COMMENTARY I Two Americans. Two Brits. They make up four 20-and-under players in the WTA's top 100 looking to be the next big thing in women's tennis.
Fourteen years old. That's how old Laura Robson was when she won the Wimbledon Junior Girls' Championship. While other girls her age were still playing local tournaments, Robson was being dubbed the next hope of British tennis. At a time when the country's top male -- Andy Murray -- had already experienced a taste of the top 10, Britain was looking for its next exceptional woman to take the stage.
Fast forward a few years, and at the age of 18 the now 43rd-ranked player in the world had a Cinderella summer in 2012. She partnered Andy Murray to grab the mixed doubles silver at the Olympics before finding her own niche at the U.S. Open, where she spurred excitement with wins over Li Na and Kim Clijsters, both former Grand Slam champions.
Robson's striking lefty strokes quickly touted her as one of the top underdogs to watch in draws. Her sponsor, Adidas, also picked up on her accomplishments and named the teen as an ambassador of its Stella McCartney line.
Robson's Fed Cup teammate, Heather Watson is just ahead of her in the rankings. When it comes to the leaderboard, the two have been toe-to-toe for the past year, and Watson is just as much of an up-and-coming star as her countrywoman. Having two prominent stars, Britain has a lot to look forward to in the next few years. The last British woman to win a slam was Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. This is why British tennis is so hungry to crown its next queen, and there are two smiling, spirited young women who are ready to take the honors.
Move over Emma Watson, award-winning Harry Potter actress and face of Burberry, there's another Watson ready to take over beauty and fashion. Twenty-year-old Heather inked a deal with world-renowned cosmetic company, Benefit Cosmetics, and there's a lot more to come. As her looks do the talking off court, the 41st-ranked Watson will let her racquet showcase everything else she has to offer.
After finishing 2010 ranked 176, the Guernsey, England, native skyrocketed to a year-end ranking of 49 just two years later. Watson finished off 2012 on another high note, winning her first professional WTA tournament in Japan.
It's hard to forgot this bubbly young woman. She started the year with a major upset at the Australian Open. Unimaginable to some people, Sloane envisioned her upset over idol Serena Williams with no hesitation. "Look, dude, like, you can do this" were her own words of wisdom.
Following her win, Stephens scored big in the headline department, becoming the first American younger than Serena herself, to take her out in a match. It take guts to go out there and compete with a multiple Grand Slam champion, especially if her last name is Williams. But Stephens took it all in stride. Now ranked 16th in the world, the soon-to-be 20-year-old received praise from her new fans, musician John Legend and basketball star Dirk Nowitzki.
Fans. Sloane has lots of them, and her Twitter interaction is above par. Authenticity is what people want, and this young woman gives it off naturally. Whether it's giving motivational advice to her own teenage soul, or wondering what would happen "if you started making car alarm noises when people you didn't like touched you," Sloane produces tweets that build a strong relationship with her fans. She stays real.
It's hard to find a young girl who doesn't like dressing up. And 79th-ranked Madison Keys wasn't an exception. The big server started playing tennis because she fancied the outfits. "I really wanted a tennis dress. My parents told me that if I played they would buy me one," she said.
At 14 years old, Madison was already breaking records when she became the seventh-youngest player to win a WTA match. The youngest of the crop at 18, the all-American girl no longer has to worry about looking good on court. Climbing up the ranks without looking back, 5-foot-10 Keys is already under the watchful eye of her sponsor Nike.
Sponsors aren't the only ones taking notice. This week, top-four player Agnieszka Radwanska couldn't recall Keys name when she was asked who the most promising under-20 player is: "I forgot her name. Young, a tall American."
As soon as she was reminded of the teen's name, Radwanska had promising insights for the up-and-comer, stating that she "can play very good tennis." The Wimbledon finalist offered high hopes for the 18-year-old. "I think that girl will be, you know, I think top 20, top 30 very soon."
And we wouldn't doubt it. Keys started the season favorably, reaching the quarterfinals of Sydney as a qualifier before losing to Li Na in three sets. Her powerful game makes her a dangerous floater at tournaments.
With the uncertainty and lack of depth in the women's game, it's hard to say who will have the bigger breakthrough first. It's just a matter of who will get their chances and pounce on the opportunity. As we go deeper into 2013, keep an eye out for these four bold stars. They have come to make even bolder impressions.
Olivia Glinka covers on-court and off-court tennis news as a writer and blogger. You can read her content on One Stop Tennis.
You can also get the tennis scoop by following her on Twitter @OneStopTennis.
- Sports & Recreation
- Laura Robson
- Sloane Stephens
- Heather Watson
- Madison Keys
- Emma Watson