The summer season is always a time for upcoming players to make a break through. Hard courts favor stronger and more powerful players, yet they also suite the defensive movers equally—think Kim Clijsters. With a handful of women who are ranked lower than their talent suggests, the 2013 hard court season could be one with surprising upsets. With a combination of newcomers and veterans, this list counts through the top ten dark horses for the hard courts season.
American teenager Madison Keyes is having a stellar 2013 season. Her performance, especially on hard courts, has improved her ranking and her confidence. As she gains experience, Keyes has all the right weapons to dominate her opponents. With a huge first serve, a monster forehand and fearless mentality, Keyes has already taken down a Top 10 player (Na Li). She has had Quarterfinal appearances at Sydney, Charleston and Birmingham, proving that her game translates to all surfaces. Hard courts however, will be Keyes' favorite as they work perfectly with her aggressive hard-hitting game. The cheering crowds, budding confidence, and improving game-level will all help Madison Keyes as she will likely be the next player on the WTA to break into the Top Twenty.
Svetlana Kuznetsova is a tour veteran and two time Grand Slam Champion, but she had fallen out of the top 100 in 2012. She won her first Grand Slam in 2004 at the U.S. Open. After years of injuries and a mental battle within herself, Kuznetsova has finally again started to show the promise of a champion. She made the Quarterfinals of The Australian Open, as well as The French Open. Although she missed Wimbledon, if Kuznetsova can get back on the courts injury free, she is a much better player than her No. 27 ranking suggests. No player will want to see the low-ranked Kuznetsova in the first or second round of a tournament.
The young American star has had an amazing 2013 season. After a semifinal appearance at The Australian Open with a victory over No.1 Serena Williams, Stephens has followed with impressive showings at Roland Garros (4th Round) and Wimbledon (Quarterfinals). She has been the last American standing at both Wimbledon and the Aussie Open, and is becoming more accustomed to the pressure of being a Top-20 player. Although many may not see Sloane as an upset winner, she has yet to have real success on American soil. With disappointing showings at Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston, this summer will be a chance for redemption. If she can stay injury free Stephens will be a mainstay in the top rankings of tennis this summer.
With an aggressive attacking game Jamie Hampton has caused quite a surprise at many tournaments this year. She has the tools and weapons in her game to beat top players, the challenge this summer will be the mental toughness. If Hampton can continue to improve her consistency and confidence, she can undoubtedly reach the Top 20 by years end. With supportive home fans, the American will be the crowd favorite for most of her matches this summer. Hampton seems to perform well on the big stages, and likes the pressure of playing top-ranked opponents; with that kind of "moxy" she can be an upset waiting to happen for a top player.
Eugenie Bouchard has dominated the Junior tour, and is showing a lot of promise on the WTA this season. She is sure to receive a lot of wild card offers on the North American hard courts, and will be heavily supported by Canadian fans at The Rogers Cup. Her confidence is high after a 3rd Round appearance at Wimbledon. With a game that is powerful and crafty, the newcomer has absolutely nothing to lose when she takes the court against top players this summer.
The Estonian-star Kaia Kanepi is a bit of a veteran on tour now. However, like many of the WTA players, her best results are coming later in her career. She is a powerful player and has improved her defensive skills as well. At Wimbledon she displayed a mental toughness that surprised many until her defeat in the Quarterfinals to Sabine Lisiki. She has an 18-7 record so far this year, and possesses the skill to upset even a Top-5 player on her best day.
German Julia Goerges has one of the biggest serves in women's professional tennis. Her main problem so far has been consistency. With the exception of a 4th Round Australian Open finish, 2013 has been disappointing for Goerges. However, she does have experience beating Top-20 players, and she should be confident on the fast hard courts; She will get a lot of free points off her first serve. Combine that with a typical German fighter mentality, strong groundstrokes, and an intimidating net game, and Julia Goerges could be heading towards a more impressive summer season.
Monica Puig is one of the most exciting new faces on the WTA tour. The Puerto Rican teenager plays a stylish game mixed with power, athleticism, and variety, and has already had big wins this year over players like Nadia Petrova, Sara Errani, Julia Goerges, and Francesca Schiavonne. Is she can play the fearless tennis that has brought her a 30 - 17 record for the 2013 season thus far, she'll cause a few upsets on more familiar grounds in the U.S. this summer.
The british teenager is continuing a rapid improvement in recent results and is a dangerous floater in any drawer this summer. With a big first serve, powerful grand-strokes, and an improving ability with movement and speed, Laura Robson will soon be cracking the Top-10 of women's tennis. Her mental toughness is largely yet to be proven, but with time and experience she is expected to one day be a Grand Slam contender. If she can stay consistent this summer, she will be a force to be reckoned with on the hard fast courts.
Although the popular German player has recently dropped in the rankings as a result of some rather serious injuries, she is a proven fighter. Expect to see Petkovic in almost every draw this summer; she will undoubtably be trying to improve her ranking (currently #61), and with nothing to lose Andrea could be a tricky opponent for a lot of top players. A solid counterpuncher, she should start to see results after getting into a good rhythm with her ground strokes, maybe at The Roger's Cup or in Cincinnati.