The 10 Best Up-and-Coming Players in the WTA

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IApril 11, 2009

The WTA is consistently being compared alongside the ATP and many critics will say the women's game isn't as interesting because there aren't any real rivalries. The men's game has the classic rivalry of Federer vs. Nadal. What does the women's game have?

Well it doesn't have that. It has more parity at the top, and to some that can be a bad thing. It's rare today to see a player repeatedly getting to the semifinals or finals of a major event.

Aside the Williams sisters, the rest of the field can be up for grabs at times.

But there is one thing that makes the women's game incredibly compelling. Which young players will make a splash next? This year, the more notables have included Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki. Both teenagers, they have left their mark already and will continue to do so.

So who is next in line? Let's take a look at 10 candidates.

10. Madison Keys (United States, WTA: UNR)

  • Height: 5'9", Weight: 130 lbs, Age: 14, Plays: Right, Career Record: 1-2

First of all, don't expect her to sit at this spot forever. As a mere 14-year-old, she will get a lot better. She flashed her potential this past week in a decisive win at Ponte Vedra Beach against world No. 81 Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round of the MPS Group Championships.

People are already about to crown her as the next American superstar in tennis. BUY IT. She is every bit of the hype. A girl that young hammering triple digits on the radar gun for an entire match has boundless potential.

It's not every day that you see an eighth grader winning on the pro tour. She will try to get a win in a main draw of a Slam next, starting with the French Open. 

9. Lauren Embree (United States, WTA: 643)

  • Height: 5'5", Weight: 125 lbs, Age: 18, Plays: Right, Career Record: 14-10

An American who gets next to no publicity. For now, she still bounces between the ITF and the WTA. Once her mental game improves, she can be an exceptional player because she has all the gifts. She is just stuck in a spot where she can pulverize junior competition, but struggle at times on the pro circuit.

8. Zarina Diyas (Kazakhstan, WTA: 553)

  •  Height: 5'9", Weight: 135 lbs, Age: 15, Plays: Right, Career Record: 7-3

How many other players from Kazakhstan have you heard of? I'm willing to bet none. She will be the first. Saying that she has flattened junior competition at this point of her career would be a vast understatement.

She burst onto the scene in the early part of 2008, but the only drawback is that she has not fared extraordinarily well at Slams. A hard court player by trade, she has seen quantum leaps in results on clay recently.

An incredibly intellectual girl, her favorite hobbies include music and chess. She takes that to the court to her advantage.

7. Kurumi Nara (Japan, WTA: 398)

  • Height: 5'3", Weight: 120 lbs, Age: 17, Plays: Right, Career Record: 13-9

This can't be a surprise to too many people. The Chinese women's program has skyrocketed in the last decade, while Japan has lagged behind a bit. I wouldn't count on that being the case for too much longer. Nara leads the charge of young, talented Japanese players.

After terrific results in 2008 at the junior level, she decided to focus entirely on women's events in the late part of the year. Don't be surprised to see her find a way into the French Open draw somehow.

6. Simona Halep (Romania, WTA: 328)

  • Height: 5'7", Weight: 125 lbs, Age: 17, Plays: Right, Career Record: 46-14

It's official. The Romanian Revolution has begun. A few years ago when Sorana Cirstea was in this position, she was the head of the class. Now followed by Halep and several other young stars, the Romanians will be a force in women's tennis for years to come.

Halep may get publicity for the wrong things (look up her picture) but that won't take anything away from her game. After winning the junior Roland Garros title in 2008, she has built quite an impressive resume on clay. Although it isn't her favorite, she sure does get results.

As a pro, she has mainly competed in lower events, reaching several straight quarterfinals or semifinals. Don't expect her to sit in the 300's for too long.

5. Ioana Raluca Olauru (Romania, WTA: 108)

  • Height: 5'8", Weight: 132 lbs, Age: 20, Plays: Right, Career Record: 143-68

Yes, another Romanian. She is probably the most experienced on this list. She had very good results in the early part of her career, upsetting No. 30 Julia Vakulenko at the French Open in 2007 before falling to Ana Ivanovic.

She has been as high as No. 55 before, but had a little bit of a let down in 2008. She appears back on track however. After all, the clay season is coming up next.

4. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (Thailand, WTA: 319)

  • Height: 5'6", Weight: 130 lbs, Age: 17, Plays: Right, Career Record: 45-25

How's that for a name? It took me a good bit of time to memorize how that one was spelled. Anyway. She finished No. 1 at the end of 2008 for junior rankings, in front of a number of superb players.

You might remember her from the 2008 Wimbledon girls' final, where she faced British phenom Laura Robson. Nok fared pretty well too, forcing the match to a third set with an impressive second set performance.

Only a month later, she became the first Thai to win any kind of Slam title, winning the girl's doubles title at the US Open.

An incredibly fleet player on her feet, her movements look nearly effortless. She is almost Roger Federer-esque with the way she glides across the court.

3. Kristina Mladenovic (France, WTA: 912)

  • Height: 6'1", Weight: 132 lbs, Age: 15, Plays: Right, Career Record: 5-8

The first thing that jumps out when you see this girl is her height. A very lanky 15-year-old, she looks even taller than her listed 6'1" since she is skinny. The even more impressive thing about "Kiki" is her performance at the Australian Open in 2009.

No, not the junior one. The women's main draw. She was awarded a wild card, and faced veteran No. 14 Patty Schnyder in the first round. Although she lost in three sets, the way she played in the first set was just breathtaking.

She will probably have to go through qualifying at the French Open, but I would not be surprised at all if she makes it. She can be scary good once she masters her frame.

2. Laura Robson (Great Britain, WTA: 494)

  • Height: 5'8", Weight: 115 lbs, Age: 15, Plays: Left, Career Record: 9-4

I know I will probably take some flak for putting her second. Believe EVERY bit of the hype about her, believe everything you have ever heard. She can walk on water and conjure flames with her bare hands.

But more importantly, she devours junior tennis and is the best female Britain has seen in a very long time. Nobody could forget her epic performance to win the junior Wimbledon title last year.

I wouldn't doubt for a second that the entire British populace is waiting to see if she gets a bid into the women's main draw at Wimbledon.

1. Arantxa Rus (Netherlands, WTA: 142)

  • Height: 5'11", Weight: 143 lbs, Age: 18, Plays: Left, Career Record: 67-26

She alternated with Robson for most of 2008 with who was No. 1 on the ITF circuit. Rus however, has moved on to bigger and better things. The long southpaw loves the clay and grass seasons.

After losing in the semifinals of the junior French Open to eventual champion Simona Halep, she came right back with another terrific result at Wimbledon.

She pushed No. 47 Magdelena Rybarikova to three intense sets at Miami last week. And you could make an argument that she is only getting warmed up. After running through the qualifying in Marbella, she gave Kaia Kanepi a very solid match before losing.

Memorize this name, because this isn't the last time you will see it in the clay season.