Like 2013, this year I will do a countdown of the top money list leaders from both the WTA and LPGA. Last year I did the top 30, but this year I will do the top 25. Note that as of this post, the retired Li Na has been removed from the WTA website money list rankings, but I will include her here. Thus, some WTA players will be off by one position on my list compared to the WTA website list. Also, Hyo Joo Kim is not on my LPGA list due to not being a member this year. I’m certain she will be on the list in the future. For the WTA, singles, doubles and mixed are combined for this top 25. Number 5 on this money list for each tour are Li Na (WTA) and So Yeon Ryu (LPGA).
LI NA (China)
2014 Official WTA Prize Money: $3,409,885
Best Results: WINNER (2) Australian Open, Shenzhen Open; RUNNER-UP (1) Sony Open; SF (1) BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells; QF (2) Mutua Madrid Open, Internazionali BNL d’Italia
Social Media: Facebook
Hana Mandlikova. Monica Seles. Kim Clijsters. Li Na. During my many years as a tennis aficionado, those are the names (in chronological order) of my top favorite female players. Understand that I am a fan of 90 percent of the players on both the men’s and women’s tours. But there can only be one number one for each. In the last few years I had to say goodbye to Kim Clijsters and now, Li Na. It’s always tough to see a beloved player walk away. For Li Na, she became an icon in women’s sports. She is forever in the tennis record books as the answer to the question who was the first Asian or Chinese player to do (fill in the blank) in singles. I’ve written many times before about all she accomplished so I’ll not focus on that here. This is more personal. I was saddened to hear that the rumors of her possibly walking away from the game this year were true. And yet, I was also happy for Li Na. There’s a video showing her at 16 saying her goal was to be a top 10 player one day. She accomplished that and so much more. And that’s the whole point. When she was 16, there was no Asian role model on the WTA that was a Major champion…much less a multiple Major winner…in singles or reached world #2. Oh, there were good Asian players in singles before Li Na. But nobody AS GOOD as Li Na. In fact, one of those great players was Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, who was the first Asian player to reach #1 in singles or doubles when she reached #1 in doubles. She also reached #8 in singles. So Li Na had an example to follow in singles in terms of setting her goal of reaching the top 10 in singles. But now, because of Li Na raising the bar with her achievements, tennis juniors from Asia can say to themselves that if Li Na could win Majors and get to world #2 in singles maybe they can win Majors too and go a step further, reaching world #1 in singles. In her home country of China, she showed what is possible by breaking free from the rigid state run tennis system, boldly and some might say defiantly blazing her own path. She even retired once before, going back to school and getting a journalism degree. Finally, she came back and decided to do things her way. If she had never rebelled against the system, she might never have reached the heights she did. Of my four top favorites, Li Na is the least accomplished…but that’s only when you compare her to the likes of Monica Seles or Kim Clijsters or Hana Mandlikova…but the way Li Na did what she did will allow a lot of 16 year old juniors today in Asia to have greater dreams than she did. And as a bonus, I’ve seen a lot of great players come and go, but few leave the sport as beloved as Li Na…more celebrated and/or decorated perhaps…but that’s not the same as being beloved.
But in the end, especially at 32, her body just couldn’t endure the pain and rigors of the WTA tour. It was unfortunate because 2014 began as the best start of a season in her career. She won her first two events, including a Major. In the four biggest events between Melbourne and Roland Garros she finished runner-up (Miami), semis (Indian Wells) and quarters twice (Madrid, Rome). She hit her career high of #2 in the world. Then her body said no more. I don’t even count Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Clearly, she barely registered there and likely had one foot out the door by then. It just took several more months before she fully walked out the door into retirement. In basically less than half of the year, she was close to 3.5 million dollars in prize money. In only half the year, she beat all but four players in prize money. Imagine what a healthy Li Na could have done in 2014. And yet again, as I’ve said before, she still did so much. I have many favorites, but I will need a new top favorite. Petra? Simona? Ana? Caroline? Maria? Maybe Madison Keys. I have time to figure that out. In the meantime, I will miss Li Na.
SO YEON RYU (South Korea)
2014 Official LPGA Prize Money: $1,468,804
Best Results: WINNER (1) Canadian Pacific Women’s Open; T5 US Women’s Open, 2nd Marathon Classic, T3 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, T3 Portland Classic, T4 Lorena Ochoa Invitational, T4 HSBC Women’s Champions, T5 LPGA Lotte Championship, T5 Kingsmill Championship, 5th Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, 7th CME Group Tour Championship, T7 Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship, T7 JTBC Founders Cup, T10 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, T10 Airbus LPGA Classic
For the best of the best, it’s all about winning. Take So Yeon Ryu. She has been one of the very best players in the world the past few years. Entering the 2014 Canadian Pacific Women’s Open she hadn’t won in nearly 24 months. Despite that, she was a force on the course, racking up top 10 after top 10 after top 10. But her goal in 2014 was to win. That prize was eluding her since her August 2012 win at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. Fast forward to August 2014 in Canada, with summer nearing it’s conclusion, she faced the prospect of heading into the fall home stretch still chasing her third LPGA title. Instead, she ended her winning drought in emphatic fashion. So Yeon sprinted out of the gate with a course record 9-under 63 first round and never looked back. When the dust settled, Ryu held the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open tournament record at 23-under, besting the 18-under mark held by Meg Mallon and Brandie Burton. She needed it too because Na Yeon Choi also broke the previous record with a 21-under while Inbee Park equaled the former mark at 18-under. More importantly, So Yeon had her 3rd LPGA title. The great ones crave victory. So Yeon Ryu admitted that despite her great and consistent play, she badly wanted another win above everything else in 2014. Speaking of that great play, for the three years that she’s been a full time LPGA player, she has never finished outside of the top 4 in scoring. She had a career best 69.98 scoring average in 2014. She also had her highest total in prize money. She’s never finished outside of the top 6 in prize money in her three full years. Some of her comments in interviews make me think she is greatly overshadowed in the South Korean press by Inbee Park. That’s certainly understandable considering what Inbee has done, but I would suggest those media outlets show a little more love to So Yeon Ryu. Over the last 3 years I can count on one hand how many players have better results than she has. That needs to be not only respected but celebrated.
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SO YEON RYU