Tennis: Young and ready

Tennis: Young and ready
RISING STAR: Watch out for Karolina Pliskova.

When the French Open starts on Sunday, look out for up-and-coming young stars who have been making waves on the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) circuit this year.

A strategic priority for the WTA is the year-round WTA Rising Stars initiative, which aims to promote young players who are aged 23 years and below.

The BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore in October this year will feature four of the best Rising Stars and, on the Road to Singapore, fans will have a sneak preview of some of the talent headed here.

Karolina Pliskova is ranked sixth on the WTA Rising Stars Road to Singapore leaderboard right now, after winning the inaugural Prague Open earlier this month.

The 23-year-old Czech is one to watch in the women's singles at Roland Garros as well as in the doubles event, along with partner Elina Svitolina.

Svitolina, 20, is also making plenty of noise on the circuit after her win at the Marrakesh Grand Prix last month.

American Madison Keys has been making headlines this year with her strong performances.

She went into the Strasbourg Open (which is currently underway) as the No. 1 seed, and she's also in the top 10 of the Rising Stars leaderboard.

Madison, who is coached by former three-time Grand Slam winner Lindsay Davenport, is a truly all-round player. She's got some powerful strokes and isn't afraid to chase down every ball.

Her aggressive style of play has helped her on clay, so we could see an American do well in Paris this year.

Last year's WTA Newcomer of the Year, Belinda Bencic, is our youngest player in the world's top 80.

The 18-year-old has received guidance from Martina Hingis' mother, Melanie Monitor, and plays a creative, imaginative style of tennis.

On the Asian front, hopes are pinned on 21-year-old Chinese Zheng Saisai, last year's finalist at the Rising Stars Challenge in Singapore.

Zheng reached the quarter-finals of the French Open in 2013, but she missed out on the tournament last year.

She reached the top 80 in January, and is having a good year so far.

To qualify as a WTA Rising Star, players have to be in the world's top 50, while players from Asia-Pacific must be ranked in the top 200.

The WTA Rising Stars programme is a way to promote the next generation of players and it's also a good way to bring players closer to fans.

MEDIA ATTENTION

It can be difficult for the young players to handle stardom.

Where once they were simply focusing on their game, now they get a lot of media attention.

The WTA Rising Stars programme helps the players adjust to that; to understand the media and how to deal with the off-court demands.

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard is a great example of someone who catapulted into the top 10 from being a relative unknown.

But not every player has a career trajectory like that, so the WTA Rising Stars serves as a bridge between the players and fans.

For the WTA Rising Stars Challenge in Singapore, we let the fans decide which four young players - two from Asia-Pacific and two from the rest of the world - they want to see compete.

Last year saw Zheng, Monica Puig, Zarina Diyas and Shelby Rogers slug it out at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

It's an engaging move both ways, because the players get involved in the process as well - posting videos of themselves on why they should get chosen.

Fan voting online begins in September, during the US Open and ends just after the China Open in Beijing in October.

npsports@sph.com.sg

Canadian Melissa Pine, a former NCAA player and vice-president (Asia Pacific) of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), is a regular columnist for The New Paper.

She is the tournament director for the WTA Finals, which made its debut in Singapore last year.

**Tickets for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore (Oct 23 to Nov 1) presented by SC Global are on sale. Prices start from $16.90 — the same as last year.


This article was first published on May 22, 2015.
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