and Cincinnati along with a fourth round finish at Wimbledon. Arguably one of the best doubles players of the last few years, this is what sealed her vote for me. She captured five titles including the WTA Finals, French Open and the Tokyo Olympics, while also taking home a mixed doubles title at the Australian Open. She played a lot of tennis and the results showed, even though her debut at the WTA Finals resulted in a winless record. Playing a full year of Top 5 singles and doubles is mighty impressive and isn’t really done anymore so she deserves a lot of kudos.

For me, Krejcikova deserved my vote, but Barty is worthy of receiving the award herself as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the media decides to give Barty their vote while giving Krejcikova the doubles team and/or Most Improved awards.

WTA Doubles Team of the Year
Shuko Aoyama (JPN) / Ena Shibahara (JPN)
Alexa Guarachi (CHI) / Desirae Krawczyk (USA)
Hsieh Su-Wei (TPE) / Elise Mertens (BEL)
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) / Katerina Siniakova (CZE)
Nicole Melichar-Martinez (USA) / Demi Schuurs (NED)
Samantha Stosur (AUS) / Zhang Shuai (CHN)

This is another award where there are two front-runners, Su-Wei/Mertens and Krejcikova/Siniakova. While Su-Wei/Mertens won Indian Wells and Wimbledon, they were a little bit up-and-down, especially in the beginning of their partnership. As for the reasons I gave Krejcikova my vote in singles, a Grand Slam, the WTA Finals and a gold medal are pretty hard to beat. The Czechs were the most dominant and consistent of the nominees, while also playing a full calendar, whereas Su-Wei/Mertens only started their partnership in May.

Also, it should be noted that Siniakova did win a sixth title this year, Moscow with Jelena Ostapenko, which is why she is solely the No. 1 doubles player in the world. I could also argue that she should be given the WTA Doubles Player of the Year award by herself.

WTA Most Improved Player of the Year: Player who finished inside the Top 50 and showed significant improvement throughout the 2021 season
Paula Badosa (ESP)
Leylah Fernandez (CAN)
Ons Jabeur (TUN)
Anett Kontaveit (EST)
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE)
Jessica Pegula (USA)
Maria Sakkari (GRE)

While Krejcikova certainly looks to be a headliner here, I don’t know if she’s the most improved. She certainly had her breakthrough season, but she’s been on the cusp of peaking in singles and had a lot of momentum entering 2021. Fernandez, while having her impressive US Open run, is too young in my opinion to be in this category. Jabeur and Kontaveit had incredible 2021 seasons, but they’ve also been touted for quite some time while being on the edge of glory. Sakkari also falls a little in that group, but she had quite an incredible 2021, reaching her first two Grand Slam semifinals, as well as the Final Four at the WTA Finals.

Badosa is someone who is textbook someone who had significant improvement. She broke into the Top 100 towards the end of last season and if you told me she’d be Top 10 following her Australian summer that saw her come down with COVID, I’d think you’d need to be hospitalized. She had a strong 2021 campaign, winning her first titles and first Grand Slam quarterfinal while winning perhaps one of the matches of the year in the Indian Wells final. She is incredibly deserving of this award in particular, but, in a virtual coin toss, my vote went to Pegula.

The American may not have won any titles, but starting the year outside the Top 60 and being extremely consistent throughout the entire year is what really stood out to me. Her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in Australia really made my alarm bells go off and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with her year. A semifinal in Montreal and quarterfinals in Dubai, Rome and Indian Wells showed that she wasn’t a one-trick pony. She amassed seven Top 10 wins throughout the year and cracked the Top 20 this month. She also had a solid doubles season, entering the Top 50 for the first time.

I expect Krejcikova to most likely take this award and if she takes the Player award, this will likely go to Badosa. Pegula was just too consistent throughout the entire season while having one more Top 10 win under her belt.

WTA Newcomer of the Year: Player who made Top 100 debut and/or notable accomplishments for the first time during the 2021 season
Ann Li (USA)
Camila Osorio (COL)
Emma Raducanu (GBR)
Liudmila Samsonova (RUS)
Mayar Sherif (EGY)
Clara Tauson (DEN)

In a normal season, this would be the category to watch and really take the entire voting period to decide. Hell, if you just factor out everything but the US Open. Enter Emma Raducanu.

I don’t really feel like I need to really explain this one, really. Can you really name any better “first” than the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam. One that won it all without dropping a set. She could’ve made this list with her Wimbledon run and then runner-up finish at the WTA 125 in Chicago, but then her Cinderella run in New York solidified her award here. She could’ve packed her suitcase after New York and she’d still get my vote for this award. It’s still baffling that her first WTA Main Draw victory on paper was after she won a Grand Slam. How “newcomer” can you get than that sentence alone?! I admit I wish Raducanu wasn’t in this list because I really don’t know were I’d lean in my vote. It’s really that up-in-the-air. I might lean towards Samsonova following her Berlin title run and then Billie Jean King Cup heroics, but this is Raducanu’s in the bag. Point, blank and the period.

WTA Comeback Player of the Year: Player who’s ranking previously dropped due to injury or personal reasons and their current season’s results helped restore ranking
Ana Konjuh (CRO)
Sania Mirza (IND)
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)
Elena Vesnina (RUS)

While Vesnina and Mirza certainly should be lauded for coming back following maternity leave, there are two players who I believe will get the majority, if not all of the media’s votes: Konjuh and Suarez Navarro. However, for me, there’s only one deserving winner in Konjuh, but I would be more than happy seeing Suarez Navarro win this award following Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s a commendable story and while she is more than loved on tour and will be missed following retirement, the Spaniard didn’t produce anything on-court except an impressive and inspiring win over Ons Jabeur at the Tokyo Olympics.

Konjuh’s career was threatened multiple times following four elbow surgeries on her playing arm. She was one of my players to watch in the beginning of the year as she played the Australian Open qualifying. She lost in the third round there, but qualified for the other three Grand Slams. That in itself is damn impressive and extremely hard to do. She qualified and reached the final — her first WTA final since 2017 — in Belgrade, but also qualified and stormed to the San Jose semifinals. Her fourth round run in Miami dismantling Madison Keys and then upsetting Iga Swiatek really announced her comeback to the world’s elite. She ended 2020 ranked outside of the Top 500 and currently stands at No. 66. The comeback is over, in my opinion, and don’t be surprised to see her knocking on the Top 30 or even better if she can continue good health. My fingers are crossed.

I would love to know your thoughts on the nominees and if I’m on the pulse or not. Comment or tweet at me your thoughts! Should the WTA add more awards, but also add a Doubles Player option if players win with multiple partners? What about Most Improved in that discipline too? I’d love to see more options, as well as an even award field for singles and doubles.

However, as Annie always says, ONTO THE LINKS!


This Week in Women’s Tennis

The WTA announced the Australian Summer of Tennis series that will make up the first month of the 2022 WTA season. I’m already preparing my poor sleep schedule in advance.

Peter Bodo details how Steve Simon should be commended for standing up to a Chinese system that is used to getting their way, while being at the helm of an organization that has the potential to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

In more Australia news, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley shared that 85% of the players are vaccinated, which is a requirement to travel to the continent for the beginning of the tennis season.

Naomi Osaka incorrectly hearing and addressing Jenny Brady as “Jennifer” during their Australian Open trophy ceremony highlighted tennis.com’s Top 10 quotes of 2021. Stay tuned for the rest of the list.

The WTA Finals raised over $40,000 to help fight women’s cancer through their third annual ACEing Cancer campaign. Well done to the players, sponsors AKRON and Caliente and WTA Finals Ambassador Chris Evert for their contributions!

Speaking of Chris Evert, the WTA Legend was on hand to help open up a new tennis facility in Guadalajara while the WTA Finals were going on. I say every tennis ceremony has a mariachi band.

Matt Fitzgerald at tennis.com shares that the WTA’s “next generation” isn’t in the future — they’re now.

Marika Zivak breaks down the tennis holiday must-haves so you don’t have to do the searching. I’ll gladly email you my address if you’d like to send any gifts.


Tweet of the Week

We must keep talking about Peng Shuai until Steve Simon gets his unfiltered, safe and reassuring one-on-one. The fact that this discussion is losing the momentum it has is not ok. This tweet had me really pause and think about the potential this situation could have on more than just women’s tennis. I can’t stress this enough — this situation is bigger than sport and needs to be addressed as a human rights issue.


Five at The IX: Kennedy Shaffer

Kennedy Shaffer currently ranks No. 638 in singles and No. 991 in doubles on the WTA rankings. An All-American at the University of Georgia, she checks in with us for the first time since March. She updates our readers on her 2021 season that saw some stellar play, but also injury, while giving her thoughts on the WTA Awards and #FreePengShuai. Give her a follow on Twitter and Instagram.

Joey: Last time we checked in, you were gearing up to hopefully play the WTA tournaments in Charleston. You played in both the WTA 500 and 250 qualifying events, taking both opponents to three sets. It was a vast improvement from your WTA debut in 2019. Can you talk about the experience of being able to get such high-level experience?
Kennedy: I had an absolute blast playing the Charleston tournaments. Any chance I get to compete against the best of the best is a chance for me to improve and measure the level I’m at. I put in so much work during COVID and was playing at what I felt like was such a level that I was very excited to showcase that. In the end, neither match went my way, but I showed myself how capable I am of hanging around that level. It gave me confidence going forward that more experience against those players would hopefully soon translate into success at that level.

Joey: You had elbow surgery in June and missed a majority of the summer ITF tournaments. However, you came back on the circuit to have a solid run reaching the finals of a UTR Pro Tour event, then qualifying for two ITF $25k Florida events to reach the second round and quarterfinals. How are you feeling physically as you wrap up your 2021 season?
Kennedy: 2021 has been a tough year for me in more ways than one. Part of me is very glad it’s over (even though the last few tournaments were without a doubt the highlight of my return to tennis) because I’m so ready for a fresh start. Ending my last few events on a high is exactly the boost I feel like I’ll need to begin next year on a strong note. I’ll take this preseason to continue to work on my body and train and get stronger and hopefully all of these things will culminate with an awesome 2022!

Joey: There has been much talk about the Peng Shuai situation and you’re one of the players that continues to post as the story loses momentum in the press. What would you like to see done by both the WTA and ITF?
Kennedy: Peng Shuai’s situation is one that I, personally, refuse to be silent about. I wish others felt the same way but as you said, the story has unfortunately lost its momentum. I won’t speak on the ITF’s statement as it was so far beyond a weak and massive disappointment, however, I will speak on how much I appreciate Steve Simon and the pressure he has continued to apply verbally. Now is the time for action though if you ask me. At this point, I personally believe that the WTA should pull all events from China. We’ve already said it’s a very possible option so why not? Why shouldn’t women’s tennis lead the charge for positive change in the world?

Joey: 2022 will see a full return to the normal WTA rankings system, which I feel hindered a lot of players who fight on the ITF Pro Circuit. Your recent play helped raise your ranking to No. 638 from No. 791 two weeks ago. Do you have any set goals in mind when it comes to your 2022 season?
Kennedy: First and foremost, my goal is to stay healthy. It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with injuries and being able to compete in back to back events because of my body. That being said, I just had a great string of tournaments where no issues popped up so I’m really hoping to build on that and increase the amount of matches I’m able to play next year. It would be an absolute dream to make US Open qualies next year but a lot has to go right for that to happen so for now I’ll just say I’d like to move up the rankings to around 300/400.

Joey: This week, I talked about my picks for the WTA season awards. As a player, who would your picks be? Does any specific award have a player missing on the nominations list you would sneak in or would you create any other award that the media should vote on?
Kennedy: My “Player of the Year” is absolutely Barbora Krejcikova. Do I really need to say more? She was almost my “Most Improved Player”, too, considering there can be no doubt about Barbora’s capabilities after the year she had.

“Newcomer of the Year” award goes to Clara Tauson in my opinion. I love all the parts of her tennis and find watching her to be so entertaining. She has such a lovely, well-rounded game with so many different weapons available to her at all times.

That “Most Improved Player” category is insane. You could easily make a case for any one of these players winning as they all made such incredible improvements. My gut, however, says Anett Kontaveit. She was always good but the way she was able to put the pieces together toward the back end of the year was so much fun to watch.

Carla Suarez Navarro is a legend in every sense of the word. The three women in that group are so very admirable in all that they’ve done to return to the sport they love but I’ve always loved watching her play so I stand by her in every way I can—both as a player and a fan. She’s my “Comeback of the Year” award winner. –

How can you not love Hsieh Su-Wei? When I watch her as both a singles player and doubles partner, she is entertaining and lovable in every sense of the word. She and Elise Mertens have what appears to be such a fun time on court. It’s impossible not to enjoy watching them compete together. I could most certainly make a case for Barbora and Katerina with all of their incredible results, but Hsieh is a favorite of mine so my vote is for them. They’re my “Doubles Team of the Year”.

Maybe an interesting addition to the end of year awards would be “Best Social Media Presence” for those players that enjoy being active on social media!


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon