WTA season review and a look ahead: From Emma Raducanu’s rise to Ashleigh Barty answering critics

Delight for Emma Raducanu as she wins US Open

The lengthy women’s tennis season drew to a close on Wednesday night as Garbine Muguruza lifted the season-ending WTA Finals trophy.

Emma Raducanu’s US Open triumph was the wildest moment of another year where, beyond a handful of players, hierarchies meant little and unpredictability reigned.

Here are some answers to the key questions around 2021 and a look ahead to the 2022 campaign.

Where does women’s tennis stand?

In a very good position. The strength in depth of the field is very evident and the grand slams were full of excellent contests and surprise contenders, especially at the US Open, which will be remembered for decades. Raducanu’s triumph over another hugely exciting teenager in Leylah Fernandez captured imaginations not just in Britain but around the world.

Player of the season?

Ashleigh Barty 2021 Wimbledon champion

Ashleigh Barty. The 25-year-old Australian began the year with her position as world No 1 being roundly ridiculed, but she answered the critics in the best possible fashion by proving she is exactly where she belongs. A first Wimbledon singles title was the highlight but Barty was commendably consistent despite the difficulties of being unable to go home during the season. An honourable mention for Barbora Krejcikova, who took her surprise French Open triumph in her stride and excelled in doubles, too.

What about the negatives?

The biggest story of the season aside from Raducanu surrounded Naomi Osaka’s struggles with anxiety and press scrutiny. Her French Open withdrawal was an unedifying spectacle all round and, although she returned to the court, it was clear the Japanese star remained uncomfortable. One of the big wishes for 2022 must be that Osaka finds happiness on a tennis court again, because the sport is stronger with her in it.

What will be the other focal points in 2022?

There will be a huge amount of attention on Raducanu as she undertakes her first full season on the tour and, if previous years are anything to go by, look out for plenty more players making big moves up the rankings. Serena Williams has not been seen on court since Wimbledon and a 24th Grand Slam singles title now appears unlikely, while the China question is set to be an ongoing theme.

What’s the China question?

China has become by far the most important market for the WTA but no tournaments have been held there for two years because of the coronavirus epidemic. Other venues have stepped in impressively, not least Guadalajara as host of a joyous WTA Finals, while the news concerning Peng Shuai has put the sport’s future in the country in doubt. At a time when the financial picture is still uncertain, this is a pivotal moment for the tour.