At the Net: 2013 belonged to Serena

Philadelphia, PA ( - The 2013 WTA season may have started out with Victoria Azarenka capturing a second straight Australian Open title, and the Belarusian locked in at No. 1 in the world, but that's certainly not how it ended.

Serena Williams may have won only two of the four Grand Slams this year, but by season's end, she had logged one of the most dominant campaigns in the history of women's tennis.

The American great captured the U.S. and French Open titles and capped her brilliant year by sweeping her way through the prestigious season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul last month, which, only fittingly, came to an end with a bagel set, as Serena blanked Li Na in the third and final stanza of their Championships finale in Turkey.

When the smoke had cleared on the 2013 season, the remarkable Williams had gone 78-4, for a winning percentage of .951 -- the tour's best single-season winning percentage since Steffi Graf 24 years earlier (1989).

The 32-year-old Serena piled up 11 titles on her way to a women's single- season record $12.4 million in prize money. The previous record for prize money was $7.9 million set by Azarenka last year. Williams' $12.4 million marked the third-best prize money season in the history of the sport. Only three other players have earned $10 million in one season -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The amazing Williams is currently sixth on the women's all-time list with 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and fourth in the Open Era (since 1968), behind only the aforementioned Graf (22), and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who have 18 apiece. And Serena holds the women's record with five Aussie Open crowns in the Open Era.

The one thing Serena has not yet accomplished is winning all four Grand Slam events in one calendar year. She put together her "Serena Slam" by holding all four major titles at once from 2002-03, or over a two-season span.

She still feels that 2002 was her best season, one in which she captured three of the four majors.

"I live to win Slams," Serena said. "I can't say it's (her 2013 season) the best."

Serena also holds the record for most women's major titles in the 2000s (10) and in the 2010s (6).

Surprisingly, Williams has only finished as a year-end No. 1 three times in her stellar career. Prior to this year, she hadn't accomplished the feat since 2009.

Serena reached the final in 13 of her 16 tournaments in 2013, losing only to Azarenka in a pair of finals in Doha and Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Azarenka crossed the finish line at No. 2 in the world, having captured the Aussie Open and finishing as the U.S. Open runner- up to her great rival Serena for a second year in a row. The Belarusian star settled for three titles, with her last one coming in Cincy in August, and was also a runner-up on three occasions on her way to a quality 43-9 record.

The drama queen Azarenka is clearly the second-best player in the women's game right now. Her rivalry with Serena is downright fierce between the lines. The two stars split four meetings this season, but Williams still holds a lopsided 13-3 advantage in their lifetime encounters.

The current world No. 3 is Li. The 31-year-old Chinese star and former French Open champ was this year's Aussie runner-up to Azarenka, which marked the Asian's second runner-up finish in Oz in three years.

Li went 44-14 in '13, closing out her campaign with the runner-up finish to the incomparable Serena at the WTA Championships. The Chinese slugger captured only one title, on home soil in Shenzhen, and was a three-time runner-up during the season.

And what happened to world No. 4/former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova?

The 26-year-old "Shaza" was forced to shut it down after losing a second-round match against rising American Sloane Stephens in August, as Serena's fellow career Grand Slam winner succumbed to a shoulder injury that forced her to skip the U.S. Open and WTA Championships.

The 2013 French Open runner-up to Serena settled for two titles and three runner-up finishes en route to a pretty good 37-7 record.

As it turned out, Serena and Azarenka weren't the only ones winning major titles this year, as self-proclaimed Mensa member Marion Bartoli stunned the tennis world back in July by capturing her first career Grand Slam title, besting fellow surprise finalist Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon. And then, in a stunning turn of events, a then-28-year-old Bartoli retired from the tour about a month later, which was even more of an eye-popper than the Wimbledon victory.

Maybe she'll come back?

The past year also saw the re-emergence of former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic. The veteran Serb opened the year at No. 22 in the world and most "experts" had her headed south from there.

But JJ proved that she wasn't done yet.

The 28-year-old quietly went 46-21 and surged all the way back up to No. 8 in the world to secure a berth in the season-ending Championships for the first time since 2010. She captured a small title in Colombia, was a runner-up at two other events, and snuck into a French Open quarterfinal for the fourth time in her lucrative career.

Did You Know?: Only 11 women have held the year-end world No. 1 ranking, and four of them are currently active -- Serena, Caroline Wozniacki, Jankovic and Azarenka. Graf holds the record with an incredible eight such finishes.

The aforementioned Stephens appears to/could be America's best young hope. The 20-year-old Floridian finished a career-high 12th in the world after going 39-23 ... but she's still seeking a first-ever WTA title.

Stephens did, however, reach at least the quarterfinals at two of the four majors, including a run into the semis at the Aussie, where she shocked Serena in the quarters. She also made runs into the fourth round at the U.S. and French Opens.

And how 'bout that Simona Halep?

The gritty Romanian opened the year ranked 47th in the world and finished a career-high No. 11. That's the type of thing that will happen when you corral a whopping six titles over a 12-tournament span, this after entering the year without a title on the WTA circuit.

The 22-year-old capped her breakthrough season with back-to-back titles in Moscow and Sofia, upsetting former U.S. Open champ Sam Stosur in both finals, and finishing her year with a tidy little nine-match winning streak.

Halep, however, will need to do much better at the majors, where she failed to get past the first round in Melbourne and Paris, gave way in the second at Wimbledon, and then exited in the fourth round in New York. If you judged her season just on the Slams, it would add up to a near-failing mark.

The season didn't only come to an end with Halep prevailing in Bulgaria last week, as a predictable Fed Cup final was held in Sardinia, where the host Italians drubbed a severely undermanned Russian team, 4-0, to capture their third championship in five years and fourth title in eight years. Russia's highest-ranked player in Cagliari was world No. 136 Alexandra Panova, who managed to give world No. 13 Roberta Vinci a tremendous fight, in a losing effort, in the opening singles rubber, 5-7, 7-5, 8-6.

All told, it was Serena's year, as was last year, when she captured the last two Grand Slams (Wimbledon and U.S. Open), Olympic gold, and the WTA Championships.

She's won four of the last six majors.

Can Serena be stopped in 2014?