With the 2020 tennis season just a few days away, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to give his thoughts on ten young WTA players to watch coming into the new campaign...
"This could well lead Swiatek to be under-rated by the markets in the coming season, and I'd particularly anticipate this being the case on clay - undoubtedly her best surface - where she ran at 104% combined on the main tour last season."
Ten to follow on the WTA Tour in 2020
Following last week's assessment of players who have the potential to break through to the ATP Tour, we now turn our attention to the WTA Tour. While in the men's discussion we focused on players around the 20 years of age mark, the dynamic of the WTA Tour is rather different, with numerous teenagers breaking through to the top 200, and even the top 100. Some are more known than others, and not all will be covered here - particularly those whose ability levels are more exposed. Without further ado, let's move on to the ten to follow...
Swiatek and Gauff lead the list
Iga Swiatek - Rank 60, Age 18, 2019 WTA combined service/return points won 101.6%.
The 18 year old Polish talent broke through to the main tour in 2019 after some extremely impressive stats on the ITF Tour (she ran at 113% combined service/return points won in ITFs in 2018), although her results on the higher tour last season didn't quite reflect my perception of her ability and potential and her season ended when eliminated from the US Open at the end of August.
This could well lead Swiatek to be under-rated by the markets in the coming season, and I'd particularly anticipate this being the case on clay - undoubtedly her best surface - where she ran at 104% combined on the main tour last season. It wouldn't surprise me at all if she went one better at some stage in the coming year than her runner-up spot in Lugano in April on the main tour, and could even be capable of a strong run at the French Open if fully fit and firing.
Cori Gauff - Rank 68, Age 15, 2019 WTA combined service/return points won 99.6%.
One player who, at this stage of her career, hasn't been under-rated by the markets is Cori Gauff, with the 15 year old shooting to fame after her run to the fourth round at Wimbledon having qualified. She backed that up with a title in Linz indoors in October subsequently as well.
While her main tour stats in 2019 were yet to break the 100% combined mark, at 15 years of age Gauff will be likely to be on a steeper age improvement curve than those older players in this list and I'd expect her to kick on further in the coming season.
Gracheva with stunning clay numbers
Varvara Gracheva - Rank 108, Age 19, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 106.9%.
Despite being ranked just outside the top 100, Gracheva hasn't had a great deal of main tour exposure so far in her career, playing just five WTA Tour matches last season. With this in mind, she's accumulated most of her ranking points in lower-tier ITF events on clay, which she dominated last year - winning five of five finals.
In fact, she won over 80% of her clay matches on the ITF Tour, recording stellar 110% combined serve/return points won numbers, and this is clearly her best surface. It is more than possible that she'll be available at bigger prices than she should be in some of the lower-profile warm-up tournaments for the French Open.
Catherine McNally - Rank 120, Age 18, 2019 WTA combined service/return points won 99.1%, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 108.6%.
I consider McNally one of the highest potential players in this piece, improving her ranking from being outside the top 400 at the turn of 2019 and claiming two ITF titles, both indoors.
McNally also performed well on grass, reaching the semi-final at Surbiton - a loss to Alison Riske on grass is no disgrace - and qualifying for Wimbledon as well, and I rather suspect she'll fare best in quick conditions, so will be one to look out for on those faster surfaces such as grass, indoor, and some select outdoor hard court tournaments as well.
Juvan looking to bounce back after fitness issues
Kaja Juvan - Rank 128, Age 19, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 105.5%.
Injury problems rather derailed Juvan's second half of last season, missing almost three months between mid-July and mid-October, and she also retired in her final match of 2019 - so fitness coming into the new season is a slight question mark.
However, she took to higher level competition well last year, almost shocking Serena Williams in the second round of Wimbledon (Williams won 6-4 in the deciding set) and also managed to record victories over Kristyna Pliskova and Christina McHale en route to that stage.
At the lower ITF level it looks like clay has been her best surface, running at just shy of 110% combined last season, and Juvan could well be another player who could surprise people in some lower-profile clay tournaments next season on the main tour.
Whitney Osuigwe - Rank 138, Age 17, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 104.8%.
17 year old Osuigwe reached two clay finals on the ITF Tour last season, including beating the aforementioned Juvan in the semi-finals in Charleston and running very slightly lower on the combined service/return points won metric compared to her Slovenian rival.
However, given her age, it's reasonable to expect Osuigwe to be capable of exhibiting further considerable improvement and she also has more of an all-court tendency as well. Particularly if she breaks the top 100 I anticipate her getting some wild card entries into big tournaments and she may well provide a big-priced winner in early rounds of these if she can kick on in 2020.
Dolehide's all-court ability will help progression
Caroline Dolehide - Rank 146, Age 21, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 107.8%.
Dolehide is the oldest player in this list having turned 21 in September, but I think she's still capable of translating strong ITF performances into some reasonable main tour results next season.
She's an all-courter without much deviation between her clay stats and hard courts numbers, which will definitely help her progression, and while she's struggled to qualify for main tour events in 2019 it's worth noting that a lot of those qualifying defeats were extremely tight and in some cases against solid main tour competitors. In those qualifiers she underperformed on break points and tiebreaks (based on service/return points won expectations) and this also leads me to think that she will be under-valued by the market initially in 2020.
Xinyu Wang - Rank 150, Age 18, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 106.0%.
Not to be confused with her similarly ranked countrywoman Xiyu Wang (who also has potential), Xinyu Wang reached four finals on the ITF Tour in Asia last year, winning three.
While I have some slight concerns about the standard of some of those events, it's difficult to ignore both Wang's winrate (in excess of 70% in those lower level matches) and career progression at a young age - she was ranked outside the top 300 this time last year.
Wang has played almost exclusively on hard courts last year and this is obviously going to be the surface where she is likely to achieve her best results if she stepped up to main tour. We may have to wait until the Asian Swing after the coming season's US Open to see her make much of an impact on the main tour, but it will be worth keeping an eye on Wang's progress in lower level events in advance of that stage of the season.
Cocciaretto a real clay court specialist
Elisabetta Cocciaretto - Rank 178, Age 18, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 106.3%.
Cocciaretto is a rare type of player on the WTA - a true clay court specialist. She stuck to clay tournaments last season, even finding success on the surface as the 2019 season drew to a close, winning back to back ITF tournaments in Asuncion (Paraguay) and Colina (Chile).
In those, she beat some very competent clay court players, including countrywoman Sara Errani in the final of Asuncion, and she looks to have a rather similar dynamic to Errani in that she is rather return-orientated.
Cocciaretto won in excess of 50% of return points in ITF clay events in 2019 and she'll certainly pose plenty of questions on the serve of better players in clay events when she steps up to main tour matches, although I worry how much her serve will be targeted by those higher level opponents. However, at just 18 years of age she will likely further improve and I'd expect her to break through to main tour action on clay at least this year.
Olga Danilovic - Rank 189, Age 18, 2019 ITF combined service/return points won 106.4%.
Failure to defend her winners points from her WTA title in Moscow in July 2018 meant a big ranking drop for Danilovic - who had already broken the top 100 at the age of 17. However, I feel that her current ranking strongly under-values the Serbian's ability.
My assertion is based on both her stunning breakthrough in 2018 but also her strong ITF performances in 2019, particularly on clay which is evidently her best surface. While it's less likely that Danilovic will perform well on hard courts in the early stages of the coming season, the clay season will be a different issue and she could well exhibit rapid ranking imporvement in preferred conditions in 2020.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings