July 8, 2011

The New Class

The ladies' championship at Wimbledon was many things, but perhaps most importantly it served to usher in the next generation of tennis superstars. And some of the players making a statement over the past week prove that Petra Kvitova is not the only young player to watch. In Budapest, twenty-year-old Irina-Camelia Begu has been on a roll. The Romanian had already made a splash this year, making the final in Marbella after taking out then-rebuilding Alberta Brianti and heavy favorite Svetlana Kuznetsova as a qualifier. This week she hasn't had quite as difficult a draw, but in three matches, she hasn't dropped a set -- earlier today she won eight games in a row in her victory over Estrella Cabeza Candela. With a semifinal meeting against veteran Anabel Medina Garrigues she'll be surely tested, but if she's fresh and confident she might be able to get the upset. Sweden's Johanna Larsson has been on Tour for a couple years, but she's only really made an impact in the last twelve months. It started with a win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova last July in Portoroz, and this year she's notched wins over both Na Li and Ana Ivanovic. She came to the Swedish Open, her home tournament, unseeded, but already knocked out Vera Dushevina and Lourdes Dominguez Lino. She was up a break early against Sofia Arvidsson when play was suspended for rain on Friday, but she's got more than a few surprises in her, and could very well keep her run going. In the other half of the Bastad draw, journeywoman Barbora Zahlavova Strycova is trying to initiate her own breakthrough. By far the most experienced of this bunch, she hasn't yet won a singles title on Tour, but she has defeated players like Kvitova, Nadia Petrova and Aravane Rezai already this year. More importantly, this week, she stopped second-seeded Flavia Pennetta's comeback cold on Thursday, battling through a two-plus hour third round to make her first semi since Prague last year. She's scheduled to face a tough but spotty Polona Hercog today, and she's certainly got the talent to keep up her streak. Whether these ladies translate success this week into longer term gains remains to be seen. But as we patiently wait for the next crop of talent to take the reins in women's tennis, any one of them could be up to the task. And as has been true for quite some time, we're certainly open for some new big-hitters to shine.

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