Diamonds in the Rough: The ITF’s Leading Ladies
As a part of TTI’s 2014 season review series, we’ll be taking a look at the standout performers on the ITF Pro Circuit and ATP Challenger Tour in 2014. Will they take the next step in 2015?
First up – the ladies.
Denisa ALLERTOVA (CZE)
2014 W/L: 55-6
2014 Titles: $10,000 Antalya (hard); $10,000 Antalya (hard); $50,000 Istanbul (hard); $25,000 Budapest (clay); $25,000 Siofok (clay); $25,000 Plzen (clay); $25,000 Alphen A/D Rijn (clay)
Outlook: 2014 was the year of the Czechs on the WTA Tour, and Denisa Allertova was flying the flag for the minor leagues. The 21-year-old won a staggering seven titles on the year, and lost just six times. To put things in perspective, Serena Williams lost eight times last season, and Maria Sharapova lost 13 matches. Siofok and Plzen are a world away from Melbourne and Singapore, and only one title in Allertova’s haul came above the $25K level. However, winning is infectious and everything came together for the Czech in Luxembourg. In her first WTA main draw, Allertova made it all the way to the semifinals as a qualifier. In the second round, she upset Sabine Lisicki, then ranked No. 25, for her first Top 100 win, following that up with a win over Varvara Lepchenko in the quarterfinals. Her season ended with a loss to eventual champion Annika Beck, but Allertova served notice that she’s one to watch in 2015.
Andreea MITU (ROU)
2014 W/L: 54-18
2014 Titles: $10,000 Santa Margherita Di Pula (clay); $25,000 Denain (clay); $25,000 Darmstadt (clay); $25,000 Mamaia (clay); $25,000 Sofia (clay); $25,000 Podgorica (clay)
Outlook: Mitu’s WTA bio claims that her “favorite surface is hard (but loves grass too),” but the Romanian No. 6 was a clay-court dynamo in 2014. The artist formerly known as Cristina-Andreea won six titles on the dirt last season after going title-less in 2013. Her results on other surfaces were mixed but paradoxically, the brightest spot for Mitu came at Wimbledon; unseeded in qualifying, the Romanian beat three players ranked ahead of her to make the main draw and got the chance to play Agnieszka Radwanska on Court No. 2.
With a playing style and physical build reminiscent of countrywoman Alexandra Cadantu, it remains to be seen if Mitu is durable enough to crack the WTA’s elite. One thing is for certain, however: if Barbora Krejcikova – another name featured on this list – sees Mitu on the WTA Tour in 2015, it’ll be too soon.
Evgeniya RODINA (RUS)
2014 W/L: 59-18
2014 Titles: $25,000 Middelburg (clay); $25,000 Moscow (clay); $25,000 Dobrich (clay); $25,000 Sharm El Sheikh (hard); $25,000 Sharm El Sheikh (hard)
Outlook: Many might remember Rodina as just another player whose career-defining match was one she lost. On a windswept day in Paris in 2008, the 19-year-old Russian nearly defeated Maria Sharapova in the first round of Roland Garros, and almost changed the course of history. Had she come out the winner of the 6-1, 3-6, 8-6 match, “Claypova” might never have been born.
But she didn’t.
The unheralded Russian didn’t fade away, but after cracking the Top 75 in 2011, Rodina was on the sidelines for 15 months. She got married in 2012, nursed a few injuries. and returned to competitive tennis in mid-2013. That season was a success, but her 2014 season was a revelation. Rodina won three of the last four ITF events she entered last season, and back-to-back titles in Sharm El Sheikh saw her end 2014 on a 10-match winning streak. She’s knocking on the door of the Top 100, and if she got there once, there’s no reason why she can’t do it again.
An-Sophie MESTACH (BEL)
2014 W/L: 52-25
Titles: $25,000 Sunderland (indoor hard); $25,000 Batumi (hard); $50,000 Monterrey (hard); $75,000+H Toyota (carpet)
Outlook: Injury problems plagued the 2011 Australian Open junior champion’s early transition to the professional circuit, but she’s steadily risen up the ranks over the past two seasons. A four-time title winner in 2014, the Belgian ended her season on a high by taking the title in Toyota without dropping a set. 2014 was the first time in her career that she won more than one title, but her success comes with one big question mark.
The Belgian snuck into the Top 100 in 2014 without winning a single WTA main draw match; she played in 11 WTA tournaments, including qualifying at all four majors, but only played three main draws. Hailed as a future star by compatriot, Kim Clijsters, the Belgian has a game that could earn her a great deal of success. Smart scheduling might’ve gotten Mestach into the world’s elite, but a sustained level of play is what’s going to keep her there.
Carina WITTHOEFT (GER)
2014 W/L: 49-18
2014 Titles: $25,000 Hechingen (clay); $25,000 Barnstaple (indoor hard); $50,000 Saint Malo (clay); $50,000 Joue-Les-Tours (indoor hard)
Outlook: The hard-hitting German also claimed four titles of her own in 2014, and her success made even the ITF itself stand up and take notice. Witthoeft showed a steady progression in 2014, and regularly found herself in uncharted territory week after week.
She began her year by qualifying at the Australian Open, playing in a Grand Slam main draw for the first time. The 19-year-old won 20 of her last 22 matches on the ITF Circuit to close out the year, a streak that was punctuated with two $50,000 titles – the biggest of her career to date. She also won the first doubles title of her career in September, taking the $25,000 in Barnstaple with France’s Alizé Lim.
Vitalia DIATCHENKO (RUS)
2014 W/L: 47-11
2014 Titles: $10,000 Sharm El Sheikh (hard); $100,000 Astana (hard); $25,000 Moscow (clay); Taipei 125K Series (carpet)
Outlook: After coming full circle to reach the quarterfinals of the WTA Premier event in Moscow, Diatchenko can look back on her 2014 season fondly. The Russian returned from a severe knee injury in 2013, but only began playing a full singles schedule again last season. She started 2013 at the lowest level of professional tennis and kickstarted her comeback with a title at one of the many $10,000 events in Sharm El Sheikh.
While she continued to plug away on the circuit with mixed success, Diatchenko’s defining moment came in July when she swept the singles and doubles titles at the $100,000 event in Astana, Kazakhstan. That result put Diatchenko on the path towards the Top 100 – a plateau she didn’t reach the first time around. She claimed her first WTA 125 title in Taipei, and current sits at No. 71 in the WTA rankings with nearly nothing to defend in 2015.
Taylor TOWNSEND (USA)
2014 W/L: 30-13
Titles: $50,000 Charlottesville, VA (clay); $50,000 Indian Harbour Beach, FL (clay)
Outlook: Townsend’s second year as a professional was a quizzical one. The 18-year-old Chicago native picked up her first professional titles on the ITF Circuit in April, taking singles and doubles of both Charlottesville and Indian Harbour Beach. As a result, she earned the reciprocal American wild card at Roland Garros. She reached the third round there, stunning home favorite Alizé Cornet along the way, but the American’s schedule for much of the season was sporadic. She did not play between Roland Garros and Wimbledon, replaced good friend Vicky Duval on the Philadelphia Freedoms’ roster for Mylan World Team Tennis prior to the US Open Series and elected to fly to Asia for one tournament (Tokyo), where she failed to qualify.
On the cusp of the Top 100 for much of the year, Townsend didn’t break all the way through, and currently sits at No. 104. No longer confined by the Age-Eligibility Rule, Townsend has the freedom to now play as many tournaments as she wishes, and the lefty should be able to hone her game under the tutelage of Zina Garrison.
Oceane DODIN (FRA)
2014 W/L: 43-11
2014 Titles: $10,000 Antalya (hard); $10,000 Amarante (hard); $25,000 Shrewsbury (indoor hard); $25,000 Zawada (near Opole) (carpet)
Outlook: Dodin was barely a blip on the tennis radar six months ago, but courtesy of a fast autumn rise, became a player to watch. Ranked outside the Top 500 in September, the French teenager singlehandedly put herself in contention for the French reciprocal wildcard at the Australian Open by reaching three finals in the span of five weeks, and claiming four ITF titles in total.
Yet, Dodin’s biggest result came at a tournament where she didn’t go all the way; as a wildcard at the $100,000 event in Poitiers, she claimed the two biggest wins of her career, defeating Top 100 players Anna Schmiedlova and Tereza Smitkova en route to a runner-up showing. She also reached the semifinals at the WTA 125 event in Limoges, where she defeated fellow Rising Star Ana Konjuh before falling to compatriot, Kristina Mladenovic.
Now ranked No. 179, Dodin’s Achilles’ heel might reveal itself early in 2015; the 18-year-old excelled on quick courts in 2014, but she played just one match on clay all season.
Barbora KREJCIKOVA (CZE)
2014 W/L: 34-12
2014 Titles: $15,000 Prerov (clay); $25,000 Torun (clay); $25,000 Istanbul (indoor hard)
Outlook: Krejcikova isn’t the Czech teen on everyone’s radar. Her coach isn’t the most famous Czech Grand Slam champion of yesteryear. But considering her season didn’t begin until March, her 2014 was quite (though quietly) impressive. After winning three of the four junior Grand Slams in doubles, the right-hander from Brno ended 2013 ranked No. 386, and cut her ranking by more than half thanks to her 2014 results. While Krejcikova “officially” ended the season ranked No. 188, a title in Istanbul vaulted her up nearly 15 more spots to her current ranking of No. 175.
Coached by Jana Novotna, Krejcikova defeated Michelle Larcher de Brito in qualifying at the US Open, and also played her first WTA main draw in Luxembourg; she picked up her first WTA win against Sachia Vickery in the first round, and also made the doubles final with countrywoman Lucie Hradecka.
Jelena OSTAPENKO (LAT)
Titles: $10,000 Santa Margherita Di Pula (clay); $10,000 Santa Margherita Di Pula (clay); $10,000 Santa Margherita Di Pula (clay)
Outlook: The junior Wimbledon champion claimed three titles in 2014, giving the 17-year-old a career total of seven. Unseeded at a $25,000 event in Poland a few weeks ago, she took out two of the Top 4 seeds en route to the final, before falling to top-seeded Donin in straight sets. Just shy of the Top 300, she was the winningest junior Grand Slam winners on the season, but each of the four junior champions had a successful season on the ITF Pro Circuit.
Australian Open champion Elizaveta Kulichkova claimed two ITF titles, as did junior Roland Garros champion Darya Kasatkina. Finally, junior US Open champion Marie Bouzkova won the first title of her professional career less than a month after her Flushing triumph.
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