Melbourne, VIC, 2 May 2019 | Matt Trollope

Australia’s resurgence as a tennis force in the women’s game continues, with the green-and-gold enjoying its strongest presence inside the top 100 in more than 26 years.

With Astra Sharma’s recent ascent into the top 100, Australia now has five women in the elite bracket for the first time since 18 January 1993.

Interestingly, 1993 marked the last time Australia appeared in the Fed Cup final, and, perhaps not coincidentally, Australia has reached the same stage of the competition in 2019.

Back in the week of 18 January 1993, it was Rachel McQuillan leading the Aussie charge at world No.48, followed by Nicole Provis, Rennae Stubbs, Jenny Byrne and Michelle Jaggard-Lai.

Ranking Player
No.48 Rachel McQuillan
No.60 Nicole Provis
No.77 Rennae Stubbs
No.87 Jenny Byrne
No.94 Michelle Jaggard-Lai

In that same week of January 1993, the world’s top five women were Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Martina Navratilova and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

Provis, Stubbs and Jaggard-Lai all featured in the Fed Cup team that advanced to the 1993 final, a competition back then which was condensed to within one week in July. Elizabeth Smylie was also part of the squad, which was captained by Wendy Turnbull.

Australia beat Germany, Denmark, Finland and Argentina in the then best-of-three rubber ties – two singles and one doubles – across five days before falling to Spain 3-0 in the final.

Now, as of the week of 29 April 2019, it is Ash Barty heading Australia’s presence in the top 100, where she is joined by Ajla Tomljanovic, Daria Gavrilova, Sam Stosur and Sharma.

Ranking Player
No.9 Ash Barty
No.43 Ajla Tomljanovic
No.58 Daria Gavrilova
No.76 Sam Stosur
No.98 Astra Sharma

All of those players – except Tomljanovic, who is currently ineligible due to ITF rules – have represented Australia this year during the country’s run to the Fed Cup final.

“It’s a want from all Australian players to show we are a powerhouse nation,” Barty said after Australia’s semifinal victory over Belarus in Brisbane.

The difference between this group and the 1993 cohort is the direction in which they are trending.

Although Provis went on to finish the 1993 season ranked 26th, McQuillan, Stubbs and Byrne all fell out of the top 100 by season’s end, leaving only three Aussies – Provis, Jaggard-Lai and Kristine Radford – remaining there.

Yet in 2019, Barty has cracked the top 10 – and is currently fourth in the WTA Race to Shenzhen – while Tomljanovic has enjoyed steady progress in the rankings since the beginning of the year. Gavrilova is finally healthy again after an injury-marred start to the season, and will be looking to begin her climb back to the top 20, where she resided in 2017.

Sharma, meanwhile, has just over 200 ranking points to defend for the rest of the season.

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“What’s exciting is that of that group of players (currently in the top 100), most of them are only going up, in terms of their rankings getting better. So that’s super exciting,” observed Nicole Pratt, Tennis Australia’s head of women’s tennis and Fed Cup coach.

“The other thing worth noting is the number of players we also have from 100 to 250; my belief is that we’ve got to keep that as a healthy number. And then, my thinking is that we’ll always have players then move into the top 100.

“Astra’s one of those players, who’d been inside top 250 and now has moved inside top 100. And it’s exciting to think that Priscilla Hon is 130, Kim Birrell is 150, Zoe Hives is 200, and Destanee Aiava and Jaimee Fourlis have been inside the top 200.

“These players now in the top 100 coinciding with it being 26 years since we last reached the Fed Cup final, I think it’s a moment in time we should actually really celebrate.”

Our men are also in a healthy position in the ATP rankings, with six currently inside the top 100. It’s been that way since October 2018, and there was also a brief period in October 2015 when Australia had six top-100 ranked men.

Ranking Player
No.27 Alex de Minaur
No.34 Nick Kyrgios
No.50 John Millman
No.53 Matt Ebden
No.66 Jordan Thompson
No.76 Bernard Tomic

That means 11 Australians across the men’s and women’s tours are guaranteed direct entry into Grand Slam main draw events, should they maintain their standings.

With Alexei Popyrin having risen to world No.113, Australia could conceivably have seven men inside the ATP top 100 in the coming weeks.

This would be the first time that has happened since the week of 19 February 2001.

Back then, the players were Lleyton Hewitt (7), Pat Rafter (11), Mark Philippoussis (18), Andrew Ilie (42), Wayne Arthurs (70), Jason Stoltenberg (76) and Richard Fromberg (95).