Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) In 2009, a 19-year-old Belarussian by the name of Victoria Azarenka emerged at the French Open as a quarter-finalist.

Her opponent in that match was Dinara Safina who, at the time, was the world number one in women’s tennis. Azarenka won the first set 6-1 before losing in three.

It was the first of four Grand Slam last eight spots she’d go on to reach and as we skip to the present day she has a very good chance of a semi-final place and potentially winning the tournament outright.

Today Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova played in her first Grand Slam quarter-final. She too is 19 and won the first set 6-1 before ultimately losing to Francesca Schiavone who, at this time, is the only player left to have won at Roland Garros.

The similarities between the pair don’t just stop there. Both had marvelous junior careers and they have good records on all surfaces but particularly hard courts where the bulk of their WTA titles have come.

In many ways though Pavlyuchenkova has a great chance of bettering Azarenka let alone matching her.

The Minsk-born player may not have won a Grand Slam title yet but she’s closed the gap considerably this year. She currently sits at number four in the world rankings after winning the Premier Mandatory event in Miami and reaching the final of the same tier tournament in Madrid.

Yet she could have made it there quicker if her body hadn’t let her down at key moments and her head was screwed on during and just after her teenage years.

Pavlyuchenkova possesses the same power as Azarenka and looks more stable. She’s further down the rankings than Azarenka was in 2009 (#14 compared to #9) but a top 10 place is beckoning after her performance this year.

She did choke the match at a set and 4-1 up but it happens to many young talents against the experienced players. Fitness is an area for her to work on as she did look tired, and compared to the rest of the ladies, a little weighty.

Another problem, or it could be deemed a help, is the instability of the WTA tour. The consistent Grand Slam winners are either ageing or have retired and it’s allowed names like Li Na and Vera Zvonareva to enjoy a renaissance whilst opening the door for Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges and other top 10-20 players to break through.

Pavlyuchenkova, like the rest of the aforementioned, will soon be listed as a potential Grand Slam winner. It’s up to the older players in and around the top 10 to hold on to their positions as the likes of Pavlyuchenkova chase them down with Azarenka potentially being the main person to beat out of the rising batch of tennis players from this generation.

Oh Clay!

The end of the Sony Ericsson Open signals the beginning of the clay court season, which could either be disastrous or very productive for tennis players trying to make their name.

Only a select few number of players find the slower surface their specialist area – Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling, Francesca Schiavone, Svetlana Kutznetsova and Sam Stosur are just some of the exclusive clay club.

Therefore the results could be sporadic. Some younger players will find themselves winning matches against normally sound professionals inside the top 20 but it also works both ways as they won’t enjoy the clay either.

The first WTA clay tournaments take place tomorrow at Charleston, USA in the Family Circle Cup and the Andalucia Tennis Experience in Marbella, Spain. Houston is hosting the US Men’s Clay Court Championship whilst Casablanca features the other ATP 250.

These types of events only benefit younger players as they split the world’s best into two tournaments rather than a larger round of 96, so seeds can range from top 10 players to just inside the top 50.

The next major ATP tournament featuring the big names is the Monte Carlo Masters on April 10th with other highlights including the Madrid Open, Rome’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia and, of course, the French Open at Roland Garros.

The second Grand Slam of the year seems to be getting more and more unpredictable to judge. Since Justine Henin’s first retirement, there have been a host of names in the women’s final of clay’s showpiece tournament.

If the men avoid Rafael Nadal over the next two months they could prosper. It will also be interesting to see if Novak Djokovic can continue his fine run of form through to the grass court season as well.

Seeds could fall, form could alter and new faces could become household names. In short, expect the unexpected.

Rafael Nadal

The King of Clay – Rafael Nadal

The main draws for the WTA premier events in Charleston and Marbella as well as the ATP 250’s in Houston and Casablanca are available to see in full.

Bojana Jovanovski

Introducing the next star to come out of Serbia – Bojana Jovanovski.

Despite some dodgy questions a refreshing laid-back persona shines through.

Calling your opponent at Wimbledon “Australian girl” when being interviewed by a Brisbane-based network probably wasn’t a great move but the way she answered the final question like Ernie is obviously the correct choice redeemed her greatly.

Based on looks alone she already bears resemblance to both Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic – the two Serbians ahead of her in the rankings – whilst her victory against the former certainly shows she possesses their on-court talent too.

As the youngest player in the top 100 of the WTA rankings (currently no. 55) she’s no doubt one to look out for.

With a second round appearance at SW19 and this year’s Australian Open in the bag she is set to make the main draw at the French Open for the first time this May.

The 19-year-old has a lot to live up to. Ivanovic won at Roland Garros in 2008 but since claiming the world number one spot after her third Grand Slam final and first victory she’s fallen outside the top 20 and has been even lower.

Jankovic was a semi-finalist that year and the only player to take a set off the eventual winner. However she has yet to win a major despite making the US Open final months after that defeat to Ivanovic.

But if women’s tennis taught us anything last year it’s that anything is possible. Francesca Schiavone came from nowhere to beat fellow surprise finalist Sam Stosur in the French Open whilst Tsvetana Pironkova’s semi-final run at Wimbledon defied all previous form.

Jovanovski has arguably more potential than both Schiavone and Pironkova with youth also on her side. Having yet to add a WTA title to her four ITF crowns the Serbian does have experience at Fed Cup level, performing strongly in straight set singles wins over Canadian’s Aleksandra Wozniak and Rebecca Marino.

Jankovic should have won a Slam by now, Ivanovic should probably have won more and Jovanovski should prove this year that the Serbian production line still has plenty of juice left in it.

Ana at the ready
Can Jovanovski reach the same heights as fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic?

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