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.

What does Simona Halep think when she looks at the rankings and sees Angelique Kerber’s name at No. 1? “That could have been me,” most likely. For much of the two previous years, the Romanian appeared to be the most likely rival and heir to Serena Williams. Halep was the one who had stormed into the Top 10 in 2014 and come within two games of winning the French Open. She was the one who, while standing just 5’6”, dazzled fans with her smooth shot-making and her ability to fight back against more imposing opponents. She was the one who, as 2016 began, was No. 2 in the world and owned a 3-0 record against Kerber.

The dynamics of that matchup, and of both women’s careers, have obviously changed in the last 12 months. In fact, Kerber’s rise to No. 1 came, to a certain degree, at Halep’s expense. The German turned the tables on the Romanian, beating her in four of their five matches in 2016, including a tight two-setter in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. While Kerber is just two inches taller than Halep, she was able to elevate her game and break out of her old defensive shell.


Can Halep do something similar in 2017? She is a more versatile ball-striker than Kerber, but those two inches make a difference. No matter how fast she runs or how hard she hits, the Romanian always seems to be playing uphill. But while she couldn’t match the German’s 2016, Halep had a quietly successful all-surface season of her own. She won titles in Madrid and Bucharest on clay, and in Montreal on hard courts. She reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and won 14 straight matches over the summer; her only losses during that time came to the tour’s top two players, Kerber and Serena Williams. Halep’s best surface once seemed to be clay, but now her favorite place to play is clearly on U.S. hard courts.

Size will never be on Halep’s side, but age still is. She won’t be 26 until September, which makes her nearly a decade younger than Serena, and two years younger than rivals like Agnieszka Radwanska, Kerber and Dominika Cibulkova. One of Halep’s weaknesses has been her perfectionism; out of frustration, she often lets two bad shots turn into four. But if she is going to learn anything from what happened on the women’s tour in 2016, it’s that good things can come to those with the patience to wait for them.