This year’s Australian Open highlighted once more the stagnant pool of young teenage starlets whose careers have significantly flattened out since hitting the dizzy heights of the women’s game at a young age.
Unfortunately, it was the usual suspects as always. Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic; they all crashed out to supposedly lesser opposition once more early on.
Let’s start with Miss Ivanovic. She made headlines in 2007 with a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon before reaching the Aussie Open final in 2008 and then winning the French a few months later, beating Dinara Safina.
She hasn’t won a top-tier title since that year and only made one final in 2009, losing to Vera Zvonareva at Indian Wells in March. Her best Slam results during 2009 were the fourth rounds at both the French Open and Wimbledon.
This year Down Under it was Gisela Dulko who put paid to Ivanovic’s hopes in round two. While Dulko may be no slouch at times, she was unseeded and the result raised a few eyebrows, but perhaps maybe not to those who see Ana as a choker in the majors.
Another early setback has seen the Serbian drop two places to 23 in this week’s WTA rankings.
Jelena Jankovic sprang to prominence around the same time as Ivanovic. Another Serbian, she reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2007 before repeating that feat in 2008 as well as reaching the semis in Australia and the final in the US Open.
Big things were then expected of her, and she even held the world No. 1 spot for a short period, being the year-end No. 1 for 2008.
Unlike Ivanovic, Jankovic won a big tournament title last year beating Safina (she’s appearing a few times too) to lift the Cincinnati title before losing to Maria Sharapova in the final at Tokyo. She too failed to progress past the fourth round at any Slam during 2009.
The third round was this year’s stumbling block for Jelena, going down 2-6, 3-6 to the 31st seed Alona Bondarenko. She remains at No. 8 in this week’s rankings.
Russian Sharapova shot to prominence in 2004 when she won the Wimbledon title age 17, the third-youngest woman to do so. She picked up the US Open in 2006, reached the finals of the French and Australian Opens in 07 and then won Down Under in 2008.
Then she went completely off the boil. That Tokyo victory over Jankovic is only her third since lifting the Australian Open. Some erratic form, stress and some harrowing injuries have stalled the career of a girl who could have matched the likes of Hingis and Seles.
Another labeled as a choker, she was toppled by the unseeded Maria Kirilenko at this year’s tournament and now finds herself ranked No. 16 in the world having only reached the quarterfinals in Paris last year since her last Slam win.
Elena Dementieva is another Russian who has never quite lived up to her billing. Like Jankovic she has never won a Slam but has been widely expected to do so without quite making it.
She was a French and US Open finalist in 2004 before reaching the Wimbledon semis in 2008 and again in 2009. She reached the same stage in Australia last year too. She also picked up Olympic Gold in Beijing in 2008 with Safina again the unlucky loser.
She picked up three WTA titles last year whilst also overcoming this year’s Aussie Open Champion Serena Williams at the warm-up event in Sydney three weeks ago. But the Slam again proved to be her downfall, losing in the second round (although the returning Justine Henin is a formidable opponent).
Safina is continually improving, so it is a little early to add her to this list yet but there are a fair few women who continually flatter to deceive at the Slams each year.
So how refreshing it was to see the likes of Na Li and Jie Zheng of China reach the semifinals before finally succumbing to Serena and Justine respectively.
The sport has for many years been on the rise in Asia and now it looks like the world’s largest growing political powerhouse may be looking at branching out in to the highest echelons of tennis too.
With Justine becoming one of the favorites for the French in April it remains to be seen whether they can match their exploits Down Under. Or even if the lovely ladies looked at above bother to bring their A-Games to the next Slam.
Watch this space.