Players of the Year
Tie, Kim Clijsters and Lindsay Davenport. Yes, the charismatic, acrobatic Clijsters came back from injury and a sub-100 ranking, breaking through to win the first Grand Slam of her career at the U.S. Open and finishing No. 2 in the world.
But the 22-year-old Belgian has said wear and tear may prompt her to retire in a couple of years, while the 29-year-old Davenport finished atop the WTA Tour rankings for the fourth time in the last eight seasons. Continuity is the engine of this game, and Davenport's durability, while less spectacular than the Chutes-and-Ladders sagas we enjoy chronicling, should be appreciated.
Comeback, no kid
French veteran Mary Pierce, who stubbornly refused to heed the skeptics. The soon-to-be-31-year-old Pierce made the finals of the French and U.S. opens, cracked the top 10 for the first time since 2001, reached the WTA year-end championship against countrywoman Amelie Mauresmo and helped France to the Federation Cup final against Russia. Pierce's No. 5 ranking at season's end equaled her career best. Honorable mention for a one-off goes to 33-year-old U.S. stalwart Amy Frazier, whose October win in Quebec City marked her second WTA title since 1999.
But will they be playing in 50 years?
Two-time French Open finalist Dorothy Knode of Huntington Beach, Calif., won the International Tennis Federation's inaugural over-80 women's championships in October, defeating Germany's Ingeborg Knuth in Antalya, Turkey.
Keeping up with the Williamses
As both sisters have pointed out, their seasons were a success by most measures. They each won a Grand Slam event (24-year-old Serena in Australia, 25-year-old Venus at Wimbledon) and finished with more than respectable year-end rankings (Venus was 10th, Serena 11th).
But their previous dominance means they'll never be graded on the curve. Their 2005 spun by on the twin axles of injury (frequent) and competitive interest (sometimes hard to decipher), and they rolled quietly into the wings at the end of the season, missing the last six weeks before resurfacing for a charity exhibition tour.
Wimbledon embodied one sister's zenith and the other's nadir. Serena, who cried at her post-match press conference after her third-round loss to then 85th-ranked Jill Craybas, later called her season "bizarre I've had a lot of downs. But I'm alive, I'm well, I'm happy. I stumbled and got up. I didn't think I could get up at one point, and I did." Venus' stirring finals victory over Davenport probably qualifies as Match of the Year.
Mauresmo beat Pierce at the WTA Championships and ended the year ranked No. 3. The previous week, she carved up a depleted field at the last-for-the-foreseeable-future Advanta Championships, but still had to beat year-end No. 8 Elena Dementieva of Russia in the final. Dementieva deserves credit, too, for playing five straight weeks to squeeze her way into the championship tournament other players seemed content to skip.
Most intriguing up-and-comer, on-court category
Sixteen-year-old Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic, who showed great promise with three straight late-season tournament wins and finished at No. 15.
Most intriguing up-and-comer, overall
India's Sania Mirza, who wore a T-shirt at Wimbledon saying, "Well-behaved women rarely make history." The first top-100 woman player in her country's history finished the year ranked No. 34, but her biggest challenge was the suffocating attention in her homeland. Muslim groups criticized the 19-year-old for wearing short tennis skirts and pounced on her for allegedly condoning premarital sex. She denied the remarks, but protestors burned her image in effigy anyway. Mirza travels with a bodyguard.
Chutes and ladders champ
Year-end No. 6 Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, who won 24 straight matches and the title at Roland Garros in the spring, but struggled most of the rest of the season with illness and injury.
Something we'll miss
The Advanta Championships held outside Philadelphia vanish from the WTA calendar next year, scrubbing women's pro tennis from yet another non-palm tree market in the United States. Aside from the U.S. Open, four tournaments will be held outside California and Florida next year: Memphis (Tier III, February), Charleston, N.C., (Tier I, April), Cincinnati (Tier III, July) and New Haven, Conn., (Tier II, August). Then again, Advanta's time slot just before the WTA championships provoked mass defections this season, siphoning what was left of the event's glam quotient.
Get well soon
Australia's 24-year-old Alicia Molik has put her promising career on hold after being literally thrown off balance by a chronic inner-ear infection for most of the year.
Pithiest post-match quote
"I have the luxury of looking back to what I was doing three and a half years ago, laying in a hospital bed, you know, fighting for my life. Tennis kind of pales in comparison to that. Maybe I can't play singles, or some things are a little bit different from what I would have wanted them to be. But the bottom line is that I'm very lucky to be here and to be able to compete."
-- 27-year-old former world No. 1 doubles player Corina Morariu, after she and Davenport lost in the Australian Open doubles final, Morariu's first Grand Slam championship match since being treated for leukemia in 2001.
Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.