Zheng Qinwen, Anastasia Gasanova and Kamilla Rakhimova have all made an impact in the first week of the 2022 WTA Tour, and the three up-and-comers will now bid to take their form into the Australian Open qualifying draw.
No.13 seed Zheng faces former World No.9 and 2017 Australian Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe in the opener. Zheng came through qualifying at Melbourne Summer Set 1 and upset Vera Zvonareva and Ana Konjuh to make her WTA semifinal debut.
Read more: Five things to know about Zheng Qinwen
That was the Chinese 19-year-old's fourth WTA main draw, and this week will find her contesting a Grand Slam qualifying draw for the first time. Since the tour resumed in August 2020, Zheng has compiled a 72-16 record and rocketed from No.630 to her current No.126.
Vandeweghe will be a challenging opponent not just for her historic resumé but her current form. The American was a semifinalist last week at the Bendigo ITF W60. The winner could meet either No.28 seed Mai Hontama or 2019 Australian Open junior champion Liang En-Shuo in the final qualifying round.
Russians rising under the radar
Gasanova, 22, and Rakhimova, 20, are both former Top 50 juniors who have spent the past 12 months beginning to make an impact at WTA level. Their results in 2022 so far suggest that they could be on the verge of a full Top 100 breakthrough.
For the second year in a row, Gasanova opened her season with a Top 20 upset. At Abu Dhabi 2021, she stunned Karolina Pliskova in the second round; in the first round of Adelaide this week, she came from a set down to oust Elina Svitolina. The No.16 seed opens against former World No.43 Viktoria Kuzmova, with No.29 seed Francesca Jones also in the same section.
Rakhimova claimed the second Top 50 win of her career over Sara Sorribes Tormo to reach her first WTA quarterfinal at Melbourne Summer Set 2. The No.8 seed opens against Romania's Gabriela Lee (née Talaba), a stylish left-hander with a one-handed backhand.
Jimenez Kasintseva returns to site of junior triumph
When Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva won the 2020 Australian Open girls' title, she made history for her home country of Andorra, becoming the first player from the Pyrenean microstate to win a Grand Slam trophy. Jimenez Kasintseva has continued to trailblaze in a rapid transition to pro success.
Unranked this time last year and still down at No.665 in August, the 16-year-old has rocketed up to No.255 and is now the youngest player in the Top 300. Jimenez Kasintseva won 17 of her past 23 matches of 2021, including a semifinal run at the Montevideo WTA 125. She picked up where she left off this week to reach the Bendigo ITF W60 final, defeating Vandeweghe en route.
Jimenez Kasintseva has earned direct entry to a Grand Slam qualifying draw for the first time. She made her debut via wildcard at last year's Australian Open. She opens against another rising teenager, 19-year-old Russian Anastasia Zakharova, with the winner potentially facing Rakhimova in the second round.
Zhu, Bonaventure, Yuan seek to maintain title momentum
When Zhu Lin returned to action in December, the Chinese player's five-month hiatus had clearly rejuvenated her. Having won only nine matches in the first half of 2021, Zhu won the biggest title of her career to date at the Seoul WTA 125 and extended her winning streak to seven this week by making the second round as a qualifier at Melbourne Summer Set 2.
The No.3 seed starts against France's Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, with former World No.54 Anna Blinkova or rising 21-year-old Belarusian Yuliya Hatouka potentially awaiting in the final round.
This week's ITF W60 events in Bendigo and Traralgon were won by Belgium's Ysaline Bonaventure and China's Yuan Yue, respectively. Bonaventure, who has reached WTA quarterfinals at Budapest 2018, Rabat 2019 and Hamburg 2021, faces an intriguing first-round clash against No.10 seed and former World No.20 Mihaela Buzarnescu.
Awaiting Bonaventure or Buzarnescu in the second round could be the big-hitting 2018 NCAA champion Arianne Hartono, who rose from No.400 to No.202 in 2021. Fast-climbing German 22-year-old Jule Niemeier, the No.17 seed, or Traralgon runner-up Paula Ormaechea are potential third-round opponents.
Like compatriot Zhu, Yuan turned her 2021 season around by hitting a rich vein of form in the closing months, including a semifinal run at the Angers WTA 125 in December. The 23-year-old blitzed the Traralgon field without dropping a set and has now won 15 of her last 16 matches. She opens against Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove, with No.21 seed Caty McNally projected in the second round and No.4 seed Nina Stojanovic in the third.
Elsewhere, Russian No.1 seed Anna Kalinskaya opens against Andrea Lazaro Garcia of Spain, with 20-year-old American Katie Volynets potentially awaiting in the second round. Former World No.5 and 2012 Australian Open quarterfinalist Sara Errani is the No.9 seed and starts against South Korea's Jang Su-Jeong. An intriguing third-round clash with No.31 seed and 2019 Wimbledon junior champion Daria Snigur is projected. Meanwhile, No.2 seed and 2020 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Martina Trevisan takes on Romania's Irina Fetecau in her first match.
Among the former Top 50 players seeking to regain former heights are No.6 seed Lesia Tsurenko, who starts against India's Ankita Raina, and No.14 seed Aleksandra Krunic, whose opening opponent is Slovakia's Rebecca Sramkova.
Click here to view the full 2022 Australian Open qualifying draw.