March 2, 2021

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Australian Open champ and Roland Garros finalist Sofia Kenin is the WTA Player of the Year.

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It was not a typical season, to say the least.

But even if play on the WTA Tour was limited, they still got three of the four Grand Slams in.

And on Tuesday, the tour announced its annual awards.

Player of the Year: Sofia Kenin

The 21-year-old American’s great moment came what feels like a million years ago, when she won her first career Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Kenin also reached the final at Roland Garros. She was one of only two players to reach the second week of all three Grand Slam tournaments played (Petra Kvitova was the other).

So that was a slam dunk.

Other nominees: Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka, and Iga Swiatek.

Double team: Mladenovic and Babos

That was a pretty easy call. The French/Hungarian pair won the Australian Open and Roland Garros.

They also were semifinalists in Doha.

Other nominees: Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk, US Open finalists Nicole Melichar and Xu Yi-Fan, and Australian Open finalists Barbora Strycova and Hsieh Su-Wei.

Most Improved Player: Iga Swiatek

When you roll through a Grand Slam tournament as an unseeded player and win the whole thing, “most improved” is just the cherry on the cake.

Swiatek, just 19, finished the season inside the top 20.

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Other nominees: Jennifer Brady, Palermo Open champion Fiona Ferro, Ons Jabeur, and Elena Rybakina.

Newcomer of the Year: Nadia Podoroska

Podoroska, a 24-year-old from Argentina, began the 2020 season outside the top 250 and was playing ITF tournaments and WTA qualifying.

As a qualifier, Podoroska reached the semifinals at Roland Garros, losing to eventual champion Swiatek. She came into Paris having never won a Grand Slam main-draw match, or beaten a top-50 opponent.

After a long break during which there were no tournaments to play, Podoroska made the quarterfinals in Linz, Australia to finish off the season.

We’d probably have voted for Leylah Fernandez, although her being Canadian adds a little bias. But she put up good results throughout the whole season before she turned 18 in September. And she reached a WTA Tour final; it wasn’t just one big (albeit impressive) result. She also beat top-10 player Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup.

Other nominees: Martina Trevisan, Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez and American Ann Li.

Comeback Player of the Year: Victoria Azarenka

It was a long road back for former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who took a break in 2016 to have son Leo and struggled to get back to the top levels of tennis after that.

But in the US Open bubble, she found her mojo. Azarenka won the Cincinnati event (in a walkover over Naomi Osaka) and reached the US Open final.

Azarenka also reached the final at the Ostrava Open late in the season.

She finished the season at No. 13.

This was a real tough category, in which all the players were deserving. Notably, three of the women are mothers. You hope that this isn’t a trend, because coming back to work after a maternity leave – even when your body is your business – shouldn’t be so pigeonholed in that sense.

If anything, Tig had the much tougher road, without the finances and the wild card opportunities behind her. She ground it out for 10 weeks at $15,000 ITFs in Cancun in the spring of 2019 to try to get her ranking back after having daughter Sofia.

Other nominees: Tsvetana Pironkova, Laura Siegemund, Patricia-Maria Tig.

Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award: Marie Bouzkova

This award doesn’t go to Kvitova, who won it the last seven years. But it stays in the Czech Republic with the exceedingly pleasant Bouzkova.

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Coach of the Year: Piotr Sierzputowski

Sierzputowski, longtime coach of Player of the Year Swiatek, gets the coach of the year award.

Former Osaka coach Sascha Bajin won it in 2018, and Ashleigh Barty coach Craig Tyzzer last year.