USTA :: WTA Players to Watch in 2005
By Jason Brown, USTA.com
For every superstar playing on the WTA Tour, there’s always another upstart fighting her way to the top. The household names of today had to cut their teeth just like everyone else, with constant reminders year to year. Take a look at the 2004 honor roll of Grand Slam champions:
Australian Open winner Justine Henin-Hardenne was ranked No. 48 five years ago in 2000. French Open titlist Anastasia Myskina was still searching to find her game as recently as 2001, ranked No. 59.
Perfect examples, Wimbledon ladies’ champion Maria Sharapova and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova were both ranked outside the top 25 in 2003 at No. 32 and No. 36, respectively, before coming into their own.
While it’s nearly impossible to predict the next woman to go from good to great to champion, we’ve compiled a short list of the future stars of tomorrow to watch in 2005.
Tatiana Golovin – The name you know, but the limitless potential is what intrigues us with this French star who’s shown some mettle in Grand Slams, survived her first three taxing seasons on the WTA Tour, and has stood tall representing her adopted country in Fed Cup play.
Equipped with an arsenal of firepower despite a lithe frame, Golovin is in position this year to make a leap into becoming a top-25 mainstay, but she first must fix a correctable weakness, namely, a lack of consistency.
Golovin’s continued development will also hinge on better conditioning, upgraded physical and mental strength and, as speculation has been floating around, a new coach, with Brad Gilbert a potential hire to harness this boisterous bundle of talent.
A virtual unknown during her two-season stint as a crossover junior player ranked in the mid-300’s from 2002-2003, the 16-year-old spiked over 300 spots to finish at No. 27 in the 2004 year-end rankings.
The kind of track record you like to see from a burgeoning talent, several of Golovin’s best results so far in her career have come at major tournaments.
At the 2004 Australian Open, Golovin took out a pair of seeded players, No. 14 Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi and No. 23 Linda Krasnoroutskaya, both in straight sets. Two majors later at Wimbledon, Golovin again reached the fourth round, including an upset over seeded Francesca Schiavone.
Nominated by French captain Guy Forget following a strong season, Golovin won three of four singles matches over the course of the Fed Cup semifinals and final.
Mashona Washington – It didn’t cause much of a ripple when 61st-ranked Mashona Washington reached the final of Tokyo toward the end of the 2004 season, losing in straight sets to Maria Sharapova, but there were impressions for a future foothold as a professional player.
For close observers of the WTA Tour, Washington’s run to the Tier III event final in Japan signaled a significant leap toward securing a steady spot in the top 50.
After failing to advance past the qualifying tournament of the Australian Open and French Open, Washington reached the main draw of Wimbledon, beat Angelique Widjaja in the first round, before losing to Tatiana Panova in the second round.
Her second remarkable achievement of 2004, Washington won four straight matches to reach the quarterfinals of Stanford, where she gave year-end No. 1 Lindsay Davenport a serious run for her money, taking the second set in a 4-6, 6-3, 1-6 loss.
A fellow American to also keep on your radar screen, Shenay Perry is currently ranked at a career-best 69th in the world.
Jelena Jankovic – A player with all the physical tools to make an impact in the top 25, Jankovic opened many people’s eyes at the 2004 Australian Open when she upset seventh-seed Elena Dementieva in the first round, 6-1, 6-4.
After middling through much of the spring season, Jankovic’s play picked up in Budapest with her first tour win.
After knocking out top seed Nadia Petrova at s’Hertogenbosch and taking a set from Serena Williams in San Diego, Jankovic caught everyone’s attention at the 2004 US Open, nearly pulling off a second-round upset of Maria Sharapova.
Capping an impressive 36-match win season, Jankovic won 9 of her last 12 matches to end the year ranked just outside the top 25 at No. 28.
Finishing 2005 among the elite 25 best players in the world wouldn’t surprise us with this Serbian-born dynamo.
Na Li – An emerging Chinese player who began 2004 with four consecutive ITF titles and a 28-match winning streak.
Li made her first appearance in a WTA event in Beijing, China, winning three qualifying matches and posting a first-round win over veteran Nicole Pratt before losing a heartbreaker to defending US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in a match that featured consecutive tie-breaks.
Ending 2004 with a 51-4 record, Li is ready to hit center stage with a splash at a major tournament.
Dinara Safina – She’s not just the greenhorn kid sister of Marat Safin any longer. Now, Safina is a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the WTA Tour, with the size (5’11, 154 lbs.) and considerable skills (has taken a set each from Elena Dementieva and Serena Williams in 2004) to transform her into the kind of multi-faceted player that no seed would ever want to be pitted against in the early rounds of a tournament.
Winner of two WTA Tour titles (Palermo ’03, Sopot ’02), Safina has yet to break through with a major win but did manage a solid 24-20 playing record in 2004.
Already making headlines this brief 2005 playing season, Safina upset defending champion Ai Sugiyama at Gold Coast, a positive sign for a potential stand-out year.
Other names to remember:
Nicole Vaidisova – The next big thing coming out of the Czech Republic, Vaidisova won two WTA events in 2004, Vancouver and Tashkent, and represented her country on the Fed Cup Team. She also made a name for herself in World TeamTennis for the Sacramento Capitals, defeating Maria Sharapova. The Vancouver title was historic – Vaidisova became the sixth-youngest Tour titlist ever and the lowest-ranked women’s champion of 2004.
Daniela Hantuchova – The same player who on Jan. 27, 2003, was ranked fifth in the world, Hantuchova has turned into a classic reclamation project. Remember, Hantuchova is still just 21 years old, and tennis columnist Matt Cronin has reported that she will pair with Martina Navratilova in doubles this year, a partnership that worked wonders for the development of Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Angela Haynes – An emerging American star with a fierce intensity on the court, Haynes has already scored an early 2005 eye-catching result, defeating Stephanie Cohen-Aloro in Australia.
Gisela Dulko and Maria Vento-Kabchi– A pair of South Americans on the fringe of bursting into the top 25, Dulko might be the safer bet of the two to emerge in 2005. She reached the quarters of Indian Wells, the round of 16 in Miami, and has already proved that she can defeat top-ranked players.