We’re not a week into 2017, but it already feels a lot like 2016 on the WTA tour—that is, nobody really has any clue as to what’s going on.
Last year the calendar was dominated by a bevy of upsets and unexpected outcomes, and there’s no indication that the surprises will cease any time soon. Any player can beat any player on any given day—regardless of ranking—which is either refreshing and welcome or frustrating and frowned upon, depending on your preference.
A quick glance at the Top 10 will make your head spin.
On Wednesday, Serena Williams made 88 unforced errors in a shocking loss to 72nd-ranked Madison Brengle. The following day, world No. 1 Angelique Kerber—it still feels odd writing that—with a brand new target on her back, hardly looked like the world’s best player in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 defeat to Elina Svitolina.
Agnieszka Radwanska, the top seed in Shenzhen, was ousted by Alison Riske in the quarterfinals, and she didn’t win a game in the third set. At the same tournament, world No. 4 Simona Halep was defeated by 52nd-ranked Katerina Siniakova in the second round. Rounding out the Top 5, Dominika Cibulkova—coming off the best season of her career—lost to Alize Cornet in straight sets in the Brisbane quarterfinals.
The bottom half of the Top 10 has had a more respectable showing. Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza are into the Brisbane semifinals, and Johanna Konta is two wins away from a title in Shenzhen. Svetlana Kuznetsova was downed by Muguruza in Brisbane, and Madison Keys—the only player in the Top 10 not in action this week—is recovering from wrist surgery.
You get the feeling that these surprising results will continue to be the norm rather than the exception, and that the Top 10 will fluctuate an inordinate amount week in and week out until the season concludes in October. Do seeds and rankings even mean anything in the women’s game right now? Sure, but you have to take them with a grain of salt.
Kerber and Williams will still be the clear-cut favorites at the majors—Muguruza and Kuznetsova are the only other players in the Top 10 who have won Slams, and they can’t be counted on—but if and when they lose, it won’t send shockwaves through the sport. This is what we’ve come to except during this transition period in women’s tennis. There’s incredible parity in our sport right now, for better or worse, and while that might mean less brilliance at the top of the game, it also leaves the door open for some memorable, out-of-nowhere runs.
Is it possible that Pliskova, who reached the U.S. Open final this past September, is the third best player in the world behind Serena and Kerber? The 24-year-old Czech had an eye-opening 2016, and if there was any time to make a jump into the Top 3, it’s now.
Factor in the comebacks of Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka later this year—not to mention established veterans such as Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams—and 2017 could get nutty in a hurry.
Enjoy the ride, and make your Australian Open picks at your peril. It will truly be anybody’s tournament.