In 2020 we’ve already witnessed huge breakthroughs, major milestones and feel-good moments across all levels during the first part of the season. But not all ranking surges are created equal — which ones stood out the most?
Take a look at five players who have made significant ranking breakthroughs in 2020, from a long-awaited surge into the Top 10 to a historic career-high:
Elena Rybakina (Year-End Ranking: 37 || Current Ranking: 17)
After announcing herself to the tennis world in a big way in 2019, Elena Rybakina was tipped to do big things in the new season. The Russian-born Kazakh lifted her first WTA trophy in Bucharest, and shaved off 150 points after reaching quarterfinals or better at seven events to sit inside the Top 100 for the first time and finished the season at No.37 in the world.
But Rybakina kept rising. With her trademark calm on-court demeanor contrasting with her bubbly personality away from the courts, the Kazakh soared to new heights in 2020 after reaching four finals in two months: she reached the championship round at Shenzhen, St. Petersburg and Dubai, and claimed the title in Hobart, owns a tour-leading 21 wins and soared to World No.17, a career-high ranking.
“I'm very calm," she told press in Doha, speaking of her famously unflappable demeanor. "I can be excited also, but it's always inside. Of course I'm keeping it in so much and one day it can explode. But it's not too often…
“I just try to work every match. I'm not even thinking I have to win it. Just work every point and that's it.
"I don't think about the ranking, or against who I have to play. I just play."
Sofia Kenin (Year-End Ranking: 14 || Current Ranking: 4)
When wtatennis.com caught up with Sofia Kenin at the end of her breakthrough 2019 season, she was the player with the most hardcourt victories, was ranked in the Top 20 and had lifted three trophies by the end of the year. It was clear that she was on the rise with no ceiling in sight - but no one imagined just how high she’d climb in January.
Kenin posted a low-key start to the season and stayed under the radar in Melbourne, sneaking through the draw without having dropped a set through the semifinals. That’s where Kenin finally exploded to the forefront, facing Aussie star Ashleigh Barty in front of a rocking crowd for a place in the final. The American took down the home favorite in straight sets, and backed it up with a comeback against Garbine Muguruza to claim her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open - breaking into the WTA’s Top 10 in the process.
Alarm bells rang during the Middle East Swing after Kenin went winless in Dubai and Doha, but rather than take time off she went right back to the drawing board and flew straight to France for the inaugural Open 6ème Sens - Métropole de Lyon.
"I had two tough losses [in Dubai and Doha] but I knew I needed to regroup, and I'm so happy that I won it," Kenin said after claiming the title. "Every match was a close one and I had to really fight through — every player I played put up a tough fight against me, and I was able to play my game, which was good.
“I'm happy that I came here - it was a good decision from my side."
Ons Jabeur (Year-End Ranking: 77 || Current Ranking: 39)
Another player tipped for success after a scorching 2019, Ons Jabeur caught fire at just the right time to go from under the radar to regional hero almost overnight.
After being honored at the Arab Women of the Year Awards during the offseason, Jabeur started the 2020 season under the expectant gaze of a region eager for a champion. The Tunisian certainly did not disappoint, putting together a stunning run in Melbourne to become the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Along the way, she knocked out No.12 seed Johanna Konta, came back from a set down against Caroline Garcia, sent Caroline Wozniacki into retirement and took down US Open quarterfinalist Wang Qiang, the No.27 seed, before falling to eventual champion Sofia Kenin in the last eight.
But even more important than those head-turning wins was Jabeur’s new, fighting mentality and self-belief. A perfect example of her new mindset emerged after the Tunisian’s battling defeat to Simona Halep in Dubai, where she was bitterly disappointed in herself despite taking the former World No.1 to three sets — and winning the hearts of tennis fans around the world for her grit.
“If it was last year, probably I would be happy because I made three sets against Simona Halep,” she told press in Dubai. “Now I'm more angry because I didn't win the match. I know I could have. I know I had the level to.”
Jabeur took those lessons to the Qatar Total Open, where she went from winning her first match in seven appearances to reaching her first WTA quarterfinal in the Middle East. She’s now the highest-ranked Arab woman in history, currently sitting at a career-high No.39.
“I'm really glad that I'm setting the example here,” Jabeur said. “I'm just sending the message that nothing is impossible and they can achieve anything, either in sports or any other level.”
“...Hopefully I'm looking forward to see many other women rising in tennis, I mean especially in Tunisia or in Arabic world and Africa,” she added. “It would mean a lot to me and I'm happy to share my experience one day and then help this young generation.”
Leonie Kung (Year-End Ranking: 330 || Current Ranking: 155)
Swiss teen Leonie Kung spent her 2019 season shaving more than 200 points off of her WTA ranking, finishing the year ranked No.330 in the world and with an ITF title at W15 Antalya.
The 19-year-old’s next final? A head-turning run from qualifying to the championship match at the GSB Thailand Open presented by E@ in Hua Hin.
Competing in just the second WTA main draw of her career, and having never won a match at that level, Kung took down No.7 seed Lin Zhu, No.3 seed Wang Qiang - a US Open quarterfinalist - and No.8 seed Nao Hibino on route to the Hua Hin final, where she fell to a dialed-in No.5 seed Magda Linette.
“This is like a dream come true,” Kung said. “I would have never thought that I would come here, make it through qualies, and then make it to finals of my first WTA [tournament] — it’s just an unbelievable run and I’m so, so happy.”
As a result, Kung has soared to a new career-high ranking of World No.155, which will surely open doors for the former Junior Wimbledon finalist as she navigates the transition to the professional circuit.
Leylah Fernandez (Year-End Ranking: 209 || Current Ranking: 118)
17-year-old Leylah Fernandez is the latest in a wave of exciting Canadian youngsters ready to take tennis by storm. While last year’s Newcomer of the Year Bianca Andresscu was beating everyone in her path and lifting the US Open trophy, Fernandez spent her own 2019 chipping away over 200 spots off of her ranking and lifting the French Open junior trophy.
Early this season, Fernandez was already showing signs that she was ready for the big stages. She qualified for her first Grand Slam main draw at the Australian Open - one year after reaching the Junior final there - to finally crack the Top 200, and backed it up with a confidence-boosting win over Belinda Bencic for her first Top 10 win.
Last night was magical! 💫 I’m grateful for all of your support this week. Focused and ready for finals tonight! SEMIFINALS ✅— leylahfernandez (@leylahfernandez) February 29, 2020
¡Anoche fue mágico! 💫 Estoy agradecida por todo su apoyo esta semana. ¡Centrada y lista para la final esta noche! SEMIFINALES #amt2020 @AbiertoTelcel pic.twitter.com/5yLP1Fvkdo
She took all of that momentum into Acapulco, where she made a thrilling run to the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC final. A wildcard into qualifying, Fernandez fought her way into her fifth career WTA main draw, and went on to stun No.8 seed Nao Hibino in the second round. She halted home favorite Renata Zarazua’s Cinderella run in the semifinals, before falling to a resurgent Heather Watson in the final. She went on to make the quarterfinals in Monterrey, and currently sits at a career-high World No.118.
"I believe in myself and I believe what I’m doing up to now is going to help me in the future," Fernandez told wtatennis.com during the off-season.
"With the ranking going up, that’s just a bonus… It gives me a lot of confidence that I’m on the right track and I can keep going even further.”