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Changing of the guard: Young players dominate the Majors in 2017

Sep 11, 2017
written by: Kristina Borojevic
written by: Kristina Borojevic
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The 2017 season began with 35-year-old Serena Williams winning her 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. She faced sister Venus Williams, 36-years-old, in the final.

On the men’s side it was another blast from the past as 35-year-old Roger Federer defeated 30-year-old Rafael Nadal for his 18th Major title and first since 2012.

While Federer and Nadal would end the 2017 Grand Slam season with two Majors each, there was a major shift on the women’s side. Not only did the younger generation break out on the WTA Tour this year – 22-year-old Rogers Cup champion Elina Svitolina leads the WTA in titles won (5) – but three of the four Grand Slam champions this year were under the age of 24.

Jelena Ostapenko celebrated her 20th birthday and maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in June. Down a set and a break in her first Major final against Simona Halep, who was also seeking her first Major title and the world no. 1 ranking, Ostapenko came back in a match that shook the tennis world. Ostapenko became the first woman in history to win their first career title at a Grand Slam. She also became the youngest Major champion since Maria Sharapova (17-years-old) at Wimbledon in 2004.

Speaking of Wimbledon, 23-year-old Garbiñe Muguruza won her second Major title at the All England Club. The remarkable thing about Muguruza’s Wimbledon triumph was her ability to bounce back from a disappointing Roland Garros campaign, where she was the defending champion and was ousted in the fourth round by Kristina Mladenovic. Muguruza fell out of the Top 15, suffered a crushing defeat to Barbora Strycova in Eastbourne (6-1, 6-0) and managed to find her winning form to win Wimbledon. She defeated Venus Williams in the final 7-5, 6-0.

Since Wimbledon, Muguruza has made the semifinals in Stanford, quarterfinals at Rogers Cup, won the title in Cincinnati and became the world no. 1 after the US Open.

Finally, to end the 2017 Grand Slam season, tennis fans were treated to the ultimate comeback story.

Before Rogers Cup at the beginning of August Sloane Stephens was ranked 957 in the world and was returning to the tour after 11 months off with a foot injury. She suffered first round defeats at Wimbledon, her first tournament back, and in Washington. She did, however, reach the doubles final with Eugenie Bouchard.

There was no looking back for 24-year-old Stephens once she arrived in Toronto. Stephens made an unlikely run to the semi-finals with wins over Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber and Lucie Safarova. A near-identical run came the following week in Cincinnati where Stephens made the semi-finals once again.

Pinned a “dangerous floater” at the US Open, Stephens lived up to the label. She overpowered five Top 30 seeds en route to her maiden Grand Slam title. Like Ostapenko earlier in the year, Stephens was appearing in her first Grand Slam final. Stephens defeated 23-year-old compatriot Madison Keys, also appearing in her first Major final, 6-3, 6-0 in exactly one hour.

In one month Stephens has jumped from 957 to 17 in the WTA rankings.

Young players aren’t only succeeding in the Grand Slams. If we did a review of the four WTA Premier 5 tournaments played to date – Dubai, Rome, Toronto, Cincinnati – they’ve been handedly won by Svitolina (22) and Muguruza (23).

Teenagers are also bursting onto the scene in bunches. In April, Daria Kasatkina and Ostapenko – both 19-years-old at the time – contested in the first all-teenage final since 2009 at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston. There are currently four teenagers inside the Top 100, with 18-year-old Catherine ‘CiCi’ Bellis leading the charge of young talent at world no. 42. Up-and-comers, such as Canada’s Bianca Andreescu (17), are also catching the eye of tennis fans around the globe.

The future of women’s tennis is now and it’s sure to be exciting.