French Open 2012: Top Women's Tennis Stars on the Rise

Delores Smith-JohnsonCorrespondent IIIJune 6, 2012

French Open 2012: Top Women's Tennis Stars on the Rise

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    Shocking and thrilling are probably two of the best terms to describe the 2012 French Open. There's no doubt that the second Grand Slam of the year has lived up to all of the anticipation—and generated even more.

    There have been some surprising eliminations, but at the same time, there have been some stunning victories.

    And speaking of stunning victories, the women have excelled in that category during the past week and into the second week.

    In this slideshow, we will take a look at seven players who, it's easy to see, came to Paris on a mission—a mission to reach the final, but if they didn't they would leave nothing less than their absolute best on the clay courts.

    Please chime in with comments and feedback, especially if you have some favorites that you would like to add to these up-and-comers.


    Disclaimer: Please read with an open mind as the term "up-and-comer" is being used with liberty. It  includes players who have been on tour for a while, but this tournament or this year as a whole has shown a revival in their game, physical fitness, etc., resulting in an elevated level of play.

Varvara Lepchenko

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    Passionate and grateful are two words that easily come to mind when Varvara Lepchenko discusses her ability to play tennis—and to play for the United States.

    That was no more evident than her performance at this year's French Open.

    On her way to reaching the fourth round, she handed defeat to Jelena Jankovic and Francesca Schiavone. In fact, this was the second time this year she defeated Schiavone, defeating her back in May at the Madrid Open.

    Lepchenko has been on tour for some time now, but the momentum and confidence boost she received by reaching the fourth round (she lost to Petra Kvitova in straight sets) of a Grand Slam is sure to be a motivating factor to continue to work hard on her way to eventually reaching her first Grand Slam final.

Sloane Stephens

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    Sloane Stephens is one of the most poised players in tennis. At such a young age, she plays an on-court and mental game that rivals the best.

    At Roland Garros this year, she came in and took out three opponents in straight sets, including fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands to reach the fourth round. And though she faced the reigning US Open women's champion, Samantha Stosur, you would not know it.

    She was poised and focused as ever. She had one thing on her mind—playing tennis. And that she did.

    In the end, though the score showed a loss, 7-5, 6-4, it also showed that she did not hand the match over to Stosur.

    She has a great tennis career ahead of her.

Christina McHale

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    Currently, Christina McHale is the second-highest ranked American woman on tour and climbing the rankings.

    She came into the French Open having seen some good results, not at the level she would have liked, but well worth mentioning.

    She handed Petra Kvitova a loss back in March at the BNP Paribas Open, she took Samantha Stosur to three sets at the Madrid Open and she created a real match for Maria Sharapova at the Italian Open.

    McHale's run at the this year's French Open came to end upon facing Li Na. However, she won a set, forcing a three-setter.

    Like Sloane, McHale is so mature beyond her years, and that maturity coupled with her skills is going to make for a very successful tennis career.

Kaia Kanepi

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    Kaia Kanepi's transformation is comparable to that of Mardy Fish.

    Over the past year or so, she has gone through a rebirth of sorts.

    It's quite evident to see the renewal in her physical fitness. These all-around changes have a pivotal role in her coming into the French Open with two titles (Estoril Open and Brisbane International) and deep tournament runs.

    For the second time in four years, she was able to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open. Unfortunately, that was as far as she would get, losing to Maria Sharapova, 6-2,6-3.

    With how she's playing now and being more physically fit, she's going to be a continued threat on the women's tour.

Angelique Kerber

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    What a year Angelique Kerber has had so far.

    She has gone deep into several tournaments, including walking away with two titles.

    She defeated Marion Bartoli in a tight three-setter to win the Open GDF Suez in February, and she defeated Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to take the Danish Open.

    Kerber has forced the tennis world to recognize her presence.

    Though she came up a little short in her quest for the French Open final, thanks to Sara Errani, she did reach the quarters for the first time at the French Open.

    There's no denying that this lefty means business when she takes the court.

Dominika Cibulkova

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    Dominika Cibulkova turned pro in 2005, but like several of her fellow tour mates in this slideshow, she has not been a household name. But over the last few years, more and more are acknowledging her presence.

    Like Sara Errani, Cibulkova is small in stature, but she's a powerhouse.

    When announcers are describing Cibulkova, they often refer to her as being one of the hardest hitting women on tour, despite her size.

    Her strength, speed, ability to provide good court coverage and her overall ability to adapt her game as needed makes her a serious contender on the courts. With continued work, she will leave a positive mark on the women's tour.

    At this year's French Open, Cibulkova provided probably the second biggest upset of the tournament as she took out world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. (Can you guess the biggest?)

    Azarenka was so frustrated by this match that she abused her racket and was called out on her action. In her post-match interview, she continued expressing her frustration. But, no matter what, the results were in—the world No. 1 was out of the French Open.

    Though Cibulkova ended up losing to Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-1, she had a good run. In fact, going into that match, she had not dropped a set.

    Now, that's a performance to be proud of.

Sara Errani

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    She's projected to receive her highest ranking to date (No. 14) when the next rankings are announced. She'll be sitting right outside of the top 10.

    But, one may ask where did Sara Errani come from?

    Well, she actually turned pro in 2002. She quietly secured a few titles, but by no means has she been a name that tennis fans rattle off when discussing the women's tour...that is until 2012.

    This has been the defining year of her career.

    Coming into the French Open, not only did she have some deep tournament runs (including the quarterfinals of the Australian Open), she also won three championships (Abierto Mexicano TELCEL, Barcelona Ladies Open and the Budapest Grand Prix).

    And then, there was the French Open.

    On her way to a quarterfinal appearance, she took out two former French Open champions, Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

    And in the quarterfinals, she gave it her all, and her all paid off with a victory over Angelique Kerber. She exuded power, energy, determination and confidence. The best way to describe her performance was she played every point as if it were a match point.

    Errani will be playing Samantha Stosur in the semifinals. It's sure to be a match to watch.

    But, it doesn't stop there. She's also going to be playing in the doubles final. Yes, you read all of that correctly.

    Errani quite possibly could take home two titles from this year's French Open.

    Tune in to see if she will. You certainly will not be bored.


    Hope you enjoyed, and remember, please leave your comments and feedback below.

    Delores Smith-Johnson is a correspondent and syndicated writer for Bleacher Report.