Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Spotlight On ... Michelle Larcher de Brito

Currently ranked in the world's top 150 (and the youngest player to end the year in the top 200), Michelle Larcher de Brito is widely thought of as one of the biggest teenage talents for the future. The teenager burst onto the scene when she defeated Meghan Shaughnessy in her first WTA tournament in Miami before losing to Daniela Hantuchova. She became the 7th youngest player in WTA history to win a main draw match at a WTA tournament. The rest of 2007 was spent on the ITF circuit. She reached the second round of WTA Memphis (l. to Caroline Wozniacki) and the third round of Miami (l. to 16th seed Shahar Peer, but beat 17th seed Agnieszka Radwanska for her first top 20 scalp). Following that, she qualified for WTA Montreal and beat American Vania King in her first round match.

As you might expect from a teenager, she is yet to find her real consistency. The three-set loss to Serena Williams (after beating Gisela Dulko in the first round as a qualifier) in the second round of WTA Stanford was quickly followed by a loss in the first round of qualifying in WTA Los Angeles to a far lesser ranked player. She has also been knocked out in qualifying for Fes (l. to Jelena Dokic) and Wimbledon. At WTA Tashkent, she reached the quarter-finals before losing to 3rd seed Sorana Cirstea.

In May 2009, she qualified for the Roland Garros main draw and was handed a favourable first round match-up against Melanie South, who she dispatched in three sets after being handed a first set bagel. In the second round, she defeated # 15 Jie Zheng in straight sets to book her place in the third round of Grand Slam for the first time in her fledgling career.

Michelle is coached by her father, Antonio. In 2005, she became the youngest player to win the prestigious Eddie Herr junior tournament (in the U16 category) at the age of 12.

Click here to read Michelle's WTA blog from Estoril

Spotlight On ... Polona Hercog

Polona Hercog is an up-and-coming tennis player from Slovenia. In May 2009, she reached a career high ranking of # 167.

In 2008, she won two ITF circuit titles (both in Mallorca in February) and three ITF doubles titles. She also reached the quarter-finals (in Bosnia Herzegovina, and in the Czech Republic, beating top seed and top 100 player Yvonne Meusberger in the first round), semi-finals (in Croatia, beating 2nd seed Anne Keothavong) and finals (in Italy, beating 2nd seed Mathilde Johansson en route) of ITF events.

She has yet to make her Grand Slam main draw debut. She entered US Open qualifying but lost in the first round. In WTA events, she received a wildcard for WTA Portoroz and took then top 100 player Julia Vakulenko to three sets in the first round. Back on the ITF circuit, she notched up a second round showing in Maribor (Slovenia) (l. to 3rd seed Angelique Kerber) and a quarter-final in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina) (l. to 6th seed Alexandra Dulgheru). She ended her 2008 season with first round exits in ITF events in Mestre (Italy), Ortisei (Italy) and Podolsk (Russia).

In 2009, she has won ITF titles in Civitavecchia (Italy) and Zagreb (Croatia), as well as notching up a second round appearance in WTA Marbella and WTA Fes on the clay. She qualified for the Roland Garros main draw in May and won a round against 23rd seed Alisa Kleybanova before losing in three sets to Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai in the second round.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Spotlight On ... Alexandra Dulgheru

Not too many players win a WTA title at their first attempt, but Alexandra Dulgheru can claim that honour. She won her first WTA title in Warsaw as a qualifier, beating the likes of Sara Errani, Daniela Hantuchova and Alona Bondarenko en route. Prior to this triumph, the Romanian was ranked outside of the top 200 with two ITF singles titles to her name. The Warsaw win saw her ranking jump over 100 places in just one week and propelled her into the world's top 100.

Just before she embarked on her impressive run in Warsaw, Alexandra had won an ITF title in Italy, lost in qualifying in Estoril (l. to Michelle Larcher de Brito in the second qualifying round) and reached the quarter-finals of an ITF event in France (l. to 5th seed Yanina Wickmayer).

Alexandra started playing tennis at the age of four after enrolling in the local tennis club. Perhaps unsurprisingly (given the Warsaw triumph), her favourite surface is clay.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Spotlight On ... Arantxa Rus

Arantxa Rus has been making a few waves on the WTA tour since 2008. Her best result came in September 2008, when she qualified and reached the quarter-finals in WTA Ghangzhou (China) with wins over Yanina Wickmayer and 5th seed Gisela Dulko before losing out to Camille Pin. The event was only her second WTA event. She followed that up with a second round in WTA Tashkent (l. to top seed Shuai Peng).

Despite the slightly Spanish-sounding first name, Arantxa actually hails from the Netherlands. She gained the world number one ranking in the juniors after junior Wimbledon, and has broken into the world's top 200 in the seniors. The left-handed teenager has won two ITF singles title this year in Bari (Italy) and Opole (Poland), to go with the two that she won in her native Holland in 2007.

She has been awarded wildcards into the WTA tournament in s'Hertogenbosch (Holland) for the last two years, but has lost in round one on both occasions (to 8th seed Alona Bondarenko in 2007, and Mariya Koryttseva in 2008).

During the 2009 season, she has been trying to find success at a higher level and so far this has not paid off. She lost in qualifying for the Australian Open, Bogota and Acapulco. She was part of the Dutch Fed Cup team in Estonia, where she beat Mandy Minella (Luxembourg) but lost to Anne Keothavong (Great Britain) in her singles matches.

Things picked up a bit after this, and she made it through qualifying in Monterrey but exited in the first round (l. to Roberta Vinci). Following this, she made it into the main draw in Miami (l. to Magdalena Rybarikova), reached the second round of Marbella as a qualifier (l. to Kaia Kanepi). She qualified for the Roland Garros main draw in May, drawing French wildcard Olivia Sanchez in the opening round.

Arantxa started playing tennis when she was five years old. As a junior, her achievements have included winning the 2008 Australian Open in singles (d. Jessica Moore in the final), and reaching the final of the same event in doubles (w/ Lesley Kerkhove).