My final 2o17 WTA season preview post focusses on some of the young players I expect to do big things in the year ahead. One of the most exciting prospects of 2017 is the rise of a number of younger players who showed promise in 2016. Russia’s Daria Kasatkina is only 19 and was rewarded for a fantastic season by finishing 26th in the end of year rankings. She’s already receiving plaudits for being one of the smartest and most inventive players on tour and I expect to see her ranked within the top 20, maybe even the top 15, by the end of 2017.
Fellow 19 year old Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia caused a stir in the very first tournament of 2016 in Auckland, with her poor behaviour in a match she eventually lost to Naomi Broady. However, more positive news followed her fantastic performance in Doha, where she beat Kuznetsova and Kvitova en route to the final, which she had every opportunity to win before struggling with nerves and succumbing to Suarez Navarro. Results for the rest of the year weren’t as good, but she’s proved she has the game to beat the top players. Expect to see her ranked inside the top 30 by the end of 2017.
Croatia’s Ana Konjuh had already demonstrated her potential by winning the title in Nottingham in 2015 aged just 17. Fans around the world watched with sorrow as she injured her ankle on the way to what looked like a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round of Wimbledon in 2016 before being beaten when she could barely move. However, in one of the great redemption stories of the season, she got her revenge at the US Open, beating Radwanska on the way to her first Grand Slam quarter final. She’s so far struggled for consistency in her career but has the game to carry her all the way to the top. If she can start playing at her best week in, week out, she has the potential to be a top 25 player by the end of 2017.
A fourth 19 year old to watch is Japan’s Naomi Osaka. Marked as the future of tennis by a number of top pundits, Osaka had a very successful 2016, climbing over 15o places to end the year ranked 48th in the world. She reached the last 32 in each of the three Grand Slams she played (she missed out on Wimbledon because of an injury) and reached her first tour final at the marquee event in Tokyo. Her titanic battle with Madison Keys at the US Open, which she should’ve won, showed that she has a game big enough to slug it out with the very best and if she can be consistent, she could be in the top 10-20 by the end of 2017.
My final young gun is America’s new hope, CiCi Bellis. The 17 year old made the decision to go full time in September, giving up a place at Stanford and ended the season on a 15-match unbeaten streak across two ITF and a WTA 125k Series tournament. The most notable result was her straightforward victory over top-25 ranked Shuai Zhang in the final of the 125k tournament in Honolulu, which propelled her to 75th in the WTA rankings. Having proven she has the head for big matches in winning appearances at the US Open in 2014 and 2016, Bellis is the real deal, and she has the potential for great success in her first full season on the tour.