The WTA’s 2018 Scouting Report highlighted 10 players across various backgrounds that are poised to make a big mark in the upcoming season, from 17-year-old Dayana Yastremska to 35-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
Here are five things we learned from our players to watch in 2018:
1. The Young Guns: Dayana Yastremska, Anna Blinkova
For teenage phenoms Dayana Yastremska and Anna Blinkova, the challenge is two-fold: how to hold their own on the tennis court and how to manage the transition into the pro tour.
“For me, the process of playing WTA tournaments was very interesting,” said Yastremska, a 17-year-old Ukrainian who finished the year inside the Top 200. “Every step I made I was happy with it, and I got a great pleasure from it. But the transition is not yet complete, and I realize that I need to make even more efforts to move up.
“Talent will not help if you do not work the most. Everyone is good, but you need to have something inside you, a drive that will make you push to be the best.”
Read more: Blinkova set for eye-catching 2018
Blinkova, who dazzled on the Junior circuit and backed it up by making it past the preliminary rounds at all four Grand Slams, echoed this sentiment: "At some points [my season] was going good, but sometimes it was very bad. I had some problems - only one injury, but by problems I mean losing many matches, losing my confidence.
"[The Top 100 players] have more experience. They have more tennis knowledge - that's why it's difficult to play with them because they are more clever, they play smart."
2. The Comebacks: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Vicky Duval
Comeback kids Anna Karolina Schmiedlova and Vicky Duval revealed that the key to bouncing back is to start from scratch.
For Schmiedlova, whose ranking plummeted from World No.26 to outside the Top 200 in a confidence-crushing year, took it all the way back to grade school.
"I lost some matches and then I lost my confidence. It's probably everything to do with my confidence,” she explained. "I had a terrible year last year. I won only three or four matches all year. It was really bad and I dropped all of my points... I went back to my coach from my grade school years and I started to play really good this summer.”
Meanwhile, Duval, who quietly raised her ranking more than 600 spots after beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma and later recovering from knee surgery, considers this comeback the start of a brand new career.
Read more: Why Vicky Duval’s comeback is one to watch
“It’s kind of surreal to think that I’m coming back; I feel like I’m just now starting my career,” she said. “I’ve had good moments in my youth but I feel like now my body is where it needs to be, my mind is where it needs to be - so I’m just looking forward to starting my career. This just feels like a start for me.”
3. The Veterans: Zhang Shuai, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
Zhang Shuai and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a pair of veterans on the WTA tour, revealed that all it takes is one breakthrough moment to galvanize a decades-long career.
Read more: Zhang Shuai still zooming
“Everyone knows I fell down 14 times in a row of first round in any Grand Slam, and the fifteenth against World No.2 [Simona Halep] looked impossible again,” Zhang recalled the Australian Open stunner which reignited her game.
“Finally, I changed my history. It was extremely motivating for myself.”
Lucic-Baroni, who also made a huge breakthrough in Melbourne last year, relives those moments for an added confidence boost.
“It’s in your bones,” she said. “I’m never going to forget those matches. It’s very ingrained, deep inside. All I have to do is remember and I have that really amazing feeling. That gives me a lot of motivation for this year.
“Sometimes when I have a hard time in the gym, when I can’t move anymore and I’m dead, my fitness coach Blaine Bott has a really good way of motivating me, reminding me of the matches. Sometimes he’ll even put a couple minutes of my matches just to get me motivated.”
4. The Most Improved: Ashleigh Barty, Aleksandra Krunic
With the spotlight now firmly shining on Ashleigh Barty and Aleksandra Krunic, finding a way to stay grounded will be the key to backing it up next season.
Former US Open champion Sam Stosur highlights Barty’s cool head as the key to her success, which saw her jump more than 200 rankings points to become the top-ranked Aussie player.
Read more: Barty’s party shows no sign of ending
"[Barty] is pretty level headed, pretty low key,” Stosur told Australian press. “She doesn't get too over-excited about anything on the court and off as well. If she can handle it throughout the [Australian] summer and year, there's no reason she can't at least stay where she is and hopefully keep going.”
Read more: Aleksandra Krunic’s case for most improved
Krunic, whose 2017 season was studded with statement victories, finds the motivation from within.
"I'm very intuitive and [when] I'd wake up and I feel like a wreck and I don't want to practice or do anything, so I just wouldn't do it,” she recalled. “Now I understand that okay, I feel terrible, but I can still go on court, I can still make a difference to my day, I can hit 30 minutes, it's fine, but give everything you have. Now, I can face myself for not being perfect."
5. On the Rise: Carol Zhao, Mihaela Buzarnescu
Now that they’ve had their first taste of success, Carol Zhao and Michaela Buzarnescu hope their newfound self-belief will propel them to new heights in 2018.
“I think right now, I just start to believe that you can do it,” Buzarnescu said. She reached the main draw of a Slam for the first time at 29, before reaching her first WTA quarterfinal two months later.
Read more: The rapid rise of Dr. Buzarnescu
“Before, I wasn’t thinking about this because of my injuries, and I never had this ranking or these high results. But now I really think and I really hope that I can be an example for other players, who maybe were in my position and would want to quit... I think if you really want to, and you really believe in it, you just have to go and play, and the results are coming, doesn’t matter the age.”
"There were a lot of matches that nobody sees, grinding in qualies where there are no spectators," Zhao said. "I feel like you need a lot of intrinsic motivation to get through those matches.
"But I've always had this passion and this dream - it really stems from way back and it's not something I ever considered giving up on. For me, I look at it like I'm doing my own startup - there are risks involved but hopefully potential for a lot of rewards."