US Open 2012: 15 Players Who May Be the Next Face of US Women's Tennis

JA AllenSenior Writer IAugust 31, 2012

US Open 2012: 15 Players Who May Be the Next Face of US Women's Tennis

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    There were 16 women from the United States entered into the main draw of the 2012 U.S. Open. Five of them survived the opening round to fight another day.

    Among them, Serena Williams and her sister Venus have been playing professional tennis successfully for over a decade. But in the beginning, even they had to fight their way to the top of the women's game.

    As the Williams sisters continue to age, the United States will be seeking to fill the huge void left when the sisters are no longer competing. 

    As we look at the women who participated at this year's U.S. Open, some stand out as rising stars while others seem to have reached their potential in professional tennis.

    On an encouraging note, there are also numerous youngsters who are just making their way into the professional ranks, easing their way onto the WTA tour.

    How will these players fare going forward, and which ones will become the face of U.S. tennis in the next few years? 

Other U.S. Players to Observe Who Did Not Make the Main Draw in 2012

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    Several younger players from the United States entered the qualifying draw at this year's Open but did not make it into the main draw. Among them are:

    Alexa Glatch: Age 22 (Ranked 138) Made it to the final round of qualifying, but failed to make the main draw.

    Maria Sanchez: Age 22 (Ranked 211) Made it the final round of qualifying, but failed to make the main draw.

    Shelby Rogers: Age 19 (Ranked 290) Advanced to the second round of qualifying.

    Krista Hardeback: Age 17 (Ranked 324) Advanced to the second round of qualifying.

    Brooke Austin: Age 16 (Ranked 9999) Advanced to the second round of qualifying.

    Jessica Pegula: Age 18 (Ranked 166) Advanced to the second round of qualifying.

    Lauren Davis: Age 18 (Ranked 136) Advanced to the second round of qualifying.

    Chi Chi Scholl: Age 20 (Ranked 171) Advanced to the second round of qualifying.

15. Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Age 27 (Ranked 212)

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    At 27 years of age, Bethanie Mattek-Sands can no longer be regarded as an ingenue on court.

    She has been playing professional tennis since 1999. Her highest singles ranking came on July 11, 2012 when she reached the No. 30 spot—but since that time, she has fallen to No. 212.

    Mattek-Sands began the year ranked No. 56. After losing in the first round of the 2012 Australian Open, she fell to No. 68.

    At that same Australian Open, however, Mattek-Sands teamed with Romanian Horia Tecau to win the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open.

    She suffered some injuries that set her back in Paris as she advanced to the round of 16. That hampered her ability to play at her top level.

    After falling in the first round of Indian Wells, and failing to qualify at Madrid, Rome, and Brussels, her ranking plummeted to No. 167.

    She advanced to the second round of the French Open, the first round in Cincinnati and the first round of New Haven.

    Mattek-Sands entered the 2012 U.S. Open as a wild card but fell to Venus Williams in her opening-round match.

    With her on-court flair and her often-outrageous tennis attire, Mattek-Sands remains an interesting figure to watch—but not one who will rise to the top of the women’s singles rankings.

14. Madison Keys: 17 Years Old (Ranked 152)

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    With a ranking of 152, Madison Keys is 17 years old and seemingly a natural talent on court. In 2012 Keys received a wild card to play the Australian Open.

    Even though she lost in the first round, the experience for a very young player was considerable.

    Keys also lost in the first round of Memphis but advanced to the second round at Miami, losing to Agnieszka Radwanska. She followed that up with a second-round loss in Miami this year.

    In 2012, she failed to qualify for the draw at Wimbledon and the US Open but eagerly awaits her chances to make those major events in later years.

    Keys came to the attention of American fans during her second round match at the 2011 U.S. Open with the No. 27 seed Lucie Safarova of Czechoslovakia.

    She kept Safarova on the ropes for almost two and a half hours before finally falling 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. In the process, Keys got the New York fans behind her as the 16-year old fought to win the match.

    It was her first Grand Slam match and Keys relished the crowd support.

    Still growing at 5’10", Keys has a powerful serve and can hit winners past opponents using both her forehand and backhand.

    Ultimately, Keys is very young and still learning the subtleties of the game. But she is a definite prospect to add to U.S. fortunes in the future.

13. Victoria Duval: Age 16 (Ranked 562)

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    If you watched Kim Clijsters’ first-round match on the opening night of the 2012 U.S. Open, you had to be impressed with her young opponent, 16-year old American Victoria Duval.

    What stood out more than her game was the young woman's poise on and off the court.

    Duval is seeded No. 562 in the world, which means that she has some major work ahead of her.

    After winning the Under-18 U.S. National Championships, the teenager earned her first tour-level match. No doubt, it is one she will never forget.

    Of course, Duval was easily out-distanced by Clijsters, who won the match 6-3, 6-1.

    During her match with the former U.S. Open champ, however, Duval produced a few moments of brilliance on court.

    The youngster showed her potential on the biggest court in the tennis world—Arthur Ashe Stadium.

    Duval is definitely a player to watch as she begins her career in earnest.

12. Samantha Crawford: Age 17 (Ranked 393)

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    At age 17, standing 6’2", Samantha Crawford has a future in tennis.

    Currently, however, she is ranked as an amateur who is still in high school.

    This year Crawford went through qualifying to reach the main draw, but she lost in her opening match to Laura Robson of Great Britain.

    But the 17-year old made a match of it, taking Robson to a tiebreak in the second set.

    To put it mildly, Crawford rocketed the ball across the net with some huge serves and shot out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, but Robson with more experience, was able to hold her own and break back.

    Both Crawford and Robson held serve until the tiebreak when the Brit prevailed.

    Once Crawford learns to control both her temper and her ground strokes, look for this future star to have a real impact on the women's tour.

11. Julia Cohen: Age 23 (Ranked 101)

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    In 2012, Julia Cohen played in her first U.S. Open.

    Once there, she fell to Australian Anastasia Rodionova 6-3, 6-0 in the first round. Cohen was obviously nervous and could not seem to quell her anxiety playing on the most prominent tennis stage of her life.

    She had her biggest success earlier this year when she participated in the 2012 Baku Cup in Azerbaijan. Advancing, Cohen made it to the second round after top seed Ksenia Pervak retired.

    She reached her first quarterfinal, after defeating Alla Kudryavtseva. Cohen managed to get by Magdalena Rybáriková, advancing to the semifinals.

    She played an unseeded Olga Puchkova in the semifinals—defeating the Russian in three sets.

    That propelled Cohen into her first WTA final, where she lost to fifth-seeded Serbian Bojana Jovanovski.

    At 5'7, playing right-handed, Cohen may make her way into the upper echelons of the women's rankings, finding some success.

    To date, however, there has been little to indicate Cohen has any major weapons which would see her winning consistently on tour.

10. Vania King: Age 23 (Ranked 52)

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    Perhaps better known at this stage of her career as a top-ranked doubles player, Vania King has also achieved some success on the singles tour.

    Starting the year with a WTA ranking of No. 75 in singles, King advanced to the second round at Brisbane, losing to Daniela Hantuchova.

    She reached the third round of the Australian Open before falling to Ana Ivanovic.

    One of her best results came in Washington, D.C., when she held on until the semifinals before losing to Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

    In previous U.S. Open tournaments, King advanced to the third round in both 2009 and in 2011.

    But this year she fell in the first round 6-4, 6-2 to Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, who happens to be her doubles partner. Shvedova certainly had the better year in singles.

    King is a fairly steady, consistent player without major offensive weapons.

    Her doubles play is superior, however, currently ranked No. 8.

    Her highest doubles ranking was World No. 3 in 2011

    Standing 5’5", King has probably reached her highest level in singles.

9. Irina Falconi: Age 22 (Ranked 109)

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    At 5’4", Irina Falconi will probably never be a major player in women’s tennis, but she is a feisty  figure on court—and also a very entertaining character.

    A former Georgia Tech star, this year 22-year-old Falconi gained a direct entry into the main draw of the 2012 U.S. Open ranked in the top 100 at that time.

    A good omen for the young American was defeating Venus Williams in July during a World Team Tennis match playing for the Boston Lobsters prior to the start of the Summer Olympics.

    But her foray into this year’s Open did not go her way. She faced Olga Puchkova of Russia and lost 6-7, 7-6, 3-6 in a tightly contested match.

    She was hoping to duplicate her results from 2011 when Falconi advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open, defeating Klara Zakopalova, and shocking No. 14 seed Dominika Cibulkova before losing to Sabine Lisicki in the third round.

    Falconi may rise into the top 50 in the women's ranking, but she will never be an impact player.

8. Jamie Hampton: Age 22 (Ranked No. 100)

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    In 2012, 22-year-old Jamie Hampton reached her highest career ranking, reaching No. 84 after starting the year ranked 144.

    She reached the second round at the Australian Open after qualifying, going down to defeat to Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1.

    In Memphis, she also reached the second round after qualifying—losing to Vera Dushevina 6-4, 6-3.

    Reaching the fourth round at Indian Wells, Hampton retired in her match against Agnieszka Radwanska, trailing 6-3, 4-6, 3-0.

    The following week in Miami after qualifying, Hampton, ranked No. 85, lost in the first round.

    Ranked in the top 100, Hampton made it into the main draw at the French Open, losing in her opening-round match to Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands. But at Wimbledon, Hampton made it to the second round before falling to Heather Watson.

    At this year’s U.S. Open, Hampton faced the No. 11 seed, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in her opening-round match. In a valiant effort, the American failed to win as Bartoli prevailed 6-3, 7-6.

    Still, 2012 has been a real breakthrough year for the American. We need to see if she can continue improving, adding to the strength of the U.S. in women’s tennis.

    The potential seems to be there.

7. Melanie Oudin: Age 20 (Ranked 107)

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    The 20-year-old Melanie Oudin made a remarkable run through the 2009 U.S. Open women’s draw when she was 17.

    That year, she came into the Open as a wild card. In the first round, she dispatched Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2. In the second round, however, she rocked the tennis world by upsetting Elena Dementieva, the No. 4 seed, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

    To compound this feat, in the third round she took out Maria Sharapova to the astonishment of all assembled watching on Arthur Ashe Stadium—the score 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. 

    That sent the 17-year-old onto the fourth round to face another competent Russian player Nadia Petrova.

    When Oudin set her aside 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, the young American cemented her place as the darling of the 2009 U.S. Open.

    In the quarterfinals, she fell to another teenager, Caroline Wozniacki, 2-6, 2-6. Her run was over—but not the memory of it or the fallout from it.

    Following the U.S. Open, Oudin climbed into the women’s top 50.

    But Oudin was never able to build on that momentous run in 2009 and her singles rankings have continued to fall.

    Earlier this spring it seemed Oudin was beginning to make headway. She won the tournament at Birmingham over Jelena Jankovic.

    But the past few outings have not been productive. At this year’s U.S. Open, Oudin was granted a wild card into the event. She met the the No. 15 seed, Lucie Safarova in the first round and lost 6-4, 6-0.

    At age 20, Oudin still has strong possibilities, but she has a long way to go to get back to her success in 2009.

    Her game is there because we have seen it. Her problems seem to be mental: believing in herself again.

6. Coco Vandeweghe: Age 20 (Ranked 75)

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    It seems like Coco Vandeweghe has been around for a long time, but she is still only 20 years of age.

    Standing 6’1", Vandeweghe plays right-handed and utilizes a two-handed backhand.

    Possessing a strong serve, Vandeweghe can do some real damage with her serve and her ground strokes.

    Her conditioning and her movement on court often seem to hold her back, both of which can be remedied if addressed in her training.

    She began 2012 ranked 122 and climbed to her highest ranking of No. 69 on July 16 of this year after reaching the main draw at Wimbledon and the finals at Stanford, where she lost to Serena Williams 7-5, 6-3.

    At Stanford, the young American was playing the best tennis of her career serving lights out—until matched against Serena Williams.

    At the following tournament in Washington, D.C., Vandeweghe reached the quarterfinals.

    In Vandeweghe’s 2012 U.S. Open first round match, she was pitted once again against Serena Williams in extremely windy conditions.

    Serena blasted through Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-1 in under an hour as the younger American donated five double faults in the first set. Serena converted five of six break-point opportunities.

    This has been Vandeweghe’s best year on tour as she reached her first WTA final.

    With her big serve, she may turn around the weakest parts of her game and begin producing some stellar results.

5. Nicole Gibbs: Age 19 (Ranked 242)

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    Also trying out her pro legs at the 2012 U.S. Open was Nicole Gibbs from Stanford University. 

    Standing 5‘6", this year Gibbs brought home the NCAA titles in both singles and doubles for Stanford University—becoming only the third person in the history of the NCAA to accomplish that feat.

    Gibbs was teamed with teammate Mallory Burdett when she won the doubles title.

    In July, Gibbs won a ITF Pro Circuit tournament, the Colorado International, after qualifying to make it into the main draw. She defeated Julie Coin in the final.

    Following that win in Colorado, at Stanford, Gibbs lost to Serena Williams in the second round.

    Just prior to the 2012 U.S. Open—at the tournament in Cincinnati, Gibbs went down to defeat at the hands of Petra Kvitova after qualifying and reaching the second round.

    Gibbs was matched up with France's Alize Cornet in the first round at the 2012 U.S. Open on Monday.

    But Gibbs lost her opener 5-7, 3-6, ending her first U.S. Open.

    At age 19, Gibbs remains in college but shows tremendous promise, sporting a mature and intelligent game. Look for her in future events.

4. Mallory Burdette: Age 21 (Ranked 252)

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    Mallory Burdette will be a senior at Stanford in the fall of 2012, but she set aside some time this summer to play professional tennis at the U.S. Open.

    By winning enough points on tour, Burdette earned a wild card into the main draw at this year’s Open.

    Burdette tested her game on the pro tour, collecting singles titles at the Hospital Tennis Classic and the Vancouver Open, which allowed her into the main draw as a U.S. Open wild card.

    Back in July, Burdette picked up her first career WTA victory at the Bank of the West Classic’s opening round over Anne Keothavong. She lost in the next round to 10th-ranked Marion Bartoli 7-5, 6-0.

    Since her arrival at the 2012 U.S. Open, Burdette has eased past Swiss Timea Bacsinsky 6-4, 6-3, making her way in the second round. There she met and defeated Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4 and will meet her one of her idols, Maria Sharapova, in the third round.

    Standing 5’10" with powerful ground strokes, the Stanford senior plays right-handed and uses a double-handed backhand.

    At age 21, she should be around for quite a few years. Burdette could easily be a real asset for the U.S. women’s tour.

3. Christina McHale: Age 20 (Ranked No. 24)

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    After two years on tour, Christina McHale, at age 20, shows much promise.

    She broke through into the top 100 in 2011, finally reaching No. 42 by the end of the season.

    So far in 2012, her play has been consistent and very productive.

    In January, she reached the round of 16 in Auckland and later the round of 32 at the 2012 Australian Open. The next month, McHale advanced to the round of 16 in Paris followed by a quarterfinal finish in Doha

    At Indian Wells on hard courts, the young American reached the round of 16 but fell in second round at Miami to Petra Kvitova.

    On clay, her furthest advancement was at the French Open when she reached the third round, losing to former French Open champ Li Na of China.

    At Wimbledon, McHale once again reached the third round, losing to German Angelique Kerber.

    Reaching the quarterfinals in Carlsbad, McHale was chosen to be part of Team USA’s Olympic tennis squad. Her Olympic dream, however, ended in the first round.

    In Montreal, McHale advanced to the third round, but fell in the first round at Cincinnati. 

    She entered the main draw at the U.S. Open seeded No. 21. McHale did, however, lose her opening-round match to Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

    At 5’7", McHale is a clever player on court. She has enough court savvy at a young age to rise in the ranks but she would have to equal the drive and the power of Justine Henin to reach the very top of the women’s game.

    Size, unfortunately, is almost everything in tennis today.

2. Sloan Stephens: Age 19 (Ranked 44)

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    Sloane Stephens is age 19 and currently ranked No. 44 in the world—her highest ranking to date. 

    She turned pro in 2009 at the age of 16 but did not play her first professional match until the age of 17. Prior to that, the teenager enjoyed a great junior career.

    Stephens has a potentially lethal serve and as she matures, it could become the primary weapon in her game. Currently she plays from the baseline but moves exceptionally well. Her forehand is powerful and her two-handed backhand is solid.

    Early in 2012, Stephens gained entry into the main draw of events—but would often find herself out by the second round.

    She lost in round two at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Rome but did ease into the third round in Miami before the clay season began.

    But by the French Open, Stephens advanced to the fourth round, losing to Samantha Stosur.

    She made it to the third round at Wimbledon before losing to German Sabine Lisicki.

    In Washington D.C., Stephens advanced to the semifinals, where she lost to Magdalena Rybarikova.

    At the U.S. Open this year, she upset Francesca Schiavone in the first round 6-3, 6-4, advancing to the second round. There she faced Tatjana Malek of Germany, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

    The youngster from Florida now moves on to the third round, where she will play Serb Ana Ivanovic.

1. Varvara Lepchenko: Age 26 (Ranked No. 32)

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    Transported Varvara Lepchenko is the best of the upcoming U.S. prospects at the moment.

    Climbing to her highest ranking of 32 this week, Lepchenko is making her mark as a new citizen of the United States by contributing to women’s tennis in a very positive manner.

    In 2012, she reached the main draw of the Australian Open after qualifying to get into the event. She fell in the first round to Daniela Hantuchova. Her ranking climbed to 113.

    At Doha, Lepchenko advanced to the round of 16, losing to Agnieszka Radwanska. Her ranking moved into the top 100.

    Later, during the clay-court season, Lepchenko made it to the quarterfinals of Madrid, again falling to Radwanska. Her ranking rose to No. 59.

    After failing to qualify in Rome and losing in the first round in Brussels, Lepchenko advanced to the fourth round at the French Open, losing to Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-1.

    This was a real break-through event for the American. Her ranking rose to No. 51.

    Again falling to Kvitova at Wimbledon in the third round, Lepchenko’s play on court continued to improve. After the Wimbledon fortnight, she was ranked in the top 50.

    Lepchenko reached the quarterfinals in Carlsbad, the second round at the 2012 Summer Olympics where she represented the United States, the third round in Montreal, the first round in Cincinnati and the first round in New Haven, where she retired.

    Lepchenko has played a great deal of tennis and has seen her ranking rise steadily throughout 2012.

    She came into the U.S. Open seeded at No. 31. In her first round, Lepchenko defeated Mathilde Johannson of France 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. In the second round, the American took out Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-2. She awaits her third-round opponent Sam Stosur, the defending champion.

    There seems little doubt but that Lepchenko will be firmly ensconced in the women’s top 20 by year’s end.