Over the first 10 days of 2017, we're examining the Top 10 players on the ATP and WTA tours—how will they fare during the new season? All of the previews can be found here.
The legend of Sveta continues to grow. At 31, the 14-year WTA veteran jumped back into the Top 10 for the first time since 2009. And she did it the hard way, playing 22 events and producing the most consistent season of her career. Svetlana Kuznetsova started the year with a title in Sydney and ended it with an epic, four-match marathon performance at the WTA Finals in Singapore. In between, she even took time to record a rare win over Serena Williams.
Was this a last hurrah for the Russian, who won the first of her two Grand Slam titles at the U.S. Open back in 2004? Her long-term rankings trend might make you think so; from 2013 to 2015, she seemed to have settled into a late-career niche between 20 and 30. Last year, she earned her points not by going deep at the Slams—her best results at majors were fourth-round appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon—but by playing virtually every week. Will that workload be sustainable at age 32 and beyond? Serena’s system for surviving in her 30s—play little, win big—would seem to be a better way to promote longevity. Now that Kuznetsova is back among the elite, maybe she can afford to take a page from the Williams playbook. If Sveta focuses on the majors again, and gets herself into the second week at them, she can take a few tournaments off.
But even if she doesn’t keep climbing the ranks, Kuznetsova’s return to the top of the game is a welcome one. She’s the tennis version of a veteran pitcher who has lost a little on her fastball and has to use a wider variety of deliveries to get people out. In her youth, Kuznetsova was one of the sport’s great athletes; she comes from a family of Olympic cycling champions. While she can still keep up with players 10 years her junior, now she relies on guile and experience to get her through the three-set epics she tends to favor. Playing those matches might not be good for her in the long run, but fans of the sport appreciate the effort. Maybe life in tennis really can start at 31.
Year-end ranking prediction: No. 12