Sunday, 28 December 2008

Spotlight On ... Christina McHale

Christina McHale recently won the USTA wildcard play off tournament, winning herself a main draw wildcard into the 2009 Australian Open. The American teenager has a career high ranking of # 373, which she hit in November 2008.

She has been largely confined to the ITF circuit during the 2008 season. Back in January, she reached the second round of $50K Waikoloa, losing to fellow American Julie Ditty. She went one better the following month with a quarter-final in $50K Indian Harbor Beach, beating compatriots Julia Cohen and Alexandra Stevenson, before losing out to Anna Tatishvili. Following this, she notched up a second round in $50K Lexington.

In between these results, she has attempted qualifying for $25K, $50K and $75K events with varied success. In the latter half of the 2008 season, her success rates picked up as she qualified for $50K Lexington (and reached the second round), $50K Lawrenceville (losing in round one) and $25K Augusta (reaching the semi-finals). She signed off her 2008 season with a quarter-final in $50K San Diego, as a qualifier before winning the USTA Australian Open wildcard play off tournament to clinch her place in the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Spotlight On ... Jessica Moore

Jessica Moore is one of the biggest young hopes for resurrecting Australian tennis. The teenager is moving towards the top 100 after winning her third ITF title in Italy during the summer.
She made her WTA debut back in 2006 when she was handed a wildcard into qualifying for the Gold Coast event. She spent the rest of her time alternating between junior and ITF tournaments. In 2007, she was given wildcards into the main draws of WTA Hobart (New Zealand), the Australian Open and the US Open. Back on the ITF circuit, she won two singles titles (in the UK and Australia) and a doubles title (in Italy).

This year has seen Jessica enjoying more success at WTA level. After failing to qualify for the Gold Coast event and losing in the opening round of WTA Hobart (l. to top seed Alona Bondarenko), she reached the second round of the Australian Open (l. to 17th seed Shahar Peer) and the US Open (d. fellow wildcard Melanie Oudin, before losing to a revitalised Anna-Lena Groenefeld). As well as winning an ITF title in Italy, she has reached the semi-finals of two other ITF events in Australia this year.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Spotlight On ... Mathilde Johansson

Mathilde Johansson was originally born in Sweden, but now lives in and plays for France. She has a career-high ranking of #81 with two ITF singles titles to her name this year (in Colombia and Italy).

Her 2008 season has been largely split between the ITF circuit and the WTA Tour. She reached the second round of WTA Vina del Mar (l. to Flavia Pennetta) and WTA Budapest (l. to Klara Zakopalova, but has reached quarters, semis and finals of ITF events throughout the year. At Wimbledon this year, she qualified and put up a brave fight against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opening round before going out in three sets.

Post-Wimbledon, Mathilde reached the second round of WTA Budapest (l. to 7th seed Klara Zakopalova) before stepping back to the ITF circuit for a while. She reached the quarter-finals of an ITF event in Biella (Italy) and won an ITF title in Petange (Luxembourg). Back on the WTA circuit, she lost in qualifying for WTA Cincinnati and the US Open. Returning to the ITF circuit, she was a quarter-finalist in Denain (France) and Athens-2 (Greece) and a semi-finalist in Sofia (Bulgaria).

She has been playing in the Grand Slam events since 2005 but has yet to make it past the second round. Those three second rounds have all come at Roland Garros, with losses to 2oth seed Maria Kirilenko, 13th seed Elena Dementieva and 5th seed Serena Williams.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Spotlight On ... Urszula Radwanska

A former junior world number one, Urzsula Radwanska is the younger of the two Radwanska sisters. The Polish teenager won the 2007 junior Wimbledon tournament, which has resulted in her receiving wildcards into WTA main draws and qualifying tournaments.

She is currently on the cusp of the top 100. She has only played in one Grand Slam main draw but that was a success. She lost in the second round of Wimbledon this year to eventual finalist Serena Williams, but the scoreline was fairly competitive, especially given the ranking difference between them.

This year has seen Urszula win an ITF tournament in Vancouver. Much of the 2008 season has been spent playing WTA qualifying tournaments and ITF events. Notable scalps this year include Julia Goerges (who was in the top 100 recently), Klara Zakopalova and Elena Vesnina. In October, she reached the quarter-finals of WTA Tashkent, beating 7th seed Akgul Amanmuradova in the first round, before eventually losing out to 4th seed Sabine Lisicki. Back on the ITF circuit, she reached the semi-finals inKrakow (Poland), knocking out 8th seed (and top 100 player) Elena Vesnina in the second round.

Last year, she reached the quarter-finals of WTA Beijing, and won a WTA doubles title in Istanbul with older sister Agnieszka. She also claimed doubles titles at ITF level in Germany, America and China.

Despite having a solid game, Urszula is often hampered by her ability to get down on herself during a match, which can affect her results.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Spotlight On ... Grigor Dimitrov

Grigor Dimitrov has been one of the standout players on the junior circuit this year after claiming Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open. The Bulgarian teenager is now ranked number one in the juniors, and has already started making an impact on the Futures circuit.

He is currently ranked just inside the ATP top 500, around twenty places below the career high ranking of # 477 that he achieved in September 2008. So far this year, he has won three Futures singles titles in Spain, as well as one Futures doubles title (also in Spain, but at a different tournament) and reached the semi-finals of a Challenger doubles tournament, and the semi-finals and final of two other Spanish Futures doubles tournament.

He was given a singles wildcard at ATP s’Hertogenbosch, and was unlucky enough to draw Russian top 40 player Igor Andreev in the first round. Andreev was a comfortable 6-1 6-3 winner on the day, but playing a match at ATP level was a huge step up from Dimitrov’s usual opponents on the Futures (and sometimes Challenger) circuit.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Spotlight On ... Alisa Kleybanova

Alisa Kleybanova has been making steady progress up the rankings this year and is currently sitting at number. The Russian is currently ranked at a career high ranking of 34 in the world, having ended her 2007 season outside of the top 150.

In January, she qualified for the Australian Open to reach her first Grand Slam main draw. Although she lost to 6th seeded compatriot Anna Chakvetadze, it was the start of a successful season. In Antwerp, she reached her first quarter-final on the WTA tour, having beaten 6th seed Agnes Szavay and Kateryna Bondarenko en route. The win over Szavay was her first top 20 scalp. This result pushed her into the top 100 for the first time in her career. In March, she reached the third round of WTA Miami as a qualifier, beating 12th seed Nicole Vaidisova to notch her second top 20 scalp in as many months. In May, she reached the quarter-finals of WTA Fes, and was a finalist in the doubles there alongside fellow Russian Etakerina Makarova. She also reached the second round of WTA Berlin (again, as a qualifier) and Roland Garros. This moved her into the top 50 for the first time.

In Eastbourne, she reached the quarter-finals as a qualifier and backed that up with a fourth round showing at Wimbledon (her best Grand Slam result to date). She defeated 10th seed Daniela Hantuchova en route for her third top 20 scalp). She entered the top 40 shortly afterwards.

Her hard court season never really got going, with first round losses in WTA Los Angeles and WTA New Haven, and second round losses in WTA Stanford, WTA Montreal and the US Open. Stepping down to the ITF circuit, Alisa won titles in Podolsk (Russia) and Minsk (Belarus) but suffered early defeats in Bratislava (Slovakia) and Krakow (Poland).

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Spotlight on ... Yanina Wickmayer

Yanina Wickmayer had a breakthrough week back in June, when she reached her first WTA final at the DFS Classic, losing a heart-breaking final set tie-break to Kateryna Bondarenko. She had never previously been past the second round of a WTA event. Her successful week saw her rise to a career-high ranking of 66, and she has bettered that by four ranking places since then.

On the ITF circuit, she has won one singles title ($50K Indian Harbour Beach in the US, beating top seed Bethanie Mattek in the final) and one doubles title ($75K Torhout in Belgium, partnering Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova). She also reached the final of $50K New Delhi (l. Ekaterina Dzehalevich) and $75K Monzon (l. to Petra Kvitova but beat top seed Lilia Osterloh in the opening round), and the semi-finals of $50K Charlottesville (l. to qualifier Alexis Gordon) and $50K Surbiton (beating 2nd seed Tamarine Tanasugarn, and losing to 3rd seed Marina Erakovic). Her year to date wasn't restricted to the ITF circuit, as she reached the second round of WTA Antwerp (beat Shuai Peng but lost to 3rd seed Daniela Hantuchova) and the quarter-finals of WTA Seoul (l. to 3rd seed Kaia Kanepi). On the ITF circuit, she reached the semi-finals in Mexico shortly before the US Open.

She is a member of the Belgian Fed Cup and has wins over Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko (in Belgium's World Group II tie with the Ukraine).

Spotlight On ... Marina Erakovic

Marina Erakovic has been steadily rising up the rankings so far this year, and broke into the world’s top 50 (#49) in July 2008. She has slipped beneath that slightly since then but is still a solid top 70 player.

Born in Croatia, but living in New Zealand, the 19-year-old has won two ITF singles events this year (in Surbiton and Mildura, Australia), and reached the final in another ($25K Berri, Australia). On the WTA tour, she reached the semi-finals in Auckland (beating Ashley Harkleroad and top seed Vera Zvonareva but losing to Aravane Rezai) and Memphis (l. to 4th seed Lindsay Davenport), the third round of Miami (beating 30th seed Michaella Krajicek, before losing to 6th seed Serena Williams) and the second round of Roland Garros (beating Tathiana Garbin, before losing to 3rd seed Jelena Jankovic).

That was followed by a semi-final appearance at the DFS Classic in Birmingham (beating 6th seed Sania Mirza and 5th seed Alona Bondarenko, but losing to 12th seed and eventual champion Kateryna Bondarenko) and a second round showing at the Ordina Open in Rosmalen as a qualifier (beating Aleksandra Wozniak, before losing to 8th seed Alona Bondarenko). She also won the doubles title at the Ordina Open, partnering Holland’s Michaella Krajicek. She made her Wimbledon singles debut in 2008, and faced Krajicek in her opening match. She reached the third round before losing to Tamarine Tanasugarn, who went on to be a surprise quarter-finalist.

After a successful first half to the 2008 season, Marina’s form dipped. She suffered early exits in WTA Portoroz (l. to Camille Pin), WTA Stockholm (l. to qualifier Maria Elena Camerin), the Beijing Olympics (l. to wildcard Ayumi Morita), WTA Forest Hills (l. to Jamea Jackson), the US Open (l. to Pauline Parmentier), WTA Seoul (l. to Samantha Stosur), WTA Japan Open (l. to wildcard Ayumi Morita) and WTA Luxembourg (l. to Sara Errani).

Spotlight On ... Carla Suarez Navarro

How many of us had heard of Carla Suarez Navarro before Roland Garros began? The Spaniard was ranked 132 in the world, but her dream run through to the quarter-finals saw her ranking rise to a career-high ranking of 49 in the world. Wimbledon gave her a wildcard into the tournament, preventing the need for going through the qualifying tournament, but as a player who has had most of her success on clay, it’s debatable as to whether that was ever actually going to be the plan.

Prior to Roland Garros, her best result was a semi-final showing at WTA Acapulco (beating 7th seed Edina Gallovits but losing to Maria Emilia Salerni). She also qualified for WTA Vina Del Mar (l. to Rossana De Los Rios in round one). Other than that, she was on the ITF circuit, with quarter-finals in $25K Las Palmas (l. to qualifier Kirsten Flipkens), $25K Saint Gaudens (France) (l. to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova) and $50K Latina (Italy) (l. to 4th seed Olivia Sanchez) and a final in $25K Tenerife (l. to top seed Tzipora Obziler).

She was part of the Spanish Fed Cup team earlier this year, losing to Jie Zheng but beating Shuai Peng in straight sets. Her ranking rise is likely to make her an integral part of the Fed Cup team in coming ties.

Following on from Roland Garros, Carla reached the second round of WTA Barcelona (l. to 2nd seed Maria Kirilenko), the second round of Wimbledon ( 2nd seed Jelena Jankovic), the quarter-finals of WTA Palermo (l. to 5th seed Sara Errani) and the semi-finals of WTA Forest Hills (l. to Shuai Peng). She also represented Spain in the Fed Cup final against Russia, losing in straight sets to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Carla kicked off 2009 in great style after stunning Venus Williams in the second round of the Australian Open. She backed that up with comfortable wins over compatriots Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Anabel Medina Garrigues (seeded 21st) to reach her second career Grand Slam quarter-final, which will be against 4th seed Elena Dementieva.

Click here to read Carla’s “Getting To Know…” interview on the WTA website.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Spotlight On ... Jeremy Chardy

In the first installment of the "Spotlight On..." posts, I'm turning my attention to Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. Ranked 145 in the world coming into Roland Garros, the wildcard surprised more than a few people in reaching the fourth round. His scalps included David Nalbandian and Dmitry Tursunov, before losing in three tight sets to in-form Spaniard Nicolas Almagro.

His ranking is set to take a big step in the right direction after this tournament, but as you might expect from a player ranked just inside the top 150, his year-to-date has been spent on the Challenger circuit. Prior to Roland Garros, his best result of the year was a Challenger final in Marrakesh (losing 7-6 7-6 to fellow Frenchman
Gael Monfils), along with several Challenger quarter-final showings in New Caledonia, East London and Meknes. Needless to say, Roland Garros has been a huge milestone for him, and it wil be interesting to see how he copes with the new expectations.

Jeremy broke into the top 100 following Roland Garros 2008. He reached the second round of Wimbledon and the US Open, and the quarter-finals of ATP Gstaad. Back on the Challenger circuit, he continued to rack up the wins by winning a title in Graz and reaching the quarter-finals in Segovia. Several first round exits at Challenger level followed this before he notched up a quarter-final showing at ATP Moscow (beating top 20 player,
Igor Andreev) and a second round appearance in ATP St Petersburg.

As far as his junior record goes, Chardy won the Wimbledon juniors title in 2005 and was a finalist at the US Open juniors in 2005 (losing to
Ryan Sweeting).

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Spotlight On ... Kaia Kanepi

Kaia Kanepi was a surprise quarter-finalist at Roland Garros this year. Her scalps included Anabel Medina Garrigues and top 10 player Anna Chakvetadze. She eventually ran out of steam against Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova, who went on to lose in the semi-finals.
Kaia is not a particularly new name on the WTA tour (she was ranked number 40 in 2007), but this was by far her best showing at a Grand Slam. She reached a WTA final in Belgium at the end of 2006, losing to Kim Clijsters. In her career, she was wins over Flavia Pennetta and Patty Schynder.

Unlike most of the other players so far in the “Spotlight On …” series, Kaia has left the ITF circuit behind her and moved up to the WTA tour on a full-time basis. Much of this is to do with the fact that she is currently sitting at 49 in the world rankings (which will rise again on Monday when the new rankings are released). Despite being a solid top 50 player, few people would have predicated that she would reach the last eight of a Grand Slam!

In 2008, she has reached the semi-finals of WTA Acapulco (lost to Flavia Pennetta) on clay, the quarter-finals of WTA Sydney (lost to Justine Henin) and Vina del Mar (lost to Flavia Pennetta), and the fourth round of Miami (lost to Serena Williams).

Following on from Roland Garros 2008, Kaia has reached a career-high ranking of #27, which she achieved in October 2008. Her Grand Slam results have been fairly average, with a first round exit at Wimbledon and a second round exit at the US Open. However, she has pushed her ranking up courtesy of results at other events. Asian tournaments have been particularly profitable for Kaia. At the Beijing Olympics, she reached the third round (beating top 20 player Flavia Pennetta in the first round), the quarter-finals of WTA Tokyo (l. to 4th seed Dinara Safina), the semi-finals of WTA Seoul (l. to top seed Maria Kirilenko) and the final of the WTA Japan Open (l. to top seed Caroline Wozniacki).