The WTA Player Awards were announced 2 weeks ago, and the biggest honor – WTA Player of the Year—went to Sofia Kenin. The American’s break-through year not only saw her win her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, but also reach another Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in October.
But some may question how the year-end No. 4 is the WTA Player of the Year, and not No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, No. 2 Simona Halep or No. 3 Naomi Osaka—and there are a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly, and most importantly, the 2020 year-end rankings don’t tell the full story of 2020. The ATP and WTA have been using a revised ranking system since the restart in August, and players currently have points from results in 2019 on their totals – Barty still has her 2,000 points from winning Roland Garros last year, for instance, and Halep still has her 2,000 points from winning Wimbledon last year.
When it comes to 2020 alone, Kenin shone brighter than anyone on the women’s tour. Not only did she win one of the only three majors that were played, she was also the only player to reach the final at two of the three—and she was actually the only player to appear in the semis twice.
The 22-year-old went 16-2 at the majors this year, reaching the fourth round at the US Open as well.
“Obviously I’m playing some really good tennis at the Slams. In Australia I won, US Open I got to the fourth round—had a tough one against Elise Mertens. Here, getting to the finals,” Kenin said at Roland Garros. “Overall it’s a good ratio in the Grand Slams. I feel like I’m playing some really good tennis.”
And secondly, even if 2020 were a completely normal year without the COVID-19 suspension and Kenin ended at No. 4, she wouldn’t be the first woman to finish behind the top spot and be named WTA Player of the Year. Kenin wouldn’t even be the first year-end No. 4 to be named WTA Player of the Year.
In 1977, though Chris Evert finished at No. 1, it was year-end No. 4 Virginia Wade who got WTA Player of the Year, likely for her historic triumph at Wimbledon in front of Queen Elizabeth II. Plus, there was a different winner at every major—no one even made multiple major finals.
And in 2004, Maria Sharapova—another year-end No. 4—earned WTA Player of the Year. Again, there were four different winners at the majors that year, but Sharapova’s triumph at Wimbledon, as well as winning the fifth-biggest event at the WTA Finals, was likely just too much to deny her the honor.