2013’s tennis best bits: New kids on the block, Bouchard to Halep
2013 tennis best bits: We highlight the wave of young women who have been making strides through the year
The latest in our review of the 2013 tennis season focuses on the wave of young women making strides through the year. The selection, as usual, is an entirely personal one!
Genie bursts from Canadian lamp
There has been good reason for those hoping to nurture the next generation of tennis stars to cast very envious eyes in the direction of Canada.
The youngest man in the top 20, 22-year-old Milos Raonic, made his name early and continues to improve and impress, ending the year at No11. And that tall, powerful Canadian is being chased by the equally youthful talent of Vasek Pospisil, up to 32 from 141 in six months.
And with a nice sense of timing and balance, the women’s tour also boasts a Canadian at No32, the 19-year-old Eugenie—Genie—Bouchard.
She burst onto the international stage last year by winning the Wimbledon junior title, a full four years after her good friend and fellow 19-year-old Laura Robson had done the same. The Canadian, though, has been quick to make up for lost time.
Bouchard closed 2012 ranked No144, and 2013 has brought more mature and lively all-court tennis from the teenager. She reached the quarter-finals or better five times during this season, twice at Premier level in Charleston and Tokyo. She made the semis in Strasbourg and Quebec City and rounded off the year with her first WTA final in Osaka.
Along the way, she scored wins over Sam Stosur and Jelena Jankovic, Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic—and took Serena Williams to three sets in Cincinnati. No wonder she soared to No32 by the year’s end, the No1 teenager in the world.
It is not just in her ranking that she emulates Pospisil. Her similar style of play—athletic, attacking and elegant—have quickly made here a favourite and she, like Pospisil, will hope to be seeded for the first time in a Grand Slam come the Australian Open.
Oh Canada, you are clearly doing something right.
Halep and Stephens vie for top 10
Bouchard will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of two other young players who made the jump from outside the top 30 to the top table in 2013.
Sloane Stephens was ranked 38 when she embarked on the Australian swing 10 months ago. With a quarter and a semi finish in Brisbane and Hobart, she earned a seeding for the big one in Melbourne, and caused one of the biggest upsets of the year by beating Serena Williams in the quarter-finals to end the month as the only teenager in the top 20.
She struggled with her form through the spring, not helped by an abdominal strain, but reached the fourth round at the French Open and the quarters of Wimbledon.
In Cincinnati, she took another major scalp, Maria Sharapova, and came up against Bouchard in consecutive tournaments, losing to her in three sets in Tokyo and beating her in three in Beijing.
Theirs begins to look like a promising rivalry, too: close in age, both eager to attack, both entertaining players. This time next year, both could also be among the top dozen women, but they will be competing with another young talent who surged from No45 to one spot above Stephens as the 2013 season closed.
By coincidence, Simona Halep came up against Stephens in both Hobart and the Australian Open, and was soundly beaten by her, first 6-4, 6-0, then 6-1, 6-1.
Halep, a couple of years older than Stephens, had promised much since she won the junior title at the French Open in 2008, but although she had reached a couple of WTA finals, the big wins had not followed. 2013 looked like more of the same until early summer when, now ranked 64, she took a string of big names in Rome to reach the semis—and the floodgates opened.
She took back-to-back titles in Nurnberg and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and after Wimbledon, she continued: Budapest, New Haven, Moscow and, closing the season, the Tournament of Champions in Sofia—unbeaten.
Before June this year, the 22-year-old Romanian had not won a title: by November, she had won six.
She stands, as she prepares for the Australian Open again, ranked No11 and she will surely not fall in the first round there this time around.
More comebacks, more milestones:
• Na Li ended 2013 at a career-high No3 having taken on new coach Carlos Rodriguez and a new training regime to regain her form of 2011: She reached the quarters of Wimbledon, the semis at the US Open and the finals of the Australian Open and WTA Championships.
• Former top-20 player Alisa Kleybanova was named the WTA’s Comeback Player of the Year, after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma on her 22nd birthday in 2011. She began the year with a string of wins on the ITF circuit and ended it by playing four WTA tournaments: Toronto, Cincinnati, the US Open and Moscow. She also represented Russia in the Fed Cup final, losing in straights to Sara Errani.
• 30-year-old Roberta Vinci reached the US Open quarters for the second straight year to complete her best ever Grand Slam year and reach a career-high ranking of No11.
• Sabine Lisicki reached her first Major final at Wimbledon, beating Serena Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska and Stosur before being gripped by nerves in a one-sided final. She equalled her year-end high ranking of 2011, No15.
• Marion Bartoli dominated Lisicki to win the Wimbledon final six years after reaching her other Major final there. It was the only time in 2013 that she got beyond the third round, and equalled her career-high ranking of No7. She announced her retirement from tennis 40 days later.
• The petite Carla Suarez Navarro reached a career-high No14 in September with her first US Open quarter-final finish in her best Grand Slam year.