WTA and Five Rising Stars on the Women's Tour

Scott ReighardAnalyst IJune 8, 2011

WTA and Five Rising Stars on the Women's Tour

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    Who is set to challenge the world's No.1?Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    A lot has happened in Women’s tennis in the last year. Just look back at last year’s Wimbledon. The finals featured Serena Williams and Vera Zvonareva. At the time, Serena was ranked No. 1 in the world and Zvonareva was ranked No. 22.

    Eleven months later, Zvonareva is ranked third and Serena has dropped to 25. Along with her sister, Serena Williams’ injuries have played a huge role in that drop, but we also have to look at reality.

    Serena Williams will be 30 in September. Her sister, Venus, who was ranked second last year at Wimbledon will be 31 in a couple of weeks. Whether the Williams sisters will ever get back to tennis prominence is highly speculative.

    Also, with the retirement of Justine Henin, Elena Dementieva, and the falling off of Jankovic, Petrova, and Radwanska, not to mention a few others, it’s time to make way for five new rising stars on the WTA.

    This is my first tennis article for the Bleacher Report.

5: Tie Between Vera Zvonereva and Peng Shuai

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Both of these ladies have a strong presence on the court and should never be overlooked by opponents. And even though we have labeled this piece rising stars, some are a little older and late to the party, so to speak. For Shuai and Zvonereva, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

    The issue with Shuai is that she is already 25. However, if you look at the slow rise of Li Na, you can understand the maturation of her game. She is an unorthodox player with the two-handed forehand and back hand, and difficult to game plan.

    Shuai has power on both sides, and since January she has compiled three quarter finals, three semi-finals, made it to the fourth round at the Australian Open, and lost in the finals to Caroline Wozniacki at Brussels.

    A viral illness forced her out of the French Open to the eventual finalist, Schiavone.

    Shuai has gone from being ranked 72 in the world in 2010 to 20 as of June 6. That is an incredible jump.

    Caution, Zvonereva is very close to winning a major. She has reached the finals twice (Wimbledon and U.S. Open 2010) and the semi-finals at the Australian (2009, 2011). She was also a finalist at the WTA Championship in 2010, and a Bronze Medal winner for Russia in 2008.

    The strike against Zvonereva is her age. She will be 27 in September, but like some other stars in their mid to late 20s, Zvonereva seems to be hitting her stride, and a Grand Slam victory awaits. The question looming is whether she is a Grand Slam closer.

    She has 11 WTA titles and two ITF. There is no doubt for the remainder of this year and most likely next year, Zvonereva is an opponent most ladies would like to avoid.

    Despite dropping a spot from No. 2 in 2010 to No. 3 in the world, Zvonereva's game is dangerous, and even though she has been relatively consistent for the last three years, ranked 2, 7 and 9, I still think she is a rising star because in my mind, she will win a Grand Slam or two before her career winds down.

    Both of these young ladies are late-rising stars, and we are going to see a lot of them the remainder of 2011.

4: Andrea Petkovic

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    With an infectious smile and bubbly personality, it's hard not to like Petkovic, but even more than that, her game is beginning to match her aura.

    Other than her bubbly extrovert personality, Petkovic is maturing as a player, and is a very competitive and aggressive player.

    Not to sound redundant, but the young eye-catching German is catching more than just looks. She is garnering attention from some of today’s top players and with cause.

    She will be 24 in September, not a teen phenomenon, but still young enough to be a tennis star on the rise. Petkovic certainly has the game to be a top ten player and she has the game to win a Grand Slam.

    Despite her being spanked by Sharapova in the French Open in the fourth round, she certainly upped her game this year and has shown her ability.

    Her rise has been rather remarkable these last two years. Ranked 56 in 2009 and 32 in 2010, Petkovic has been steadily climbing the rankings, and deservedly so. Her game and mental preparation have arrived.

    She currently ranks 11 and has two WTA and eight ITF titles in her trophy case. She is the top-ranked German, which has become a very strong team again, and is poised to make some noise at Wimbledon.

    Aside from tennis, Petkovic strikes me as someone who will be a future tennis channel announcer, or someone who will be involved in front of the camera as she continues to hone her skills on her Petkorazzi site.

3: Petra Kvitova

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Just in the last year, Kvitova from the Czech Republic has been to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (2011), the fourth round of the French Open (2011), and last year was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon losing to eventual champion Serena Williams.

    Kvitova is only 21, and the reason I have her ranked ahead of Petkovic is her record in Grand Slams to this point.

    In 2009, she was ranked 62. In 2010 she was ranked 34, and now she is ranked No. 8; a pretty impressive progression these last three years.

    Overall, her game is solid, but she is not the greatest mover on the court, and her serve can be suspect, but she can match anyone from the baseline. 

    She does have four WTA titles and seven ITF’s. But in order to crack that top five, she has got to start getting to more semi-finals and finals in Grand Slam events.

2: Victoria Azarenka

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    A steady player who is taking advantage of the absences of Henin, Dementieva and the Williams sisters, Azarenka’s game continues to improve.

    The Belarusian will turn 22 in July. She has been and continues to be a rising star.

    She has reached the quarterfinals at the French (2009, 2011), Australian (2010) and Wimbledon (2009), but as a top five player, she has got to reach the semi-finals or finals of Grand Slams.

    Her aggressive baseline precision is one of the tours best, but for Azarenka to be considered a Grand Slam title contender, she is going to have to improve her serve.

    If you look back at top players, the serve enables the player free points, and much like Dementieva, if she cannot improve upon that, she will never win a Grand Slam event.

    True, Victoria has been up and down, going from No. 7 to No. 10, and now up to No. 5, Azarenka has seven WTA titles and one ITF. She is certainly capable of hoisting a trophy. The question is whether it will be a Grand Slam one?

1: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

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    Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    For Pavlyuchecnkova, the sky is the limit. She is currently ranked 14 in the world; up from 21 in 2010, and up from 41 in 2009. She will be 20 in July and has a game capable of, dare I say it, being No. 1.

    Pavlyuchecnkova made it to the round of 16 in last year’s French Open, losing to eventual winner Schiavone, and this year made the QF’s only to lose to Schiavone again.

    She continues to play better in Grand Slam events and has three WTA titles.

    Yes, it's redundant. Yes, it's cliche, but once again, the Russians are coming.

    I welcome your comments.

Other Notables

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    Julia GeorgesMatthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Natalie Oudin: (20 in September) Needs more consistency and power. She is not as strong as Henin despite a similar build.

    Yanina Wickmayer: (22 in October) Another of those typical baseline players who has had a rough year thus far, but as soon as her confidence returns, so will her game.

    Julia Georges: At 22, Georges’ game is as impressive as her looks, but I would like to see her perform better at the Grand Slams.