March 28, 2015

The Newest Crop

It always seems that about this time of year we start to see a couple young players emerge on the tennis Tours. Some go on to accomplish big things in their careers, others fade away a little. But all are able to get in a couple wins that earn them a little more notice. And this year in Miami is no different.

We've already talked a bit about young Borna Coric. The Croatian teenager backed up his stellar 2014 season with a stunning win over Andy Murray in Dubai and a rapid rise to a career-high #59 in the world -- he was barely in the top three hundred at this time last year. Playing in just his second Masters level event in Miami, he's certainly at an experiential disadvantage, but that might not work too hard against him. After solidly beating Andreas Haider-Mauer earlier this month in Indian Wells, he had a slight hiccup against the Austrian in his opener -- he only won one game in the opening set -- but came back strong for the win. He faces eighteenth seed David Goffin next but, with a mediocre 5-6 record on the year so far, the Belgian seems to be struggling to keep the momentum from his comeback season. For a guy who's beaten two of the three top ten players he's met during his career, Coric could certainly take advantage of this opportunity too.

James Duckworth has been around a little longer, but outside his native Australia he hasn't garnered too much attention. The twenty-three year old has won a couple Challengers titles but has made much less headway on the bigger stages. He's struggled to qualify for most Majors and hasn't won any main draw matches outside of his homeland. He did manage a nice victory over Gilles Simon to start this season in Brisbane, though, and after beating Dominic Thiem in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open he finally cracked the top hundred. He had to manage through preliminaries in Miami too but managed a good win over fellow qualifier Damir Dzumhur in his opener. He's on serve early in his rematch against Fernando Verdasco now -- Duckworth lost a fairly quick two sets to him a few weeks ago in Indian Wells -- but we all know how inconsistent the Spaniard can be and maybe the underdog will get a chance to pounce.

There's plenty of fresh talent on the women's side too, but perhaps the most notable name is one we got a quick glimpse of not too long ago. Catherine Bellis was ranked #1208 in the world when she drubbed Melbourne finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of last year's U.S. Open. She had a shot at going even further when she bageled Zarina Diyas in their second set and seemed to have momentum to manage even that win. She ultimately lost to the underrated Kazakh -- but she was able to get revenge. Fresh off a ITF title in Racho Santa Fe, the fifteen-year-old Cici only dropped just three games to the twenty-ninth seed yesterday, needing barely an hour to score the win. The road gets much tougher from here of course -- she'll most likely face two-time defending champion Serena Williams -- she's won a total of seven titles in Miami -- next. But she still seems destined to climb much higher than her current #211 ranking and even getting a couple good shots in on Serena, who incidentally won her first U.S. Open a few months after Bellis was born, could put her well on the road to do just that.

Unlike some of these other guys, Daria Gavrilova hadn't had many high-profile wins on the WTA Tour before this week, but the 2010 U.S. Open Juniors champ but was quick to change that in Miami. The Russian wildcard, whose first round opponent retired in the middle of their opening set, didn't seem hampered by the lack of match play. Facing second seed Maria Sharapova -- five times a finalist here but still unable to capture the one big crown that's eluded her -- the world #97 was relentless. She took advantage of weak serving from MaSha, keeping her well below fifty percent on second serve and firing off the only two aces of the match herself. The five-time Grand Slam champ was sent packing in straight sets, marking by far her earliest loss at this event since 2003. For her efforts Gavrilova will have to handle Kurumi Nara, a titlist in Rio last year, and while the lady from Japan can be a tricky player to be sure, there's no reason the lesser-known Russian can't follow up her big upset with another one.

The question for these guys, of course, is whether they can follow up success in Miami not just with more wins over the next week, but much more importantly, wins in the months to come. And hopefully they'll all be able to stick around and show us just how much they've got to give us.

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