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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Threatening Ranking Risers

Whenever major tournaments draw near, buzz and chatter about the top-ranked women breaks loose from tennis fans and analysts alike, but there are always bracket busters lurking in the background. Behind the Wozniackis and Clijsters of the world, low-ranked women thirsty for their championship debut and former all-stars who have fallen from glory consider themselves serious contenders in any competition. Here's a look at a few women rising in the ranks who might have something to say when they step onto the courts of the All-England Club.

First and foremost we have Ana Ivanovic, 2008 French Open Champion and former world no. 1 whose beautiful looks mask a biting and powerful forehand. Having rocketed to the front of the WTA in the past, she's a definite threat when in form, but that hasn't been the situation for the past year or so, having lost her rhythm and plummeting out of the top 50. At the end of 2010, however, Ivanovic seemed to spark, winning both Linz and the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in impressive fashion. Since then, Ivanovic has suffered various health issues, including stomach and wrist injuries, but her latest foray in the AEGON Classic in England has shown us signs of a return; she walloped Tatashvili 6-1 6-0 and downed Canada's Marino 6-3 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals. In an interview, Ivanovic said, "I had forgotten how lovely the grass is. It’s great to be back on it," and judging by her performances thus far, she has potential to make moves at Wimbledon. Currently ranked no. 19, Ivanovic said she has hopes of capturing the grass court slam, just don't bet all your money on her.

Another ranking riser that top seeds should be wary of is China's Peng Shuai. Normally a floater outside the world top 30, Peng has surged in 2011, reaching a career high ranking of no. 20. Having seen her countrywoman, Li Na, nab the French Open spotlight, Peng will surely be inspired to continue her climb in the WTA. Peng has had a variety of deep tournament runs this year, losing to Zvonareva in the Pattaya quarters, Sharapova in the Indian Wells quarters, Vesnina in the Family Circle Cup semis and to Wozniacki in the finals of the Brussels Ladies Open. The two-handed baseliner is more than capable of striking big shots from both sides and has a fairly solid serve, but her movement and minimal variety make her susceptible to women comfortable enough to vary their game. But, if you're going to go punch-for-punch with Peng, be ready to watch a decent number of winners fly by, especially on the low bouncing grass. Peng should easily cruise into the third round, and depending on her draw, she might even have 4th round and quarterfinal potential.

The youngest of our featured "Ranking Risers" is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Over the past few years, Pavyluchenkova has had a steady rise to her current position of world no. 14 and odds are she won't stop there—Lindsay Davenport even predicted a top 10 finish for the Russian by the end of 2011. Pavlyuchenkova reached the semifinals in Brisbane, losing to Petra Kvitova, and later toppled former no. 1 Jelena Jankovic for a championship title in Monterrey. Her most recent match worth noting was a Roland Garros quarterfinal clash with defending champion, Schiavone. The Russian teenager looked to have a chokehold on the match after winning the first set 6-1 and going up a break in the second, but wound up losing the match despite a third set rally to 5-5 from 1-5 down. If Pavlyuchenkova can reel-in and fine tune her masterful forehand and learn to close out matches, she will be a huge threat at any and all WTA tournaments. Mental toughness comes with experience, so maybe, just maybe, she learned a little something from her loss to Schiavone. We'll be waiting to see.

Also be on the look-out for Wozniacki slayer, Julia Goerges and three-time major champion, Maria Sharapova, who is happily back in the top ten. Feel free to add your own featured players in the comment section, and stay tuned for more blogs as Wimbledon approaches.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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