2017 Season Review: Lucie Safarova enjoys decent year

2017 has been relatively decent for Lucie Safarova, who rattled off a couple of impressive wins along the way. The Czech ended the year inside the top-30, with a return to the top looking plausible in the near future.

2017 Season Review: Lucie Safarova enjoys decent year
Lucie Safarova celebrates winning a marathon against Daria Gavrilova, fending off match points in the process | Photo: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images Europe

2015 Roland Garros finalist Lucie Safarova finally seemed to have regained her form as she sealed her return to the top-30, earning some impressive wins over higher-ranked players along the way. The Czech, who has been plagued by injuries and illnesses throughout the previous years, still could not avoid the injury nightmares this year, but still managed to increase her level of play and find her groove once again.

Win-loss record: Safarova slowly returns to her best

Safarova owns a 35-18 (.660) win-loss record in 2017, which is surprisingly one of her best in any season throughout her career. Though she managed to record just seven quarterfinal appearances, the Czech still rattled off two top-10 wins (both coming over Dominika Cibulkova). A statistic worth noting is that all of Safarova’s wins over players inside the top-20 were over the Slovakian. Furthermore, Safarova was also able to win a majority of her three-set matches while also achieving huge success in doubles; winning two Grand Slams and being the world number one as well.

Lucie Safarova in action during her first match of the year, defeating Denisa Allertova 6-1, 6-2 | Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images AsiaPac
Lucie Safarova in action during her first match of the year, defeating Denisa Allertova 6-1, 6-2 | Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images AsiaPac

High Points of her season: Four semifinal appearances, return to top-30

Though met with disappointing defeats, Safarova still had a decent start to the year. She opened her season with a fantastic 6-1, 6-2 victory over compatriot Denisa Allertova, but soon experienced second-round exits in both Auckland and Hobart. However, the Czech was part of a thrilling opening-round encounter at the Australian Open, prevailing in what could be the most dramatic match of the tournament. Saving a breathtaking nine match points, Safarova ultimately proved to be stronger against Yanina Wickmayer, sealing the incredible comeback.

Being ranked outside the top-50 after the first Major of the year, Safarova experienced a surge and produced some outstanding performances to re-enter the top-40. Receiving a wildcard into the Taiwan Open, Safarova defeated Anastasija Sevastova and Misaki Doi en route to the semifinals. There, she came up second best against Peng Shuai, falling in straight sets.

Lucie Safarova in action at the 2017 Australian Open, being vanquished by eventual champion Serena Williams | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac
Lucie Safarova in action at the 2017 Australian Open, being vanquished by eventual champion Serena Williams | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac

Safarova finally seemed to get going, and she continued her good run with a maiden final appearance of the year at the Hungarian Ladies’ Open. She was just one step away from the title, though, after coming up short in a three-set thriller against top seed and home favorite Timea Babos.

The Czech’s rise in the rankings continued with several good showings in Indian Wells and Miami. Safarova produced a clinical performance to oust home favorite and dark horse Coco Vandeweghe at the BNP Paribas Open, before earning her first top-five win since 2015 against Dominika Cibulkova, against whom she triumphed 7-6, 6-1 in the fourth round of the Miami Open. Her runs saw her returning to the top-30 for the first time since 2016.

Lucie Safarova reached the quarterfinals in Miami, defeating Dominika Cibulkova along the way | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America
Lucie Safarova reached the quarterfinals in Miami, defeating Dominika Cibulkova along the way | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America

Grass was the surface where Safarova found her earliest successes: reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2014. She excelled on grass this year, reaching back-to-back semifinals in Nottingham and Birmingham. At the Aegon Open, she claimed impressive wins over Hsieh Su-wei, and was down 2-5 in the final-set tiebreak, before defeating Tsvetana Pironkova, a former Wimbledon semifinalist, and trailed 0-2 in the final set. She ultimately came up second best against eventual champion Donna Vekic in three tight sets.

Her run at the Aegon Classic was furthermore spectacular, ousting Dominika Cibulkova in a 168-minute marathon, saving a match point for her second top-10 win of the season. Outclassing the talented youngster Naomi Osaka 6-2, 6-4, Safarova followed it up with another incredible win over Daria Gavrilova, triumphing after three hours of play having saved another three match points. Though, her impressive run of form had to end in unfortunate circumstances, retiring during her semifinal match against Petra Kvitova due to a right-leg injury.

Lucie Safarova was part of a thriller in Birmingham, defeating Daria Gavrilova in a final-set tiebreak | Photo: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images Europe
Lucie Safarova was part of a thriller in Birmingham, defeating Daria Gavrilova in a final-set tiebreak | Photo: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images Europe

Looking like a person on a mission, Safarova was outstanding all week at the Rogers Cup. She opened her campaign with a 6-4, 6-4 win over local wildcard Francoise Abanda, before beating Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets to make it three wins out of three against the Slovakian this year. The Czech then overcame a mid-match wobble to overcome the tough challenge of the in-form Ekaterina Makarova, reaching the quarterfinals where she failed to convert three match points against Sloane Stephens.

Safarova’s only second-week appearance in a Grand Slam this year came at the US Open, where she was unseeded and looming. Getting past a tough and tricky opponent in Anett Kontaveit during a blockbuster opening-round encounter which was surprisingly arranged on a non-streamed court, the Czech had straightforward victories over Japanese players Nao Hibino and Kurumi Nara before falling short to Coco Vandeweghe in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Lucie Safarova celebrates reaching the fourth-round at the US Open | Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images North America
Lucie Safarova celebrates reaching the fourth-round at the US Open | Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images North America

For the first time this year, Safarova was the top seed in a WTA event. Being the favorite to clinch her first title of the year in Quebec City, the Czech strolled to the semifinals without losing a set. In a match separated by just one solitary break of serve, Safarova was upset by Timea Babos in straight sets.

Low Points of her season: Inconsistent performance hinder from her from further success

Although Safarova claimed some great wins in the opening month, she was unable to triumph in matches where she earned opportunities. Going up against compatriot and occasional doubles partner Barbora Strycova in a blockbuster second-round match at the ASB Classic, she fell in three thrilling sets despite being three points away from the win. Furthermore, a disappointing performance soon ensued, with another early exit at the Hobart International, this time being upset by qualifier Risa Ozaki while leading by a set and a break.

Lucie Safarova was a title favourite in Hobart, but she was shocked by Risa Ozaki in the second round | Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images AsiaPac
Lucie Safarova was a title favourite in Hobart, but she was shocked by Risa Ozaki in the second round | Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images AsiaPac

She only had her luck to blame; after entering the Australian Open as a dark horse and a player who no one would want to draw, she was given a tough draw with second seed Serena Williams potentially waiting in the second round. There, she put up a tough fight but was ultimately conquered in straight sets by the eventual champion.

The clay-court season was a poor one for Safarova, who amassed a 3-4 win-loss record during the period of time. For a former Roland Garros finalist like the Czech, this was extremely disappointing. Being the defending champion in her home tournament (Prague Open), she was forced to withdraw in the midst of the tournament due to an illness, falling out of the top-30 as a consequence. Three opening-round defeats followed, as Safarova never seemed to have found her groove through the rest of the month. Arguably, her worst loss during this period came against the surprise package in Veronica Cepede Royg at the French Open.

Lucie Safarova was on the receiving end of a huge upset in Paris, being defeated by Veronica Cepede Royg | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe
Lucie Safarova was on the receiving end of a huge upset in Paris, being defeated by Veronica Cepede Royg | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Wimbledon was a cruel tournament for Safarova, especially after a successful grass-court season. The Czech received a favorable draw, and the former semifinalist was tipped to progress deep in the tournament. However, a freak injury sustained by her doubles partner, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, during the American’s singles match saw her stand by courtside in tears and was visibly affected for her singles match which was played hours later. This eventually caused her to fall in the second round while also withdrawing from the doubles competition.

Sloane Stephens seemed like Safarova’s nemesis throughout the US Open Series. Safarova’s extraordinary run at the Rogers Cup came to a sudden halt in the hands of the American, after failing to convert three match points during the encounter. In a twist of events, they were drawn to face each other in the first round of the Western and Southern Open just a couple of days later, and this time Safarova was defeated in straight sets.

Lucie Safarova was defeated twice in succession by Sloane Stephens | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America
Lucie Safarova was defeated twice in succession by Sloane Stephens | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America

Due to a wrist injury, Safarova was forced to withdraw from both the Wuhan Open and China Open, before deciding to end the year earlier than expected. It was an unfortunate end to the season for the Czech, who had several chances to rise in the rankings. She ended 2017 as the world number 30 and will most likely be seeded at the 2018 Australian Open.

Season Grade: B

Safarova has managed to achieve some decent results this year, which sealed her return to the top-30 amidst all the lingering injury issues which were bothering her. Furthermore, Safarova also managed to top the doubles rankings for the first time in her career, breaking new grounds. Despite all the inconsistency revolving her game, the Czech experienced a decent season but she would be looking to reach greater heights in 2018.