As the Australian Open winds toward its conclusion after two weeks of tremendous tennis in Melbourne, the focus will shift to the championship matches. While the four finalists deserve the spotlight, it's important not to lose sight of other players who made nice runs.
The season's first major always holds a higher level of importance because it sets the tone for the entire season. Players who were able to get off on the right foot set themselves up for a big 2013, partly due to the confidence they built up Down Under.
Let's take a look at three players who reached at least the quarterfinals in the Aussie Open and should be able to parlay that momentum into a memorable year.
Almagro is an enigma. The talent he possesses has been obvious in recent years, but he's never been able to get over the hump and join the elite group of players. It's highlighted by the fact he's never advanced beyond the quarterfinals of a major.
Even though the quarterfinal round proved to be his end point again in Australia, the impressive run he made to get there is enough to believe he's moving in the right direction. He beat two seeded players, Jerzy Janowicz and Janko Tipsarevic, before falling to David Ferrer.
In the loss to Ferrer, Almagro was up by two sets before his countryman fought back and stole the match. It was another example of having the talent to win, but lacking the finishing ability. Expect that to finally change, starting at the French Open.
While Stephens has been on the rise for awhile, her victory over Serena Williams firmly entrenches her as one of the sport's bright young talents. It takes a lot of mental strength to finish the job against a top player like Williams, even if she's hobbled.
The most impressive aspect of the 19-year-old American's game is her versatility. She isn't overly reliant on any one shot or style of play like so many young players. Instead, she can adapt to her opponent and give herself a chance to win every match.
Skeptics will point out she proceeded to get crushed by Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. But that match came after a short turnaround and the most emotional win of her career. It was a learning experience she can use to keep improving for the rest of 2013.
Makarova was quickly forgotten after getting dismantled by Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals, but fans will be hearing from her again sooner rather than later. She's finally realizing the potential that everybody has seen flashes of throughout her career.
Although the loss to Sharapova wasn't pretty, it's important to remember she knocked out No. 11 seed Marion Bartoli and No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber to reach that point. Those were a couple huge steps forward before she took one step back.
Makarova certainly has the power to succeed, as shown by the 51 winners she recorded in her victory over Bartoli. It just comes down to becoming more consistent from match to match—a major hurdle for every player looking to break through.
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