Here we are in a new year and even though it is still January, the 2017 tennis season is well under way. Every year there are two or three players who send shockwaves throughout the tennis world by surging up the rankings and beating various well-respected opponents along the way. Recent years have seen the likes of Johanna Konta and CiCi Bellis climb the rankings in spectacular fashion and they show no signs of slowing down. Who will be the next female tennis players to take the game by storm and have a memorable 2017? We have selected three players who we believe will be catching your eye this year.
The young Estonian has a highest ranking of 73 in the world to date but during 2016 showed signs that she is ready to take the next step in her career. Although she finished 2016 outside of the WTA top 100, the potential to be a top 50 player is there for all to see. During 2016, Kontaveit secured victories over the likes of Sara Errani, Caroline Wozniacki and Eugenie Bouchard proving that her talent is unquestionable. As so often is the case, the key to her success will be consistency and that will start with regularly beating those ranked outside the top 100. During 2016 she had ten matches against those of such a ranking and only won on five occasions.
The first sixth months of the year could define her season as the ranking points she will defend between late March and early June and few and far between. Her schedule throughout 2016 wasn't exactly full, as it is for some players, and so with a few extra tournaments this year she is almost certainly set to cement her place in the top 100. With 10 ITF singles titles to her name already, including tournaments on clay, grass and hard courts, Kontaveit has a game that can hold up all year round and will likely add another title or two to her name this year. Estonia may not be known for its great tennis players but the 21 year old from Tallinn could be a name we will hear for many years to come.
Crawford is a player with great pedigree as she was the girl's champion at the 2012 US Open, where she actually defeated Kontaveit in the final. Winning that title as a junior put her in the same company as Lindsay Davenport, Marion Bartoli and Victoria Azarenka as former champions and she will be hopeful that her career can follow a similar trend to those players. 2016 showed enough encouraging signs to see her make this list of three but similar to Kontaveit she will need to have more consistency in beating those with a lower ranking.
The Atlanta youngster is still only 21 years old (22 next month) but has already racked up some impressive wins and also had to show serious mental strength to recover from a horrendous bout of injuries and find her form and confidence again. Her third meniscus tear resulted in knee surgery in 2013, something that could have devastated a young player's career but the American bounced back. Standing at 6ft 2in, Crawford can also boast a powerful serve and a thunderous forehand to go with a mentality that has seen her overcome those serious injury problems. Her aggressive nature is something that has seen many opponents struggle against her and she will no doubt be looking to capitalise on that even more this year.
2017 had a rough start for her however, as she was knocked out in the first round of qualifying in Brisbane by Australian wildcard, Destanee Aiava. This caused a significant hit to her ranking as she reached the semi final of the same tournament in 2016, beating Belinda Bencic and Andrea Petkovic along the way. A first round win at the 2017 Australian Open over an in-form Lauren Davis partially repaired that damage and there were some encouraging signs in her second round defeat to Garbine Muguruza, where despite going down 7-5 6-4, she can hold her head high and take many positives.
Although she is a self confessed 'one day at a time' kind of person, the 2017 aims for Crawford must be clear. She is now approaching an age where she will expect her game to mature even further and be at a point where she can take her place in the top 100 and stay there. July, August and October were particularly disappointing months for her in 2016 and so there will be plenty of opportunity to gain ranking points later this year. The 21 year old definitely has all the attributes to be a dangerous player on the WTA Tour and 2017 could well be the year that she shows that to the world.
Kayla Day, the 17 year old American, first came to my attention when she reached the main draw of the WTA Premier event in New Haven. It was here where she beat Naomi Broady and Kirsten Flipkens in qualifying, both of whom were ranked more than 300 places higher than her at the time. Day was just 16 years old at the time of those victories and although CiCi Bellis is very much seen as the next generation of US tennis, Day is not too far behind and has also seen her ranking rise significantly over the last six months.
The youngster reached the second round of the US Open in 2016 after defeating her fellow compatriot, Madison Brengle, gaining 70 ranking points in the process. Day had earned her wildcard spot in the US Open main draw by winning the USTA Girls 18's national championships. A $50k ITF title followed in October 2016 when she won in Macon, losing just one set in the process. Her transition from the juniors, where she won the girl's 2016 US Open and reached the semi final of the equivalent tournament in Wimbledon that same year, to the seniors has been seamless and the future promises so much for the young left hander.
Dedication is such a huge ingredient for any young tennis player and Day has admitted that tennis is something that she wants to do every morning that she wakes up. It seems that dedication will not be much of a problem here. She has passed on the opportunity to go to college and instead decided to turn professional and so clearly has confidence in her own game. Similarities to Bellis will be made by many, purely because of their similar age and their superb rise up the rankings this last year or so but both must be given time. Day is currently just inside the top 200 in the world and if she moves up another 100 places in 2017, I will certainly not be surprised. Expect to be hearing her name for many years to come.
Want to read more about another future star, CiCi Bellis? Click here