MELBOURNE, Australia - Seven players will break new ground next week at the Australian Open by contesting the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time. Get to know more about them here at wtatennis.com.
Elisabetta Cocciaretto (ITA)
As recently as last May, Elisabetta Cocciaretto was ranked a lowly World No.779. But after winning a main draw wildcard to Rome via the pre-qualifying event to make her WTA debut, the Italian has rocketed up the rankings to her current World No.172. Since July, the 18-year-old Cocciaretto has compiled a 37-9 win-loss record, including five ITF finals and a 10-match winning streak in South America to round off the 2019 season with consecutive ITF W60 titles in Asuncion, Paraguay and Colina, Chile.
The former junior World No.12 has returned to the site of some fond memories to come through Grand Slam qualifying on her first attempt. Cocciaretto's best junior major performance came here in 2018, when she upset Coco Gauff in the first round before reaching the semifinals, falling to eventual champion Liang En-Shuo. This week, she would need two hours and 37 minutes to come through a gruelling opening round over Bibiane Schoofs 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-3 - but following that, Cocciaretto hit top form, dropping just seven more games over her next two matches as she dismissed No.14 seed Francesca Di Lorenzo and No.23 seed Tereza Martincova. One of two Italian debutantes in Melbourne, Cocciaretto will now get to test herself against three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in the main draw.
Incase you’re wondering what I do during rain delays... 🤔🙃 pic.twitter.com/ua3YgHM3TL— leylahfernandez (@leylahfernandez) January 15, 2020
Leylah Fernandez (CAN)
The Canadian tennis boom currently being led by US Open champion Bianca Andreescu shows no sign of letting up. Swiftly following Andreescu up the rankings is the 17-year-old reigning Roland Garros junior champion Leylah Fernandez, who did not drop a set in her Grand Slam qualifying debut this week as she defeated three more experienced opponents in Bucharest finalist Patricia Maria Tig, Mayo Hibi and Danielle Lao.
Born in Montréal to an Ecuadorean father and Filipina mother, Fernandez - who handled her champion's press conference in Paris last year in three languages, English, Spanish and French - is a walking advertisement for the global diversity of the WTA Tour in 2020. And she's demonstrating her fluency on court, too: Fernandez was the only player to reach two junior Grand Slam finals in 2019, losing the Australian Open to Clara Tauson but beating Emma Navarro to win Roland Garros. In the pros, having already posted her maiden WTA main draw win over compatriot Gabriela Dabrowski as a wildcard in Québec City 2018, she would rise from World No.487 to World No.209 thanks to strong ITF performances, including a first title in Gatineau followed by a run to the Granby ITF W80 final and the the Vancouver ITF W100 semifinals over July and August. Next week, her first Grand Slam main draw test will come against Lauren Davis.
Han Na-Lae (KOR)
Wildcard Han Na-Lae earned her place in this year's Australian Open main draw via December's Asia-Pacific Wildcard Play-Off, which the 27-year-old took on dominant fashion as the No.1 seed - dropping a total of 15 games in four matches, including a semifinal defeat of former World No.82 Chang Kai-Chen. The victory means that Han will be the first South Korean woman to compete in the main draw of a major in 12 years, since former World No.45 and three-time WTA finalist Cho Yoon-Jeong played the last Grand Slam of her career at the 2007 US Open.
It is an appropriate reward for a career-best season for Han, who scored a career-best Top 50 win over Kristyna Pliskova in front of her home crowd at Seoul 2017 but whose tally of three ITF W25 titles in 2019 - in Osaka, Incheon and Daegu - was her biggest annual haul of trophies to date. Having garnered just two wins in nine previous Grand Slam qualifying attempts, Han will bid to get her main draw career off to a victorious start against Tamara Zidansek - with the prize of a potential second-round date with Serena Williams for the winner.
Ann Li (USA)
Fresh off qualifying for her first WTA main draw in Auckland last week, 19-year-old Ann Li repeated the feat in style to come through Australian Open qualifying: having defeated Mayar Sherif and former World No.12 Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets, the American would pull off the finest comeback of the last round in saving two match points to overcome No.1 seed Ana Bogdan 5-7, 7-6(9), 6-2 - scoring her second Top 100 scalp in the process.
The King of Prussia native had been a relatively unheralded junior prior to bursting on to the international stage with her run to the 2017 Wimbledon junior final, where she lost to compatriot Claire Liu in the first all-American girls' final since 1979 (and first ever between Chinese-Americans). Li would use that result as a springboard for a steady rise up the professional ranks ever since: unranked at the time of the Wimbledon breakthrough, she would win her first professional title in Evansville, Indiana two weeks later and finish 2017 at World No.583, climbing to World No.310 at the end of 2018 and finishing last year at World No.148 after reaching four ITF finals, including a first ITF W25 trophy in Osprey, Florida.
Greet Minnen (BEL)
This time last year, Greet Minnen was turning heads in Hobart. The Belgian had never played a WTA main draw before - although she had won the 2018 Luxembourg doubles title with girlfriend Alison Van Uytvanck - but as a qualifier ranked World No.348, she shocked Tour stalwarts Kateryna Kozlova and Magda Linette to reach the quarterfinals on her debut. It would be the start of a breakthrough season for Minnen, who hit a career high last week of World No.109 after compiling a 45-25 win-loss record in 2019 (6-6 at WTA main draw level), including a second quarterfinal in 's-Hertogenbosch and nine Top 100 victories.
Translating that into Grand Slam success would be the missing piece of the puzzle. Minnen would reach the final qualifying round of her first two major appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, but suffered losses in both to Sofya Zhuk and Coco Gauff respectively. However, the 22-year-old would prove herself to be a trailblazer both on and off the court: in July, she teamed up with Van Uytvanck again to become the first openly gay couple to compete together in Wimbledon doubles, where they reached the second round, and the pair also featured in the US Open's Pride Day panel alongside Billie Jean King.
Minnen, a former Top 30 junior who reached the Top 300 as a 19-year-old in 2016 before injuries sidelined her for most of the following year, found the second half of her 2019 season again marred by health as her results tapered off. But after two-and-a-half months off to recover, Minnen has come back with her clean hitting in good form again: since her return in December, she has gone 12-3, including a semifinal showing in the Limoges 125K and a run through qualifying this week past Kaylah McPhee, Xun Fang-Ying and Barbara Haas. The Australian Open is a tournament with positive memories for Minnen: in 2015, she was the girls' doubles runner-up alongside Katharina Hobgarski here, losing to Miriam Kolodziejova and Marketa Vondrousova in the final. Five years on, she'll get to test herself against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the main draw.
Nina Stojanovic (SRB)
Nina Stojanovic could be forgiven for thinking that her Grand Slam debut has come later than it should have. At last year's US Open, the Serb led Taylor Townsend by a set and 5-1 in the second-set tiebreak in the final round of qualifying, two points from a place in her first main draw. Stojanovic served what she thought was an ace and turned away to ready herself for what would have been a run of five match points - only for her serve to be called out, triggering instead a collapse as Townsend roared back to steal victory. The American, of course, would make the most of her lifeline, causing one of the biggest upsets of the tournament in the main draw in stunning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep.
Rather than dwelling on what might have been, though, Stojanovic responded by going on a tear of her own. 2019 had already been a fine year for her, with quarterfinal finishes in Nurnberg and Jurmala under her belt (as well as her first WTA doubles title in Jurmala alongside Sharon Fichman), but following the New York near-miss the 23-year-old took her tennis to a new level. Over the course of the autumn, she would win ITF titles in Changsha and Poitiers, reach her first WTA semifinal in Nanchang and post another quarterfinal in Guangzhou, all the while impressing with her finesse and willingness to come forwards. From Stojanovic's Nurnberg run until the end of the year, her win-loss record would be 39-13, including wins over names such as Alison Riske and Aliaksandra Sasnovich to take her total of Top 100 victories to eight.
Helpfully, too, this success saw Stojanovic gatecrash the Top 100 at speed, breaking the barrier last September. Currently sitting at a career high of World No.84, the Belgrade native has been able to bypass the qualifying rounds, and has been drawn against No.30 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round.
Martina Trevisan (ITA)
Last year saw breakthroughs from two late-blooming Italians after Giulia Gatto-Monticone made her Grand Slam main draw debut at Roland Garros at the age of 31 and 28-year-old Martina Di Giuseppe reached the semifinals of Bucharest on her WTA debut. Florence native Martina Trevisan could follow in their footsteps in 2020 after the 26-year-old delivered a dominant showing in Melbourne qualifying this week, dispatching Jaqueline Cristian, Ysaline Bonaventure and Eugenie Bouchard for the loss of just 13 games in total.
Trevisan's relief and joy after defeating Bouchard were borne of having come tantalizingly close on multiple occasions before: the left-hander had fallen in the final qualifying round of three previous majors, including a loss from 6-3, 5-3 up to Zhu Lin at last year's Australian Open. But this week's result was also in keeping with a slow upwards trend in Trevisan's results. Having first cracked the Top 200 in 2017, the year she reached her career high of World No.144 and made her WTA main draw debut as a qualifier in Gstaad, Trevisan has managed to mostly consolidate a consistent position in that echelon ever since - and 2019 saw her post her first WTA main draw win in Charleston over Nadiia Kichenok before collecting a fifth ITF W25 trophy, and first in two years, in Santa Margherita di Pula in September.
In the main draw next week, Trevisan will bid for her second career Top 100 win against No.14 seed Sofia Kenin.