BetVictor asked me which five female players to watch in 2019, so here goes:
Already the world number 13, Sabalenka is hardly coming into 2019 under the radar but that doesn’t mean she’ll be easy to stop.
Her charge up the rankings didn’t really slow at any point last season and she proved herself a formidable player.
With great power in her groundstrokes and a mental side to her game which suggests she fears nobody, the Belarusian looks set to challenge for the biggest titles in the new campaign and I’d certainly expect her to be a top-10 player come the end of it.
There’s definitely room for improvement at the Slams. While she made the last 16 of the US Open – where she was the only player to take a set off eventual champion Naomi Osaka – there were also three first-round exits following devilishly difficult draws. Seeding will help on that front so don’t expect a repeat.
She won on hardcourts in New Haven and Wuhan in 2018 but it’s significant that she’s comfortable on all surfaces, as shown by her runs to finals on clay in Lugano and grass in Eastbourne.
All things considered, expect Sabalenka to be a real star in the forthcoming season. The last eight Slams have been won by eight different players. I would not be surprised to see the 20-year-old muscle in on that act.
How this 18-year-old Ukrainian backs up an excellent second half of 2018 will certainly be something to follow as she undoubtedly has the potential to go much higher than her current ranking of 58.
Post-Wimbledon, she claimed no fewer than six top-50 scalps, including that of Garbine Muguruza.
The season ended with a maiden title in Hong Kong followed by an impressive semi-final run in Luxembourg and if she can hit the ground running like that in 2019, she’ll be capable of causing an upset or two during the Australian swing.
Expect results to come on clay too from a player who really goes for her shots – a typical Eastern European player of the modern age.
Looks to be the leader of the teenage pack right now and more than capable of adding titles to her CV in 2019.
The Czech spent much of 2017 racking up wins for fun on the ITF Pro Circuit but she found life somewhat tougher on the main tour in 2018.
Still, this ball-basher showed she has the talent to contend with the best and given she remains only 19, more can be expected from her in her second full season on the tour.
2018 saw her lost only 8-6 in the third to Caroline Garcia at the Australian Open, while Kiki Bertens was defeated en route to the last 16 of the US Open.
In between, Vondrousova reached the last 16 of Indian Wells where Jo Konta and Aryna Sabalenka were among her victims, while Julia Goerges was seen off in Stuttgart where Elina Svitolina may well have gone the same way but for a final-set injury setback.
It might be difficult to pick her good weeks but when she’s on top form, Vondrousova take some stopping.
Not another Eastern European but an American from New Jersey and one who could be the next big thing in US tennis.
A fractured foot hindered her for much of 2018 but when she was fit, the 17-year-old showed why she’s one to look out for.
She beat both Petra Kvitova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Indian Wells where she made the last 16 and having returned from injury she finished runner-up in Hiroshima as a qualifier.
The prospect of Anisimova, the 2017 US Open girls’ champion, playing a full season is an exciting one and she should be challenging for titles, certainly at International level, on the WTA.
Just outside the world’s top 100 at the age of only 16, big things lie in store for Kostyuk if she stays on the right track.
Having Ivan Ljubicic, the coach of Roger Federer, as part of her management set-up will certainly help, while on the court she clearly has the basic tools which, if honed, will surely she her fly well into the top 100 in 2019.
At 15, she made the last 32 of the Australian Open (having won the tournament’s junior event a year earlier) and then beat Daria Gavrilova in the Fed Cup. The second half of 2018 was not so productive but the youngster has analysed that and blames accumulated fatigue and making “some wrong decisions”.
She appears ready to learn from that experience though, saying how going from “ecstatic to almost completely empty” was “probably the biggest gain of the season”.
Also likes to play on grass so Wimbledon potential is there. Maybe it’s a year too early for Kostyuk but women’s tennis is a young woman’s game and she’s certainly one to follow.