Elina Svitolina made history in 2017, winning five titles - three at Premier 5 tournaments - to become the highest-ever ranked Ukrainian tennis player, besting former ATP pro Andrei Medvedev when she cracked the Top 3 on the WTA rankings.
Not far behind is Dayana Yastremska, a big-hitting 17-year-old ranked No.6 in Ukraine. The third youngest woman in the Top 200, Yastremska is one of three standouts from the next generation class of 2016, having reached Grand Slam finals alongside the likes of US Open junior champ Amanda Anisimova and Wimbledon winner Anastasia Potapova.
Yastremska narrowly fell to Potapova at the All England Club last July, but was the first of the trio to enjoy a breakout WTA debut, reaching the quarterfinals of the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup in April.
Check out six reasons why the Ukrainain young gun will be one to watch in 2018.
1. She rose over 200 ranking spots in six months.
From a low of No.420 in mid-April, Yastremska kick-started her WTA career in a big way, stunning former World No.9 and 2014 French Open semifinalist Andrea Petkovic as a wildcard in Istanbul. The teen had tentatively arranged a practice session with the German veteran before the draw ceremony.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘No practice today! Maybe next time,’” she recounted to fans on Facebook Live.
Yastremska backed up the win with a straight set victory over another teenager in Anna Kalinskaya before bowing out to the always dangerous Jana Cepelova in three tough sets.
“I remember very much the support of the fans,” she told wtatennis.com. “It was very cool playing a tournament in a place where I’ve trained. Those were my first WTA wins, so it will always be in my memory, especially the match point of the first win.”
2. The final game of her Wimbledon run went viral - with a little help from Hawkeye.
Yastremska made her final junior tournament one to remember when she took on good friend and doubles partner Anastasia Potapova on No.1 Court.
“Every time I remember the finals of Wimbledon I start to cry and laugh at the same time,” she admitted. “I want to re-immerse myself in this atmosphere, to feel the unreal energy of people and fans.”
One game from defeat, she saved six championship points - two with the help of Hail Mary Hawkeye overrules.
“Since the semifinals the day before, I became good friends with Hawkeye, and it didn’t let me down in the final!”
The pair remained friends after the titanic encounter, teaming up just over a year later to win an 80K Pro Circuit title in doubles - a partnership that combines two of the next generation’s bigger personalities.
“Our doubles with her unpredictable, and I do not know what to expect from us in the future!”
3. She believes staying grounded will be key to avoiding a sophomore slump.
With a Top 200 finish all but assured - and the age eligibility rules set to end in May - we can expect Yastremska fighting for more WTA main draws from the start of next season, aiming to dictate play with gutsy swings off both sides.
“For me, the process of playing WTA tournaments was very interesting. Every step I made I was happy with it, and I got a great pleasure from it. But the transition is not yet complete, and I realize that I need to make even more efforts to move up.”
That attitude is reflected by the tough lesson all junior stars come to learn.
“Talent will not help if you do not work the most. Everyone is good, but you need to have something inside you, a drive that will make you push to be the best.”
4. A strong team will keep her pushing in 2018.
Yastremska won’t continue her rise alone. Mainly coached by father Oleksandr, she began working with Marco Girardini in March. Ocassionally training in Istanbul - the site of her first WTA success - she works with Gavin Hopper, former coach to nine-time Grand Slam champion Monica Seles.
“I hope to reliably gain a foothold on the WTA tour; this is the main goal. What kind of place will this be, where will I end up?” She adds with a laugh, “It’s all in my hands!”
5. After ending 2017 with a bang, her 2018 season has already begun.
Her official season debut will be at the Brisbane International, but Yastremska began her season at a 100K ITF Pro Circuit event in Dubai, where she took a tight two-set loss to Vera Lapko.
Still under the age-eligibility rule, she made the most of her ITF Pro Circuit appearances this summer, winning her first singles title of the season at a 60K tournament in Hungary before finishing runner-up at a 100K event in St. Peterburg, where she beat rising Belarusian star Aryna Sabalenka before running into a resurgent Belinda Bencic.
The teenager took the opportunity - rare as it is nowadays - to unplug before beginning her pre-season training in mid-November.
“After Moscow, firstly I went back to Odessa and spent two weeks there at home with my family. From there, we went to get quiet relaxation in the forest for 12 days. I took back a lot of energy out of resting from civilization, and I can say that there I recovered very good with a happy holiday!”
6. Her social media game is strong.
Yastremska could be forgiven for taking a break from the internet over the off-season, having maintained a consistent presence on her official Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.
Following her win over Petkovic, she overcame one last opponent - in the form of some uncooperative wifi - to vlog out her feelings on Facebook Live, walking fans through the ups and downs of the hard-fought three-setter.
“I love my fans and talking with people, updating them about myself, and just making everyone around happy. I’m sure next year there will be even cooler opportunities, so I’m waiting to do another broadcast at the Australian Open!”
With the New Year around the corner, fingers crossed for another holiday address from the auteur cinéaste.