TENNIS SET FOR CULTURAL REVOLUTION
By Andy Schooler
Click here for men to watch in 2005
We were told for a long time that the Russians were coming and in 2004 they finally arrived.
The biggest nation on earth provided three of the four winners of the women's Grand Slams during the year - no mean feat.
For 2005, the 'Russians Are Coming' could well be usurped in the overused-phrase stakes by 'Tennis' Cultural Revolution'.
That's right, the Chinese are the nation to watch and should be on the rise in 2005.
They already have three players ranked in the top 100, namely Jie Zheng
, Na Li
and Shuai Peng
Li was the country's first-ever winner on the WTA Tour in 2004 and should continue her march up the rankings over the next 12 months.
The least China can expect is to have a player in the top 50 come December 2005.
Given the production-line of stars that have come out of China in other sports, it is surely only a matter of time before they start making a big impact on a tennis court.
Looking elsewhere, Nicole Vaidisova
is certainly one to watch.
Only 15, the Czech star became the sixth youngest player in history to win a WTA Tour title when she was victorious in Vancouver in August.
Such performances saw her reach number 74 in the ranking list - she wasn't ranked at all at the start of the season.
Her continued progress looks assured.
Another youngster who should keep on climbing in 2005 is French starlet Tatiana Golovin
She's already pretty well known after her exploits in 2004 which saw her rise more than 300 places in the rankings and into the top 30.
Despite being just 16, Golovin clearly has the power needed to make an impact in the higher echelons of the women's game.
Her main problem - if you regard it as such - could be her 'look'.
The Moscow-born star is the latest 'blonde bombshell' to hit the women's scene, following in the footsteps of Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova.
How well she copes with media interest could well determine whether she flops like the former or shines like the latter.
Finally, returning to the Russian theme, keep an eye on Vera Zvonareva
After a sensational year for her compatriots, she's the forgotten lady of Russian tennis.
Many, including this pundit, believed she would be the one to make a big impact at Grand Slam level but despite some impressive results on the tour, it just hasn't happened in the majors.
She's got the big shots of her contemporaries and can be a hugely exciting player.
But her problems appear to be on the mental side of the sport.
On more than one occasion in 2004, Zvonareva was reduced to tears on court as her game crumbled and she was unable to do anything about it.
Some of her results took some explaining; her 1-6 6-4 6-3 US Open loss to Elena Dementieva being a case in point.
It wasn't so much that she lost, but the manner in which she did so - Zvonareva would regularly win or lose a set to one or love before the complete opposite happened in the following set.
It may sound rather unkind, but if Zvonareva can get some help on her mindset and learn to deal with things when they do go wrong, then she has the shots to bcome a Grand Slam champion.