October 13, 2011

New Stars Emerge

The last couple weeks on the ladies Tour have been dominated by a very familiar group of players -- those we've become used to seeing in the later rounds of the Majors and the ones who've been staples in and around the top-ten for most of the year.

But at the slightly smaller events this week we're starting to see some new faces last into the latter matches. It's not that the tournaments are without star power -- winners of the last two Grand Slams are in both draws -- but it's a couple others who have potential to really make an impact.

At the HP Open in Osaka, some of the year's break-out stars are continuing their momentum. U.S. Open semifinalist Angelique Kerber, just a shade off her career-high ranking, has only dropped seven games in her first two rounds. And Petra Cetkovska, who began the year ranked #142 in the world, has followed up well on her fourth-round run at Wimbledon -- she's now made her third Tour quarterfinal since July.

But the true player to watch in Japan might be veteran South African Chanelle Scheepers. A true journeywoman, the twenty-seven year old has never finished a year ranked inside the top one hundred. But since nearly defeating Francesca Schiavone at the U.S. Open and then earning her first career title in Guangzhou immediately after, she's vaulted into everyone's attention. She had a tough second round match against doubles champion Yaroslava Shvedova and faces a more-than-intimidating Sam Stosur next, but the girl knows how to persevere and I wouldn't put an upset past her.

The ladies in Linz have been similarly impressive. Fes champion Alberta Brianti hadn't made much of an impact in the intervening months, but a dominating win over uber-tough Sabine Lisicki in the first round put the Italian back on the map. And Ksenia Pervak, who won her maiden crown in Tashkent back in September, has a very good chance to make a dent in the draw when she takes out Daniela Hantuchova later today.

But here I've got my eye on qualifier Sorana Cirstea. Once ranked #23 in the world, the young Romanian hasn't followed up on her French Open success from years ago -- this year alone she's lost in or before the second round of seventeen events. But two ITF titles, including one last month in Saint Malo, may have helped her turn things around -- she began her run in Austria with a fairly easy win over Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tamira Paszek and then staged an impressive come-from-behind win over world #15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova -- her first top-twenty win in over a year. She'll next face either Brianti or Lucie Safarova, neither an opponent to be overlooked, but certainly less of a challenge than what she's already faced.

Sure it's getting late in the year and there's not a lot of time left to make a big move in the rankings. But as their seasons wind down it sure looks like they're all looking to get momentum moving in their direction. And as they prep for 2012, now might be the perfect time to come out swinging.

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