INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Generation Next is already here, and the future couldn’t be brighter for women’s tennis. Speaking to press at the BNP Paribas Open’s WTA All-Access Hour, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova fielded questions about the sport’s rising teenage stars - as well as shared some advice for how to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
Currently, there are five teenagers in the WTA’s Top 100: 18-year-old Dayana Yastremska, No.37; 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, No.60; 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova, No.61; 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, No.67 and 17-year-old Anastasia Potapova, No.72.
Anisimova - the youngest of this cohort - in particular has been turning heads with her recent breakthrough results: she reached the fourth round at the Australian Open - knocking out a pair of seeds Aryna Sabalenka and Lesia Tsurenko along the way - and her first career WTA final last year at Hiroshima, from the qualifying rounds.
No.3 seed Kvitova, who ended Anisimova’s dream run in Melbourne, had nothing but praise for the rising teen. “I like her style, that she’s really trying to play aggressive,” she told press at All-Access Hour. “She’s quite tall, she has a good serve, which I think in the future will be a big weapon.”
Anisimova was awarded a wildcard into the Indian Wells main draw, along with fellow rising teenager Andreescu, who reached her first WTA final at Auckland earlier this year and rose to become Canada’s No.1 player after winning at Newport Beach 125K.
“I think every year we kind of see some young generation coming - I do remember I was one of them, many, many years ago,” she said, laughing. “Of course for us, we’re on the tour for many years already so seeing new faces sometimes is a bit weird. We feel a bit old.
“I do remember myself playing on the tour in the beginning, facing other players with no fear, no expectation, with nothing… You are not thinking too much about any point you play - doesn’t matter if it’s a set point, a break point, whatever. You just go for it and hit it.”
Like Kvitova, many players saw a bit of themselves in the rising teenagers - and were keenly aware of the pitfalls that could lie ahead as their stars continue to rise.
“I don’t want to say that the first year is easy, but it’s different than the years after because then you have to defend,” No.5 seed Pliskova told press. “Now really the pressure is coming and everyone knows you now - before nobody really knew them. It’s a little bit different. I had one year also like this.”
Pliskova recalled the tough transition period she experienced between 2014 and 2016. The big-serving Czech burst through the ranks and eventually became a Top 100 fixture - and then had to learn how to compete from the new position of no longer being the unknown underdog.
“When I made it for the first time to Top 100 I just felt like I got some matches… not really like free but easier than now,” she acknowledged. “Because now of course it’s a different situation. Before I was young, nobody knew me, you know? And everybody probably thought like, ‘Okay, this is going to be easy.’
“That’s why I think the first year when you’re just starting to be Top 100 and playing all these big tournaments, nobody’s putting attention on these younger players… The second year will be more tough because the players prepare on you, they get to know you, they play you more.”
No.6 seed Svitolina echoed that sentiment. Svitolina made history by becoming the first Ukrainian woman to break into the Top 10, and now sees 18-year-old Yastremska dogging her footsteps at No.37.
“I think for sure at some tournaments there’s dangerous players who are new, and you have to learn a little bit about their game style,” Svitolina said. “That’s why sometimes it’s normal when they first come up, they play good the first year, and then when you have to defend it’s much tougher. That’s why they’re much more dangerous in the first year when they are coming up.”
The rise of fellow Ukrainian youngsters like Yastremska and 16-year-old Marta Kostyuk, who peaked at World No.116, serves as an extra push of motivation for Svitolina.
“It’s great for Ukrainian tennis, because tennis in Ukraine has raised massively in the past three or four years,” she explained. “For me, it’s also a big motivation to motivate young girls to play in Ukraine.
“I think it’s great for the sport [in general], because you need new blood. You need those kinds of players - it’s good for everyone because they push us to work even more, to raise your level.”