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Friday, 13 January 2017 11:01 AM GMT
Five rising stars to watch in Melbourne looks at five of the young WTA stars that could make an impact at the Australian Open... READ MORE

Serena Williams’ pursuit of an Open Era record 23rd Grand Slam title will likely dominate the pre-Australian Open headlines, but let’s shine the spotlight on some of the exciting WTA youngsters looking to make good on their promise at the opening Slam of the year… 

Daria Kasatkina

Kasatkina has adapted to life as a professional with extraordinary ease, finishing 2016 - just her second full season on the WTA Tour - inside the top 30. Still only 19, her career highlights include wins over Dominika Cibulkova, Venus Williams, Karolina Pliskova and - as of this week in Brisbane - world No.1 Angelique Kerber. It isn’t just her results that impress, however, with her stylish all-court game full of personality.

The Russian, a junior champion at Roland Garros, plays with heavy spin and height over the net, but also possesses wonderful feel, manipulating the ball from all areas of the court. With four third round appearances in just five Grand Slam outings, a fifth in Melbourne would likely see her face Kerber for the second time in a fortnight.

Ana Konjuh 

Leading 5-1 in the third set against Madison Keys at last year’s US Open, Osaka was on the cusp of a statement win and a spot in the last 16 at a major for the first time. It was a bruising tussle of first-strike tennis but with the finish line in sight Osaka - in her own words - “freaked out” and Keys chipped away at the lead before clinching a memorable win in a decisive tie-break. Osaka showed her mental strength, shaking off that disappointment a few weeks later to reach the final in Tokyo - her best result to-date - and she looks set for a breakout year in 2017.

Osaka plays fine-margin tennis, whacking the ball off both sides, and tends to save her best performances for the biggest stages, reaching the third round at all three of her major appearances so far. Consistency, in both her play and results, is the next step, but on her day she can trouble the world’s best.

Belinda Bencic

Bencic, arguably the most exciting prospect of the 1997-born stars, has already proved she is made for the big time, crashing into the top 10 at just 18 and peaking at No.7 in February 2016. But after reaching the final in St. Petersburg that same month she went 8-17 throughout the rest of the season with injuries disrupting her rapid rise. For Bencic, this year is about staying healthy and if her body cooperates she will improve considerably on her current ranking of No.48. She opened her year at Hopman Cup, working closely with Swiss teammate Roger Federer.

It was an inspiring week for Bencic, who soaked up the compliments and advice thrown in her direction by the 17-time Grand Slam champion. It's a 22-Grand Slam champion that lies in wait for Bencic in Melbourne, though, as she was handed a first round matchup with Serena Williams.

Make no mistake about it, though - this is a draw that even Williams would have hoped to avoid.

Katerina Siniakova

Sinakova picked up in 2017 where she left off in 2016, winning matches. After reaching a Grand Slam-best third round at Wimbledon, she advanced to the final in Bastad as a qualifier and again in Tokyo before finishing the season just inside the top 50. In Shenzhen last week the 20-year-old laid down a marker for what’s to come, posting two top 10 wins over Simona Halep and Johanna Konta en route to a maiden WTA title.

It seems the conveyor belt of Czech talent has unearthed another gem and much like her compatriots Siniakova plays bold, aggressive tennis. If she continues to connect with the ball like she did in China, then she’ll be one to keep a very close eye on in Melbourne.

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