Already well known to dedicated tennis fans, there are five notable young talents in the women's top 30.
Aging in tennis affects performance more than a lot of other sports. Athletes who are 26 or 27 years old in baseball or basketball for example can still be considered on the rise, but in tennis if you haven't made your mark even by age 25 history suggests that you never will, with few exceptions. For certain, age 30 is normally considered well over the hill and only all-time great players (Navratilova) take down Slams after that age.
Taking a look at the WTA tour's top thirty players there are five notable and young women's singles athletes that look poised to make their marks on women's tennis for the next half decade or so. They are Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Sorana Cirstea, and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Victoria Azarenka, currently ranked 8th on the tour, will turn 20 years old later this month, on July 31st 2009. Already she has made two Grand Slam quarterfinals and has been surging in the last year. Her game, as demonstrated at Wimbledon 2009, still lags behind the game of Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Elena Dementieva, but those three players are all in their late twenties now. A combination of improvement on Azarenka's part and the expected age-related decline on the part of the Serena, Venus, and Dementieva should open up a Grand Slam title opportunity for Azarenka in the future, although not necessarily the near future.
Caroline Wozniacki turned 19 on July 11th, 2009. Although she has yet to break through in a Grand Slam she does have 5 tour titles and her rank in the last few years has steadily improved. She has made the round of 16 in a few Slams already in her career and, ranked 9th in the world at the moment, she looks as though she will be a force on the tour for years to come.
The other three players, Dominika Cibulkova, Sorana Cirstea, and Agnieszka Radwanska, were all born in 1989 or earlier. Truthfully, Cirstea and especially Cibulkova have been known to die hard tennis fans as up-and-comers for at least a year and half now but they didn't introduce themselves to 'Grand Slam only' tennis fans until this year's French where they both made deep runs (Cirstea to the quarters, Cibulkova to the semis). Radwanska has actually been a small force on the tour for over three years now. Since her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon 2006, where she shocked the tennis world by making the fourth round, Radwankska has made three Grand Slam quarterfinals, including Wimbledon just past. Her consistent high level of play (in 13 Slams she's only been bounced out in the 1st round twice) and her perseverance (she's played in 13 consecutive Slams) should lead to an opportunity down the road where things align to give her a serious chance at a Grand Slam title.
At present, Cibulkova is ranked 12th, Cirstea 29th, and Radwanska 14th.
The top 30 aside now, it looks like there is a babyface in the top 100 that might outdue all five of these players. Michelle Larcher De Brito is currently ranked 76th but she is not to be taken lightly in any match, even at the age of 16. She made her Grand Slam debut by not just qualifying for the 2009 French Open but by making the third round. Then she made the second round at Wimbledon 2009 and it already looks like she is over the Grand Slam qualifying hump and should be automatic for the main draw in future Slams. Of all the young players looked at here on the women's tour, Michelle Larcher De Brito is the one who can truly claim to have time on her side and, though only ranked 76th, she plays like she's top 30 already.
Who can say for sure how long the youth of Venus, Serena, and Dementieva will last. Venus is already 29 and is the 10th oldest player in the top 100. That doesn't bode well for her future Slam success, especially since her younger sister has been playing incredibly well in the last year. Martina Navratilova aside, time hits tennis players hard in their late 20s and early 30s, regardless of work ethic, nutrition, or desire.
Look for Venus to drop out of the top five in the next year and look for Serena and Dementieva to stay in the top five for about another 2 years. After that, start looking for Azarenka, Wozniacki, Cibulkova, Cirstea, Radwanska, and Larcher De Brito to start taking control.
When betting on tennis futures for the women's tour, our recommendation is to stick with Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva for the time being, but keep an eye on the young ones because you never can really tell when they are going to break out.
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