Serena Williams rises one spot to No. 9 in the latest WTA rankings after winning her first title in three years in Auckland, while Karolina Pliskova cements her No. 2 status following her successful title defence in Brisbane.
Without a title since the 2017 Australian Open after losing in four major finals since her return to the tour, Serena snapped her drought in style at the ASB Classic in Auckland on Sunday, bouncing back from a slow start to overcome compatriot Jessica Pegula by a 6-3 6-4 scoreline in the final.
The victory means Serena has now won titles across four different decades after winning her first trophy back in 1999. It’s Serena’s first title as a mother and only the third time she’s won a title leading into the Australian Open, following on from back-to-back Brisbane triumphs in 2013-14.
“It was a good match,” assessed Serena afterwards. “I didn’t have a lot of time to reflect on it because I went straight into [the] doubles [final, losing to Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend], but I remember it being really intense, actually. I don’t think I hit a tremendous amount of aces – she was getting all my serves back. My groundstrokes were probably the strongest thing in that match. It’s good for me to win matches where I’m not getting too many free points, so I have to rely on my groundstrokes.”
Serena climbed one place in the latest WTA rankings to No. 9, leapfrogging Kiki Bertens as she prepares another assault on Grand Slam No. 24 at the Australian Open.
Meanwhile, Pliskova became the first player to win three Brisbane International titles as she edged out Madison Keys in a tight three-setter, 6-4 4-6 7-5.
It was a battle of big serving and enormous groundstrokes, but it was Pliskova who was able to step up when it mattered most, breaking Keys at the end of the deciding set to defend her title.
“I think it’s always difficult to defend because, to be in a great shape at that moment where you just won last year, a lot of things need to happen,” she said. “I don’t think it was perfect tournament, maybe last year I played here and there a little better, but maybe I was fighting more this time and just somehow find a way to win the matches, which is important.
“I beat only good top players, so there was nobody easy this time, maybe compared to last year, I think the draw was a little bit different. So, of course especially, in the beginning of the year I think it’s no better start.”
Pliskova strengthens her No. 2 position in the rankings courtesy of her title defence and trails World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty by 1607 points. Barty lost her opening match of the season in Brisbane to Jennifer Brady.
Elsewhere, Ekaterina Alexandrova sky-rocketed to a career-high ranking of No. 26 and guaranteed herself a seeding at the Australian Open after winning her maiden WTA title at the Shenzhen Open on Saturday.
Alexandrova conquered Elena Rybakina 6-2 6-4 in the final, backing up a triumph at the WTA 125K Series event in Limoges last month as the Russian continued her outstanding recent form, extending her winning streak to 10 straight matches.
“The whole week was pretty good for me, I think, right from the start. It wasn’t easy but I did it until the end. I won my first title, and it feels amazing,” Alexandrova said after the match.
“The first one is always special. I was playing my second final, and the first one [at Linz in 2018] wasn’t so good for me, so I was trying to get this one.”
Despite the loss, it was also an excellent week for the 20-year-old Rybakina, with the Kazakh vaulting six spots in the rankings to a career-high No. 30, also ensuring she will be seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time in Melbourne.
Four of the top 10 will be in action this week at the Adelaide International, with Barty, Simona Halep, Belinda Bencic and Kiki Bertens leading the field, while Aryna Sabalenka, Sofia Kenin, Marketa Vondrousova, Angelique Kerber and Donna Vekic will also be in action. No. 17 Elise Mertens headlines the Hobart field.
Latest WTA Rankings, January 13, 2020
1. Ashleigh Barty ??
2. Karolina Pliskova ??
3. Naomi Osaka ?? (+1)
4. Simona Halep ?? (-1)
5. Elina Svitolina ??
6. Bianca Andreescu ??
7. Belinda Bencic ?? (+1)
8. Petra Kvitova ?? (-1)
9. Serena Williams ?? (+1)
10. Kiki Bertens ?? (-1)
11. Madison Keys ?? (+2)
12. Aryna Sabalenka ?? (-1)
13. Johanna Konta ?? (-1)
14. Petra Martic ?? (+1)
15. Sofia Kenin ?? (-1)
16. Marketa Vondrousova ??
17. Elise Mertens ??
18. Angelique Kerber ??
19. Alison Riske ??
20. Donna Vekic ??
Significant ranking movers in the top 100
Ekaterina Alexandrova ?? (+8 to No. 26)
Elena Rybakina ?? (+6 to No. 30)
Jennifer Brady ?? (+4 to No. 49)
Jessica Pegula ?? (+18 to No. 64)
Kirsten Flipkens ?? (-7 to No. 79)
Aliaksandra Sasnovich ?? (-30 to No. 99)