Andy Schooler looks ahead to the new tennis season and picks out five players to watch out for on the WTA Tour in 2023.
Sabalenka began 2022 as the world number two but with her game all at sea.
Double faults plagued her, especially during the Australian swing, and it took months of technical work for her to find a solution.
Given her problems, it was a great effort to still finish the year in fifth place in the rankings, having reached the US Open semi-finals and the final of the season-ending WTA Finals.
Both of those tournaments showed Sabalenka is capable of the consistency required to win the sport’s biggest prizes.
She was closer than anyone to beating Iga Swiatek at the US Open and did actually defeat her in Fort Worth.
Her aggressive, hard-hitting game is always prone to producing errors but if Sabalenka is able to keep that balance between winners and errors on the right side, as she did often at those aforementioned tournaments, then she’s capable of delivering on the highest stage in 2023.
Krejcikova is another former world number two who has slipped down the rankings, in her case to 22nd.
A big reason for her slide was an arm injury which saw him miss three months of 2022, including virtually the entire clay season. Given she is a former French Open champion, that was a huge blow.
But the Czech star bounced back towards the end of the campaign, winning WTA titles in Tallinn and Ostrava, beating world number one Iga Swiatek in the latter.
Her end-of-season form bodes well for the year ahead and I very much expect Krejcikova to climb back up the rankings in 2023.
She’s a big threat on her favoured clay but look out for her on hardcourts too – Krejcikova began 2022 by reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals, while she’s also been to the last eight of the US Open in the past.
The first of the young guns getting a mention is Anisimova, a player who actually made this list back in 2019 when she was just 17.
That was the season she made the semi-finals of the French Open (consider trumpet well and truly blown).
However, not long after that her father died which, understandably, stumped her progress.
But 2022 saw Anisimova rise again and she proved her ability to compete against the best players in the world, claiming an eyecatching win over Naomi Oaska at the Australian Open.
Many other top-20 wins would follow, including victories over Aryna Sabalenka, Danielle Collins and Coco Gauff. She ended the year 9-8 against the top 20 and 4-3 against top-10ers. That’s impressive.
Given a broken toe ended her season at the US Open, she could easily have finished inside the top 20 in 2022, something which should happen in 2023.
Indeed, Anisimova has the talent to go much higher than that – don’t rule out a Slam challenge or a place at the WTA Finals for the American.
One way or another, you’ll hear more about Parks in 2023.
I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be told about her Serena Williams-like backstory which involved coaching from her dad on public courts. She’s also ‘starred’ as Williams’ body double in an advert.
But what Parks is hoping you’ll hear more about is her tennis.
And if she continues how she ended 2022, then that’s pretty likely too.
Parks, who turns 22 on New Year’s Eve, beat former world number one Karolina Pliskova and top-10 star Maria Sakkari in Ostrava in October. She would finish the year with a decent 4-4 record against the top 50, one of those loses being a tight defeat to world number two Ons Jabeur.
Having been due to end her campaign in early November, Parks opted to extend her season by returning to Europe.
It proved an inspired decision with titles in Andorra and France propelling her into the top 100 for the first time. She’ll head into 2023 having won 17 of her last 22 matches.
Admittedly most have been at lower than tour level but Parks, whose big serve is an important weapon, is confident that bigger and better victories lie ahead.
“If I keep playing like this, how I’m feeling now, I should be going through draws pretty freely,” she told the WTA’s official website. “I do see myself top 10 next year, which is pretty high, but it’s definitely doable. So, I think top 10 next year is a goal for me.”
That maybe beyond the talented American but certainly expect her to make some waves in the forthcoming season.
I always like to try to pick out a player to ‘come from nowhere’ and in 2023 that honour goes to Bejlek.
The 16-year-old is currently the second-youngest player in the top 200 having risen more than 200 places in 2022.
Primarily a baseliner, the left-hander added more attacking aspects to her game last season, making raids on the net a lot more.
That’s all part of her development, which is going very much to plan.
Bejlek is part of an impressive ‘next generation’ of Czech stars which includes her fellow teenagers Linda Noskova and the Fruhvirtova sisters, Linda and Brenda.
As has so often been the case over the years, the competitive nature of the domestic scene is improving all. “It’s pushing me and it’s good,” was Bejlek’s recent assessment.
The teenager is also benefitting from the strength at the top of Czech tennis – the nation has five players in the top 50 with Bejlek already having practised with some of the stars.
“This is for me really good,” she told the WTA website. “And it’s getting me better and better.”
Linda Fruhvirtova made this column 12 months ago when she justified faith to make the top 100 and she could easily have been included again, as could the other two.
But it is the lesser-known, younger Bejlek who gets the nod.
Being yet to grab the headlines (unlike her compatriots) may be a good thing in terms of going under the radar.
Look out for her particularly on the clay – she was a semi-finalist at Junior Roland Garros in 2022.