AO 2021: 5 Unseeded Players To Watch Out For In The Women's Draw
The players are in Melbourne, and the tennis is finally about to begin. Melbourne will be treated to a smorgasbord of tennis over the next three weeks, with six tournaments to be completed in the week prior to the Australian Open.
Here is a look at five women to watch as up-and-coming unseeded floaters in the Australian Open. Whilst they may not make deep runs this year, they are a glimpse into the future of the women’s game. The WTA has arguably never been better placed than it is right now.
WTA Rank: 36
Stats Insider Rank: 35
It has been a steady rise in rankings for the Russian over the last three years, and there's every possibility this may be the last grand slam for a while in which she enters unseeded. Kudermetova has played three Top-5 opponents in her career, resulting in a 3-0 winning record. Whilst she's still developing her game, along with her confidence and belief in the approach, the 23-year old has taken significant strides forward since the tour resumed in August. Since the US hardcourt swing in late August, her hardcourt losses have come to Elise Mertens (x2), Iga Swiatek (Roland Garros champion), Jennifer Brady (US Open semi-finalist) and Aryna Sabalenka in the Abu Dhabi final earlier this month. Finding the mix of hitting, while combining power and placement, has been an ongoing puzzle, and based on her efforts earlier this month, it's a puzzle that she is starting to figure out.
If recent form's anything to go by, they'll be some seeded players hoping the Russian joins them prior to the draw.
WTA Rank: 48
Stats Insider Rank: 49
Being thrust into the spotlight on the international stage at such a young age cannot be easy, yet Coco seems to be handling the occasion far better than most who have walked down this path in the past. Whilst there's been plenty of hype around her for many years, she first made a name for herself at the top level with her opening round win over Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2019, after being given a wildcard into qualifying. She won the Linz Open in 2019 as a 15-year old 'lucky loser', making her the youngest title winner on tour in over 15 years. Whilst there are aspects of her game that will undoubtedly improve in the years the come, the fact she was able to comprehensively defeat Naomi Osaka on Rod Laver Arena last year is as much of an indication as any that she's going to be up for the big moments for years to come.
At 16, Gauff is ready to take the torch from Serena Williams into the next decade or two.
WTA Rank: 89
Stats Insider Rank: n/a
18 months ago, the Canadian took the ITF W25 title in Gatineau with a ranking of 373. Fast forward to 2021 and Fernandez is sitting within the Top-100 and guaranteed entry into grand slam main draws. The rise through the 200’s and 100’s in the rankings system is heavily reliant on a player’s ability to handle qualifying for WTA main draws, and to then take advantage of those main draws. After being unable to capitalise on making her way through qualifying for the 2020 Australian Open, the Canadian was able to bump her ranking from 190 to 126 in one week in February, reaching the final of the tournament in Acapulco. Whilst she has not accelerated to the same extent as Gauff, the left-hander does still pose a threat as a teenager at the top level. With a 5-5 record against Top 50 players in her career, including a Fed Cup win over world #5 Belinda Bencic, Fernandez is a player to watch in the coming years. While she may not yet have the power to blast opponents off the court, she can however absorb and re-direct pace, and will not hand a victory to her opponent.
Impressive first match of the season for 18yo Leylah Fernandéz. Into R2 to face Zidansek or Brady next. pic.twitter.com/mnU9iEGqDh— José Morgado (@josemorgado) January 6, 2021
WTA Rank: 78
Stats Insider Rank: 88
It's been three years since Marta Kostyuk made her first mark at grand slam level as a 15-year old. She made her way through qualifying, before making the 3rd round of the main draw (defeated by Elina Svitolina). She backed that up by heading across Bass Strait to claim the Burnie $60k tournament, meaning her ranking jumped from 521 to 185 in the space of three weeks. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster since then, with Kostyuk finally breaking her way into the Top-100 in November last year. Now 18-years of age and able to play the full tour calendar, Kostyuk worked through the off-season to build her strength and endurance to handle to rigours that lay ahead. She reaped the rewards immediately in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, reaching the semi-finals (losing to Kudermetova). She is aggressive and is more than comfortable covering all corners of the court, including coming into the net to change up tactics.
Kostyuk had Naomi Osaka on the ropes at the US Open last year, and with each experience at that top level she'll continue to improve.
WTA Rank: 104
Stats Insider Rank: n/a
After *just* missing the main draw cut-off, Juvan found herself off to Dubai in her attempts to qualify for the Australian Open. She was dominant through all three rounds, winning all six sets and making the flight to Melbourne. Her first surge towards the Top-100 was halted by an ankle injury late in 2019, however it's only a matter of time before she debuts, likely within the next month.
Juvan has faced one Top-10 opponent in her career to date, and that was Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2019. She more than held her own on centre court, taking the first set before falling 6-2 2-6 4-6. After reaching the second round at the US Open and Roland Garros last year, Juvan will be keen to springboard into the Top 100 and start to make a greater impression at the top level.
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