The tennis season really starts to get under way this week with the start of the Australian Open. There have been a few events before the Australian Open but it is the first grand slam event of the year so many people look to it as the beginning of the season. Over the past couple of years I’ve really gotten into watching tennis so I thought I would share with you ten female tennis players I think you should keep an eye on.
Country: Russia Ranking: #2
Maria Sharapova burst onto the scene in 2003 by making it all they way to the fourth round of Wimbledon despite making it as a wild card. One year later Maria Sharapova became the third youngest Wimbledon women’s champion by defeating Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals and two time defending champion Serena Williams in the finals. Unfortunately Sharapova’s early success also made the expectations too high. Suddenly at just the age of 17 she was expected to compete for every grand slam event and she just wasn’t ready for that yet. It wasn’t until last year that she was finally playing up to people’s expectations. Sharapova finally won another grand slam at the 2006 US Open, finished with a 59 – 9 record and finished in the top three in the rankings for the first time. The world’s #1 Justin Henin-Hardenne sat out the first grand slam of 2007, the Australian Open, so Sharapova may end up #1 by the end of the tournament.
Country: France Ranking: #3
Amelie Mauresmo made her breakthrough in 1999 when as an unseeded player she reached the Australian Open final including a win over #1 Lindsay Davenport. Mauresmo was just the second French Women to reach the Australian Open final dating back to 1922. Mauresmo quickly rose to the top and stayed there. Despite not much recognition up to this point Mauresmo has finished in the top ten the past six years and seven out of the last eight years. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that Mauresmo won her first grand slam as she won the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Mauresmo was #1 in the world for most of 2007 but towards the end of the year was overtaken by Justine Henin-Hardenne and Maria Sharapova to finish #3.
Country: Belgium Ranking: #1
Justine Henin-Hardenne broke onto the scene in 2001 when she reached the semifinals of the French Open and the finals of Wimbledon. In 2003 Henin-Hardenne won her first Grand Slam Tournament defeating Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open finals and then also won the US Open by defeating Kim Clijsters again. Henin-Hardenne won five other tournaments that year and finished 2003 ranked #1. The next two years Henin-Hardenne continued to play well, winning one grand slam in each year, but failed to hold on to her number one ranking. Justine Henin-Hardenne had a great year in 2006, becoming the first player since Martin Hingis in 1997 to reach the finals of all four Grand Slam singles in one year. She only won one Grand Slam but did well enough to finish 2006 ranked #1. Henin-Hardenne also won a gold medal in 2004 and is a Wimbledon title away from getting a Career Golden Slam (winning each of the four Grand Slams and a gold medal sometime in your career). The Career Golden Slam is a feat that in single’s competition has only been done by Steffi Graff and Andre Agassi.
Country: Switzerland Ranking: #7
Martin Hingis came onto the scene breaking records left and right. In 1996 Martina Hingis became the youngest Wimbledon champion as she won the women’s doubles title at the age of 15 years and 9 months old. Then in 1997 Hingis became the youngest Grand Slam singles winner in the 20th century by winning the Australian Open at 16 years and 3 months old. Later that month Hingis became the youngest player to attain the World No. 1 ranking. Also in 1997 Martina Hingis became the youngest singles champion at Wimbledon since Lottie Dodd in 1887. In 1998 Martina Hingis won all four grand slams on the women’s doubles and made the semifinals or better in all four singles grand slams. Hingis became the only player in history to simultaneously be ranked #1 in doubles and singles competition at the same time. Hingis continued her dominance until 2002 when she was slowed by injuries to the point where she announced her retirement. In November of 2005 Hingis announced her return to tennis and at the 2006 Australian Open she reached the quarterfinals. In her comeback year Martina Hingis went 53 – 19 and finished #7 in the world. Hingis is also a French Open title away from the career grand slam.
Country: United States Ranking: #81
Serena Williams broke onto the scene in 1997 by upsetting Monica Seles and Mary Pierce at the Ameritech Open. In 1999 Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam tournament at the US Open and she became the first African American woman to win a Grand Slam since Althea Gibson in 1958. In 2002 Serena won the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open and then in 2003 Serena won the Australian Open. It was only the ninth time a woman had won all four Grand Slam events and only the sixth to win them all in one year. In 2005 and 2006 Serena started to fall in the rankings due to injuries and lack of dedication. Hopefully Serena will turn back into the dominant force she once was.
Country: Belgium Ranking: #5
Kim Clijsters made her breakthrough in 1999 and climbed up the rankings over the next couple of years. The 2001 French Open marked her first appearance in a Grand Slam. At the end of 2002 Clijsters defeated #1 Serena Williams, #4 Justine Henin-Hardenne and #2 Venus Williams to win the WTA Tour Championship. In 2003 Clijsters won 9 singles tournaments and seven doubles tournaments. In 2006 Clijsters made it to the semifinals of three Grand Slams but lost all three times to Justine Henin-Hardenne. Kim Clijsters has announced that 2007 will be her final season on tour because she wants to start a family.
Country: Russia Ranking: #8
In 1999 and 2000 Elena Dementieva had back to back 40 win seasons to enter the top 20. In 2000 she also became the first Russian woman to reach the semifinals of the US Open. In 2001 Dementieva passed Anna Kournikova as the highest ranked Russian woman although she would later be passed by Maria Sharapova. The year 2004 was Dementieva’s best season yet as she got to the finals of two Grand Slams. Dementieva has yet to win a Grand Slam but is a strong contender for each one. Elena Dementieva finished 2006 ranked #8; her fourth consecutive year she finished in the top ten.
Country: Germany Ranking: #12
At the age of 17 Nicole Vaidisova is an emerging star in women’s tennis. Nicole Vaidisova won her first tour event at the age of 15 years and 3 months old. In October of 2004 Vaidisova made her debut on the top 100 rankings at #74 and was the youngest player ranked. Vaidisova continued to climb, she reached the top 50 by April of 2005, she reached #28 by July of 2005 and was in the top 25 by September of 2005. Vaidisova broke the top 10 in August of 2006 at the age of 17 but finished the year at #12. Nicole Vaidisova had her best outing at the Grand Slams in 2006. Previously she had only made the fourth round once but in 2006 she made the 4th round or farther in three of the four grand slams. Nicole Vaidisova is still only 17 so she still has a very bright future ahead of her.
Country: Slovakia Ranking: #18
Daniela Hantuchova made her breakthrough in 2002 by beating Justine Henin-Hardenne and Martina Hingis to win the Indian Wells title. In 2002 Ace Tennis Magazine named Hantuchova as the next contender to the Williams sisters’ throne. Daniela Hantuchova didn’t win other title in 2002 but her consistent play helped her reach a lot of quarterfinals and semifinals and she reached #5 in the world. Unfortunately in a match in 2003 Hantuchova had a meltdown and began crying during and after a match. She also suffered from a huge weight loss and many people thought having so much pressure on her at such a young age was too hard on her. In 2006 Hantuchova defeated Serena Williams at the Australian Open and pretty well consistently throughout 2006. At 23 years old it looks like maybe she has finally gotten over her problems and is ready to rise back to the top.
Country: Russia Ranking: #4
Svetlana Kuznetsova really emerged in 2004 when she won the US Open. Unfortunately a year after winning the US Open Kuznetsova became the first player to lose in the first round the year after winning the tournament. Kuznetsova then struggled for a while after that and didn’t win another title for 18 months. Finally Kuznetsova won the Tier I Tournament and advanced all the way to the Finals of the French Open. The rest of 2006 Kuznetsova didn’t win anymore titles but played consistently enough to reach #4 in the world.