A determined late-season push has seen Jasmine Paolini become the 18th Top 100 debutante of 2019 after the 23-year-old put together a run to the Tokyo ITF W100 final last week, defeating Peng Shuai en route and capping a season in which she has also reached quarterfinals in Palermo and Guangzhou, the Karlsruhe 125K semifinals and made her Grand Slam main draw debut at Roland Garros.
Having ended 2018 as the World No.190, Paolini finds herself ranked nearly 100 places higher just over 12 months later after climbing to World No.96 this week - becoming the first Italian to break the Top 100 in over seven years. If the first half of this decade saw the country's 'Golden Generation' come to late-blooming fruition as Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta, Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani all played Grand Slam finals and hit the Top 10, the last few years have seen something of a drought following the retirements of Schiavone, Pennetta and Vinci and the downturn in Errani's career. Prior to this week, no Italian woman had cracked the Top 100 since Camila Giorgi powered her way into it in July 2012.
Tuscany's Paolini offers new hope, though, both in terms of quality and flair. The Castelnuovo di Garfagnana native, who has Italian, Ghanaian and Polish heritage, has impressed on her way up with the bold panache of the aggressive game she essays despite her 5'3" frame - something she first displayed on the WTA Tour stage in 2018, when she scored her first Top 20 win over Daria Kasatkina on the way to the Prague quarterfinals that year. But having reached World No.130 first in June 2017 and then again in May 2018, this year has seen Paolini find consistency to soar into the world's elite - becoming the new Italian No.1 in the process.
Here are the notable movers in the WTA Rankings for the week commencing 11 November, 2019.
Zhang Shuai (+7, 46 to 39): The Chinese player's reign over the Ando Securities Open in Tokyo shows no sign of letting up: Zhang has won every edition of the ITF W100 tournament since it became a calendar fixture in 2015 (with the exception of last year, when it was not held). This year, Zhang extended her perfect record at the event to 20-0 without dropping a set, defeating Hiroshima champion Nao Hibino, Tatjana Maria and Jasmine Paolini in the final three rounds.
Kirsten Flipkens (+24, 94 to 70): In June, the 33-year-old dipped out of the Top 100 for the first time since 2015 - but any doubts over her future have been firmly laid to rest with a late-season surge, capped with her biggest trophy since Québec City 2012 at the Houston 125K event last week. Quarterfinals in Seoul and Moscow were the highlights of a strong fourth quarter on the WTA Tour for Flipkens, before dropping down to ITF W60 level saw her come runner-up in Toronto to Francesca Di Lorenzo. The Belgian's title run in Houston was a battling one in which she found herself trailing 18-year-old Hailey Baptiste 2-5 in the deciding set of her opening match - but once Flipkens had navigated that, her old-school finesse saw her get past four more Americans, stopping another 18-year-old talent, Catherine McNally, in the quarterfinals, and halting the comebacks of Catherine Bellis, Irina Falconi and CoCo Vandeweghe in the third round, semifinals and final respectively.
Timea Babos (+14, 104, to 90): In 2019, the Hungarian has soared in doubles, capturing the Roland Garros and WTA Finals titles alongside Kristina Mladenovic. In singles, though, Babos has spent much of the year outside the Top 100 - far off the career high of World No.25 she set in September 2016. With her doubles commitments wrapped for the season, then, she has turned her attention to rectifying the latter. Returning last week to Taipei, a city where she has played some of her best tennis in winning the 2015 125K title and 2018 WTA Tour title, Babos battled through to this year's 125K final. Coming through tough three-setters against Aldila Sutjiadi in the first round and Naiktha Bains in the quarterfinals before falling to Vitalia Diatchenko, the result returns the 26-year-old to her highest ranking since September.
Vitalia Diatchenko (+17, 108 to 91): The oft-injured Russian's ranking has floated in and out of the Top 100 throughout 2019, the result of a schedule that has seen her focus on ITF and 125K events. Despite playing only four WTA-level main draws - and losing in the first round of each - Diatchenko has nonetheless collected seven titles, with the joint biggest of her career coming last week when she reclaimed the Taipei 125K trophy after first winning it in 2014. The title run extends the 29-year-old's overall record this season to 49-17, and returns her to the Top 100 for the first time since June.
Jasmine Paolini (+9, 105 to 96): In both 2017 and 2018, Paolini got as high as World No.130 before falling back out of the Top 200. This year, with the Top 100 in her sights after two WTA Tour quarterfinal showings in Palermo and Guangzhou, the Italian didn't let up. Consecutive ITF W100 events in Szekesfehervar, Shenzhen and Tokyo over the past three weeks have seen Paolini post a quarterfinal, a semifinal and a final respectively, boosting her ranking from an official 2019 year-end position of World No.117 to a Top 100 debut - one that also sees her wrest the crown of Italian No.1 from Camila Giorgi.
Viktoriya Tomova (+15, 160 to 145): The Bulgarian reached the biggest semifinal of her career last week at the Taipei 125K event, beating former World No.69 Dalila Jakupovic en route. Having started 2019 slowly with a 13-23 record in the first seven months of the season, 24-year-old Tomova has rebounded in style, going 19-9 since July - also including the Biarritz W80 title and her first WTA Premier victory as a qualifier in Osaka.
Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (+31, 221 to 190): The Dutchwoman is on a 10-match winning streak after taking back-to-back ITF W25 trophies in Hua Hin over the past fortnight, defeating former Wesleyan University college standout Eudice Chong and 18-year-old junior World No.11 Hurricane Black in the respective finals.
Kamilla Rakhimova (+12, 204 to 192): The 18-year-old former Top 20 junior ended 2018 as the World No.890 - but after winning her first 125K main draw match in Taipei last week over Risa Ozaki, capping a season in which she has won five ITF titles and compiled a 53-19 win-loss record, the Russian has cracked the Top 200 for the first time.
CoCo Vandeweghe (+93, 328 to 235): A mysterious foot injury, later diagnosed as complex regional pain syndrome, left the American immobilized and sidelined for 10 months - but her comeback is hitting its stride now. The former World No.9 lost four of her first five matches on returning to action in San Jose in July, but a run to the Templeton ITF W60 final in September was followed last week by ploughing through a field including former Top 100 players Sachia Vickery, Mandy Minella and Stefanie Voegele to reach the Houston 125K final, losing only to Kirsten Flipkens.
Irina Falconi (+258, 698 to 440): In September, the former World No.64 ended a 12-month hiatus she ascribes to feeling "so burned out" to return to tennis - and four tournaments later is already back in the Top 500, having posted an eye-catching semifinal showing at the Houston 125K last week, upsetting No.2 seed Taylor Townsend in the quarterfinals for her first Top 100 victory since September 2017.
Catherine Bellis (UNR to 852): Another American on the comeback trail is former teenage prodigy Catherine 'CiCi' Bellis, who scored her first Top 20 win as a 15-year-old over Dominika Cibulkova at the 2014 US Open and hit a career high of World No.35 as an 18-year-old in August 2017. But injuries struck the following year, leading to a 20-month hiatus as Bellis underwent four separate wrist surgeries. Last week, the 20-year-old was finally able to return to action for the first time since Miami 2018, and reached the third round of the Houston 125K as a qualifier.