Melissa Pine: Clay-court season showing promise
Clay-court season full of promise as gifted youngsters and veteran winners both show bite
The first 3½ months of this WTA season have certainly been exciting, oftentimes unpredictable with flashes of greatness from up-and-coming players who have capitalised on opportunities for success.
So far, the trend has been a brilliant combination of wins from the more seasoned players, mixed with some delightful surprises from younger ones stepping up on the big stage.
Now, as we enter the clay court season, there is much anticipation over how the plot evolves.
I have enjoyed the balance between the debutantes and veterans this season.
Two notable young stars to watch are Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina, currently at No. 6 and No. 9 respectively on the Porsche Race to Singapore.
Kasatkina has power - as demonstrated in her topspin forehand - and a wide array of shots in her repertoire, and she also has the ability to mix up the pace with her opponent.
She seems poised for greatness after reaching the final of the BNP Paribas Open with consecutive victories over champions Venus Williams, Angelique Kerber, as well as Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki, the last two women to win Grand Slam singles titles.
Osaka, winner of the 2015 WTA Rising Stars tournament in Singapore, is making waves this season.
She won her first WTA title in Indian Wells, taking out current world No. 1 Simona Halep before defeating Kasatkina in the final.
Having witnessed Osaka's skills in Singapore in 2015, I am not surprised she's becoming a big hit.Melissa Pine
She also went through 2015 WTA Finals champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Maria Sharapova.
Having witnessed Osaka's skills in Singapore in 2015, I am not surprised she's becoming a big hit.
Among the current generation, Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina and Julia Goerges have been playing wonderful tennis.
Stephens likes to play on clay.
Buoyed by her recent win in Miami, many will be curious to see how the US Open champion handles the clay-court swing this time out.
Svitolina, who qualified for last year's WTA Finals and sits at No. 4 on the Porsche Race to Singapore, has shown that she belongs on the big stage after winning WTA Premier titles in Dubai and Brisbane.
Goerges' star is also on the rise.
Since capturing the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai last year, and winning the WTA title in Auckland in January, she is playing with more poise and confidence.
Along with the young upstarts, a combination of former world No. 1s and Grand Slam champions will be aiming to strike in the clay season.
Besides Halep, Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza are also playing well.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has shown incredible strength, recovering from a terrifying knife attack in late 2016 to win WTA Premier titles this year in St Petersburg and Qatar.
Of course, everyone is waiting with bated breath for the return of the incredible Serena Williams after the birth of her daughter.
She was officially pencilled in for the French Open on Wednesday and any tennis fan would know better than to bet against the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
The excitement is set to continue in a season that, right now, seems to be shaping up to be a contest between gifted youngsters and veteran winners.
It is a potent mix that will thrill fans right through to the final at Roland Garros, Paris.
Melissa Pine is the vice-president of WTA Asia-Pacific and the tournament director of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. She is also a former NCAA player at Washington State University and served as assistant coach of the team post-graduation. To find out more about the WTA Finals, visit www.wtafinals.com