The WTA Finals annually feature the very best in women’s tennis, the top eight players in the world to that point, a collection of stars that double, most often, as US Open champions.
But not in 2017. In fact, this year’s WTA Finals feature only one player – Venus Williams – who has ever won a US Open women’s singles title.
Contrast that to 2016, when Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams were all in the WTA Finals field, or 2015, when Serena, Flavia Pennetta and Maria Sharapova all competed, and 2017 certainly feels like an anomaly.
Typically, winning a US Open title all but ensures a player will qualify for the WTA Finals. In fact, the last woman to win the singles title in New York and not qualify for the WTA Finals was Kim Clijsters, who came out of retirement and did not even register a ranking when she captured her second of three US Open titles in 2009. Prior to that, it was Venus, who won the second of her two Open titles in 2001 but had to withdraw from that year’s WTA Finals with an injury.
A similar situation to Clijsters’ 2009 played out this year. Sloane Stephens won a surprise US Open crown at No. 83 in the world, her ranking having plummeted while she sat out 11 months, from August 2016 to July 2017, with a stress fracture in her foot that required surgery. Stephens’ maiden Grand Slam victory has vaulted her to No. 13, a stunning climb in so short a time but not enough to gain a spot in Singapore.
In terms of other recent US Open champions, 2016 winner Kerber suffered through a down 2017 and is currently No. 19 in the world; 2015 champion Flavia Pennetta retired following her title run; and Serena Williams, Flushing’s victor each year from 2012 through 2014, is out on maternity leave, targeting a return to the game early in 2018.