After an incredible 2016 for Elena Vesnina, she returned to the Top 20 at the end of the year and came into 2017 looking for further success to back up her results. Winning the BNP Paribas Open seemed to have brought the Russian closer than ever to a debut in the Top 10, but instead it brought her a string of poor losses as she failed to deal well with the pressure, being unable to find her best tennis from then on.
Ranked in the Top 20, it came as a huge surprise when Vesnina’s win-loss record this year currently stands at 18-16, winning a mere 53 percent of all her matches. Among her 18 wins throughout the first seven months of the year, only three of them have come against fellow Top 20 players, and most importantly, all three Top 20 wins came at the BNP Paribas Open where she won the biggest title of her career. Disappointingly, Vesnina was not efficient against lower-ranked players as she fell to players ranked lower than her for a shell-shocking 14 times this year, taking up 88 percent of all her losses this year.
Vesnina has endured through a lacklustre season thus far, but her triumph at Indian Wells certainly stands out as the highlight of her season. Entering the BNP Paribas Open as the 14th seed, no one would have placed a bet on the Russian clinching the title after the fortnight. Nevertheless, she came up with her peak tennis and defeated her nemesis Shelby Rogers to start her Indian Wells campaign, triumphing in straight sets. Vesnina then followed it up with an impressive three-set win over Timea Babos, progressing to her first ever fourth-round appearance in the Californian desert.
Amazingly, the Russian continued her excellent run by earning the biggest victory of her career in terms of ranking, defeating world number two Angelique Kerber in straight sets. It was a dream come true for Vesnina, defeating Venus Williams in three sets to set up a meeting with Kristina Mladenovic in the semifinals, prevailing in straight sets to book a spot in the biggest final of her career. Recovering from a huge deficit, the Russian outlasted compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets to complete the Cinderella run.
Vesnina had a slow start to the new year as she opened the season with two consecutive losses, falling to Alize Cornet in her first match of the year at the Brisbane International despite earning a 7-6 4-1 lead to be just an inch away from the victory. Then, she was hindered by some health issues after she was forced to retire from her first round match at the Sydney International against Coco Vandeweghe when she trailed by a set and a break.
The clay court season was a disappointing one for Vesnina as she was unable to improve on her ranking. As a Top 15 player, the Russian fell at the first hurdle while attempting to defend her finalist points at the Volvo Car Open and soon went on a four-match losing streak before she finally broke the duck at Roland Garros, reaching the third round before falling to Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets.
As the highest-ranked player in the Fed Cup team for Russia, Vesnina failed to send her country back into the World Group as she lost a rubber to Elise Mertens and shockingly fell in the crucial doubles rubber, gifting Belgium the unexpected victory.
The grass court season was what allowed Vesnina to receive the limelight back in 2016, after reaching the semifinals of the Wimbledon Championships last year. However, the Russian’s 2017 continued to falter as she fell in the second round of the Eastbourne International, losing to Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets as she managed to just win a mere three games.
At the St. Petersburg Ladies’ Trophy held in her home country, Vesnina easily defeated her doubles partner, good friend and former Top 10 player Ekaterina Makarova in the opening round before outclassing Alize Cornet in the next round, triumphing in three sets to exact revenge for her heartbreaking loss at the Brisbane International.
The BNP Paribas Open was definitely the best tournament for the Russian this year as she managed to rattle off consecutive victories over four seeded players to clinch the title. Arguably playing the best tennis of her career, Vesnina defeated many quality players en route to her triumph.
Her triumph brought about some troubles for her as she was unable to deal with the pressure weighed on her, and thus saw her failing to come up with her best tennis in her next tournaments. In the midst of her struggles, the clay season arrived, which poses as a huge challenge for the Russian considering it is her least-preferred surface. Nevertheless, she managed to outlast compatriot and young rising star Daria Kasatkina in the first round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, getting the confidence-boosting victory.
Having the perfect draw given to her at the Australian Open, Vesnina could have reached the second week of competition without facing a single Top 100 opposition. However, she unexpectedly fell to the unheralded Jennifer Brady, losing in straight sets to the world number 116. It was particularly disappointing for the Russian, who was given the golden opportunity to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the first time in her career.
Right after her triumph at the Californian desert, Vesnina proceeded to the Miami Open with hopes of claiming a “Sunshine Double”. However, her celebrations were very short-lived as she was shocked in the second round, falling to the comeback player in Ajla Tomljanovic, the world number 594 at that point of time.
In her first clay court match of the year at the Volvo Car Open where Vesnina was the defending finalist having reached the final after coming through the qualifying rounds in 2016. Given a favourable draw, the Russian faced a young rising star in Fanny Stollar, who was playing just her second WTA tournament in her career. Amazingly enough, the Hungarian triumphed in two tight tiebreak sets to get just her third WTA main draw win, giving Vesnina yet another early exit at a tournament.
Vesnina does not have many points to defend through the rest of the year, and she can only improve on her ranking in her future tournaments as she only needs to defend a mere 396 points. With the hard court swing coming up in both the USA and Asia, it is the golden opportunity for the Russian to rise in the rankings once again.
Continuing to have good friend and compatriot Ekaterina Makarova as her long-term partner in the doubles competition, Vesnina has achieved much success with her in 2017. Their achievements this year include reaching the final in Brisbane and Rome, claiming a semifinal finish at the BNP Paribas Open and quarterfinal appearances at the Australian Open, Miami Open, Roland Garros and Eastbourne International, where they were forced to withdraw from the competition.
They also managed to clinch the title in Dubai, and of course not forgetting their biggest title of the year, the Wimbledon Championships. Their triumph at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club was the third Grand Slam win of their partnership, coupled with the WTA Finals title and the Olympic Gold Medal.
Midseason grade: C
Other than her impressive run at Indian Wells, Vesnina’s season has generally been dull. The Russian is 12-16 at the other tournaments, failing to deal well with the pressure and expectations weighed on her as a Top 15 player. She has also since fallen out of the Top 8 in the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard, but is still in contention to qualify for the WTA Elite Trophy. It has seriously been a disappointing season for Vesnina, who has to quickly improve her mental game if she were to keep herself in the Top 20 at the end of the year.