Three former WTA Future Stars enjoyed a dream start to the season, competing at several WTA events and the Australian Open during the opening two months of 2021.
Australians Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz and Olivia Gadecki, along with India’s Pranjala Yadlapalli, made their mark Down Under with some outstanding performances across the numerous tournaments held in Melbourne in January and February.
The WTA Future Stars program is a junior development platform that aims to inspire the next generation of young girls around the world to achieve their goals through tennis competition, camps, mentorship and education. Since its inception in 2014, young girls from 26 countries and regions have participated in the WTA Future Stars program. Each year, under-14 and under-16 girls from across the globe are given the opportunity to gain invaluable insight into professional tennis at the highest level by qualifying to compete at the WTA Future Stars event held in conjunction with the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen.
Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz, a semifinalist in the Under-14s event in 2018 in Singapore, not only contested qualifying at the Australian Open and the Phillip Island Trophy, but also played doubles with none other than two-time Major winner and former World No.1 Simona Halep at the year’s first Grand Slam.
“Playing with Simona at the Australian Open was a huge highlight for me - at the start I was a bit nervous but I got to hit with her, which was great and that really helped,” the 16-year-old told WTAtennis.com. “Simona is so professional in how she goes about her tennis, and she’s such a nice person to talk and learn from.
“The WTA Future Stars event gave me the opportunity to see how the WTA players go about their daily tournament life and handle the pressure – it’s definitely made me become more professional and gave me a great insight into the Tour environment.”
India’s Pranjala Yadlapalli, who made her WTA Tour main draw debut by playing doubles at the Philip Island Trophy, also cited her Future Stars experience as being a key tool in progressing to the WTA Tour.
“Playing in Singapore was a great experience and I often recall those memories to help me today – the matches, interacting with the top players, learning about the facilities. It was incredibly motivating,” she said.
Pranjala, who won the Under-16s category in 2015, received her trophy from Grand Slam champion Li Na. She partnered with Gabriella Da Silva Fick at the Phillip Island Trophy this year, with the pair narrowly being defeated by the experienced team of Petra Matic and Anastasija Sevastova, losing 3-6 6-2 6-10
“Playing the WTA 250 event in Melbourne recently and being around the best players in the world was amazing," she said. It made me want to continue playing at this level. We learnt a lot from playing Petra and Anastasija and it was a great match, and it’s encouraged me to work harder. I’m enjoying every moment right now and I feel incredibly luck to be able to play tennis.”
Arguably one of the biggest shocks of the tournament – and one of the biggest shocks on the tour in recent memory – came courtesy of Olivia Gadecki, who took part in the 2020 Future Stars Camp in Brisbane. The Gold Coast native and Phillip Island Trophy wildcard became the first unranked teenager to defeat a Top 10 player in 24 years with a three-set upset of top seed Sofia Kenin.
"As soon as that match was finished, I was so happy that I even started crying. I've never felt this way before,” said the 18-year-old after the match. "I'm going to have to rewatch it and see how I played. ... At 3-2, I was like, you know what, I have nothing to lose here, I'm just going to go out there and have a good swing."
The signs of Gadecki’s promise had come a few weeks earlier – on her WTA main draw debut at the Gippsland Trophy and playing a Top 100 opponent for the first time, Gadecki stretched Bernarda Pera all the way in a 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-3 loss.
The WTA Future Stars program continues to Inspire, empower, and enable the next generation of female athletes and leaders, through its ission of enhancing the retention of girls in the sport while encouraging them to follow their dreams.