As we move into 2021, Tennis tipster Andy Schooler picks out his WTA Ones to Watch for the new year, following on from his ATP Ones to Watch.
After an injury-plagued year (and the rest), I’m expecting Bianca Andreescu to be back in business in 2021. I also believe Iga Swiatek will push on. But both have already won Grand Slam titles – it feels wrong to place them in this column.
Famously, Pliskova has yet to collect her maiden title at the top table – her best effort coming in 2016 when she made the US Open final. The Czech has been to the last eight (or better) on six occasions since. But with the last of those coming almost two years ago, the 28-year-old has made a big change to her coaching set up. This is what interests me heading into the forthcoming season.
New coach Sascha Bajin has worked with some of the WTA’s best players, coaching Naomi Osaka to two Grand Slam titles. He was also a key member of Serena Williams’ team – as her hitting partner. In short, he knows what it takes to win the sport’s top prizes.
Pliskova has been labelled too one-dimensional by many but clearly has the tools to contend. Her serve is one of the biggest on the tour and if Bajin can improve her movement and harden her mentality, that duck may finally be broken.
At the age of 25, Brady has been something of a late bloomer having come through the US college system. But having broken into the top 50 for the first time in 2020, expect the US Open semi-finalist to keep on climbing in 2021.
Like Pliskova, her serve is a huge weapon and she loves to crush a high-bouncing ball off the ground – her best results will continue to come on hardcourts.
That serve featured prominently on virtually every related WTA stat list in 2020. It produced 149 aces in just 28 matches. But, perhaps most impressively, she won 79.7% of her service games, a figure which was almost three percentage points bigger than any rival.
Clearly she’ll be looking to up her return game if she is to push on from her current ranking of 24th. That would improve her chances of beating the elite – she notched just one win against a top-10 player in 2020 – but Brady looks capable of doing just that.
This one felt like a heavyweight 🥊 battle.
— USTA (@usta) September 11, 2020
I suspect most readers will have heard of Coco Gauff, the teenager, still only 16, who took Wimbledon by storm in 2019. It’s less likely many will know of Fernandez but she’s the next youngest in the top 100.
There’s a good chance she’ll enjoy a much higher profile come the end of 2021 with real potential to become a tennis superstar.
Speaking English, French and Spanish will certainly help on that front but, of course, an excellent game is what’s required the most. And the early signs are certainly good.
The latest player to emerge from a Canadian system which has produced Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime in the men’s game in recent times, Fernandez won the French Open junior title in 2019 and this year went about transitioning to the main tour.
After beating top-10er Belinda Bencic in the Fed Cup, she was going well when the lockdown came, having just made her first WTA final in Acapulco. You wonder how that roll would have developed had she been allowed to continue, but Fernandez did make the third round at Roland Garros when the resumption came.
The 18-year-old’s style and mentality has already been compared favourably with that of Justine Henin and the player herself is also thinking big, stating recently her one goal for 2021 was “to finish in the top 10”.
That’s asking a lot but certainly expect her to make an impact.
America is desperately seeking the ‘next Serena Williams’ and the aforementioned Gauff will doubtless have to carry that burden in the coming years.
However, that may help another rising star in the form of Ohioan McNally.
She’s another to have earned her corn on the junior circuit, making the Roland Garros final in 2018. In 2019, she reached her first WTA semi-final in Washington.
The stop-start nature of 2020 did not help the 19-year-old but she did show what she is capable of with an Australian Open win over Sam Stosur and a US Open victory over seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.
She’s yet to break into the top 100 but that will surely change in the next few months and she could go a lot higher – look out for her challenging at some of the lower-level WTA events in the coming season.
It’s maybe too early for this talented 17-year-old to breakthrough in 2021. But then again, don’t be surprised if her rapid rise up the rankings continues.
One of just two under-18s in the top 350 (Gauff being the other), Tauson has been tearing things up on the ITF World Tour over the past couple of years, already winning seven titles at that level on a mixture of hard and clay.
The Dane, who also won a junior Grand Slam title at the 2019 Australian Open, will have to follow in the footsteps of former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, who put tennis on the map in Denmark.
However, her flat-hitting game is already showing signs that a climb into elite company is not beyond the realms of possibility – she beat seed Brady at the French Open in September.