With the start of the 2014 season around the corner, the WTA's top players are facing tremendous pressure. For some, the pressure is self-imposed. For others, the pressure forms under the hefty weight of high expectations.
Every player feels some pressure to improve. But there are those who are under increased scrutiny based on their rank, poor play or celebrity.
Simona Halep, ranked No. 11, is coming off her best year. She won six WTA titles in 2013. Only Serena Williams won more. Halep was also voted the WTA's Most Improved Player. Of course, there will be pressure to break into the Top 10. However, Halep is under less pressure than No. 12 Sloane Stephens.
Stephens has yet to win her first WTA title. Still, she has been anointed the chosen one who will replace the Williams sisters as the next great American champion. Playing the role of prodigy is always a difficult burden to bare. That's why Stephens makes the list of women who are under the most pressure in 2014.
Sloane Stephens at the 2013 China Open
When Stephens upset Serena Williams at the 2013 Australian Open, she was still a teenager. That was less than a year ago. But it seems like a lifetime.
Stephens can no longer play the role of an up-and-coming player. She's ranked No. 12 and more is expected. There will be pressure on Stephens to win her first WTA title and deliver more than an occasional upset.
Anything less than a Top 10 finish would be considered a step back for Stephens.
Caroline Woznacki at China Open.
Former No. 1 player Caroline Wozniacki will face the pressure of being one of the most consistent players to never win a Grand Slam. After she fell from the No. 1 spot, Wozniacki's career appeared to be drifting downward. No longer considered a favorite to win anything, last year, Wozniacki received more publicity for her relationship with golfer Rory McIlory than for her play.
However, Wozniacki finished the season strong and earned a spot as an alternate for the WTA Championships. In October, she hired Tomas Hogstedt, the coach who guided Maria Sharapova back from shoulder surgery.
Wozniacki, 23, is no longer the youngster who has all the time in the world to win a Slam. The window of opportunity, which lies somewhere between an aging Serena Williams and surging teen challengers, is closing.
Maria Sharapova in Cincinnati
In case you haven't heard, Sharapova owns a candy company called Sugarpova. Of course you've heard. She's been pitching her candy everywhere, including on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. She's even landed a broadcasting gig covering the Olympics for NBC.
What she hasn't been doing is playing. Sharapova's last match was a loss against Stephens in Cincinnati in August. Her last win was in June at Wimbledon.
She's gone from being one match away from reclaiming the No. 1 ranking in May to falling to No. 4. A poor showing early and Sharapova will quickly slide out of the Top Five.
Well-established as the WTA's leading lady in endorsements, Sharapova will be under pressure to reestablish herself as a serious contender at Grand Slams.
Victoria Azarenka at 2013 U.S. Open
Victoria Azarenka is probably looking forward to the new season. It will begin in Australia where Azarenka has won two consecutive Australian Opens.
It'll also be on the hard courts, where Vika excels. It could be exactly what she needs to emerge from the late-season slump she fell into. She lost five of her last six matches.
She'll be under pressure to return to her winning ways and win a Slam other than the Aussie Open.
Serena Williams at the 2013 U.S. Open
In pre-match interviews, Serena often says she has nothing to lose. But that's not true. When you are favored to win every time you step on the court, you have plenty to lose.
Williams is just one Grand Slam away from tying tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for most Slam wins (18) in the open era. She's won two Slams each of the last two years. Two Slams in 2014 would give her the most major titles of any American woman in the open era. Three or more Slams would send Williams into 2015 with a chance to reach Steffi Graf's 22.
That's a ton of pressure.