Biggest movers: Australian women soar in 2019 rankings
In a banner season for Australian women's tennis, 14 of our players enjoyed significant rankings rises to end 2019 in a far higher position than one year earlier.
Ash Barty led the way during an incredible year for Australian women’s tennis, with the world No.1 among 14 women who enjoyed significant rankings rises in 2019.
Success stories proliferated the Australian women’s game, with Astra Sharma and Priscilla Hon both making their Fed Cup debuts in addition to setting career-high rankings, Lizette Cabrera rediscovering her best and Storm Sanders making an impressive comeback.
Maddison Inglis and Kaylah McPhee both soared in the past 12 months, Kimberly Birrell and Zoe Hives lit up the Australian summer, and Belinda Woolcock vaulted more than 500 places.
These were just some of the players who improved their standing in the game this year. We bring you their stories, and more, in a rankings re-cap of 2019.
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The nation’s top-ranked player started 2019 off with a bang by reaching the final of her first tournament in Sydney and her first major quarterfinal at the Australian Open. Victory two months later at the Miami Open saw her crack the top 10 — her goal at the beginning of the season. She kept going, stunning everyone to win the French Open on her least-favourite surface of clay and vaulting to world No.2. Two weeks later, she hit top spot when she won the title in Birmingham. After Naomi Osaka took back the No.1 ranking briefly in the North American swing, Barty reclaimed it after the US Open and held onto it all year, becoming the first ever Australian female year-end No.1 thanks to her victory at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.
Career-high: No.85 (24 June 2019)
The West Australian in 2019 played her first full season on tour after graduating from Vanderbilt a year prior. And what a year it was. She qualified for the Australian Open and won her first-round match for a maiden Slam main-draw victory. She later won an ITF tournament in Irapuato, Mexico and qualified for the WTA tournament in Charleston before going all the way to her first WTA final the following week in Bogota. That pushed her to the brink of the top 100, and she soon cracked it, allowing her to directly enter the main draws at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open for the first time. She also qualified for WTA tournaments in Strasbourg and Cincinnati and was selected for the first time in Australia’s Fed Cup team.
Career-high: No.118 (14 Oct 2019)
Hon continued to improve in 2019 as she introduced more WTA tournaments into her schedule. She won through to the main draw at events in Sydney, Hua Hin, Indian Wells, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Seoul, going on to reach the quarterfinals at the latter to equal her best ever WTA result. Like Sharma, Hon debuted in the Australian Fed Cup team, while her best Grand Slam result was a second-round run at the French Open, where she extended Madison Keys to three sets. She also reached the final of the Australian Pro Tour tournament in Canberra.
Cabrera endured a lean first half of the year, winning just six of her 19 matches. Yet after qualifying for the 100K event in Surbiton and reaching the 100K quarterfinal in Manchester — both ITF tournaments on grass — the Queenslander completely turned her season around on North American hard courts, winning the 80K ITF event in Granby, Canada for her biggest career title. Her confidence restored, she came within one win of qualifying for the US Open main draw then built a 14-match winning streak on home soil, taking in Pro Tour titles in Darwin and Bendigo plus the final in Playford — all tournaments at the 60K tier.
Inglis won an incredible 61 matches in a breakout 2019 season, putting her in the top 10 of the women’s match-winners’ list when taking into account victories across both WTA and ITF events. She scooped her first three career titles — 25K trophies in Nonthaburi, Saskatoon and Toowoomba — and also enjoyed deep runs at bigger ITF events, such as the semifinals of the 80K tournament in Gifu, Japan (April) and the quarters of the Vancouver 100K event (August). She closed the year with a final in Bendigo and semifinal in Playford, results which boosted her to a career-high ranking.
Career-high: No.140 (14 Oct 2019)
The 23-year-old scored a breakthrough when she won her first-round match in Hobart — a maiden WTA main-draw win. She followed that up with a brilliant defeat of Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round of the Australian Open, her first Grand Slam victory. A lean few months followed, yet Hives restored form with a run to the 60K quarterfinals on clay in Brescia, Italy and six weeks later progressed to the one of the biggest finals of her career at the 60K hard-court tournament in Ashland, Kentucky in the lead-up to the US Open. Another strong WTA result followed when Hives qualified in Hiroshima and advanced to the second round.
A strong first half of the season saw Aiava win three rounds of qualifying to reach the Brisbane International main draw, before a win over former world No.10 Kristina Mladenovic set up a blockbuster showdown with Naomi Osaka at Pat Rafter Arena. The powerful 19-year-old then captured her fourth career title at the Pro Tour tournament in Canberra in March and continued her clay-court form at the WTA tournament in Charleston, where she qualified for the main draw. She closed the year with a quarterfinal run at the Bendigo Pro Tour event.
Career-high: No.199 (16 Sept 2019)
Another excellent season for the Queenslander saw her continue her upward trajectory; having improved her ranking from 1092 (2016) to 717 (2017) to 363 (2018), McPhee cracked the top 200 in September. She played qualifying at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open for the first time, winning a round in both Melbourne and London. Other highlights included a semifinal run at the WTA 125K event in Anning, China, a semifinal at the 60K tournament in Kurume, Japan and later a final at the 60K ITF hard-court tournament in Jinan, China in September, a result that propelled her towards that career-high ranking.
Career-high: No.154 (6 May 2019)
A year that started so promisingly for the Queenslander ended in injury; Birrell required a second elbow surgery and was sidelined since June. Yet what came before that was remarkable. After winning the AO Play-off in December 2018, Birrell took that main-draw wildcard and won through to the third round, upsetting 29th seed Donna Vekic along the way. That stunning result followed her three-set win over 10th-ranked Daria Kasatkina at the Brisbane International. Birrell also advanced to the quarterfinals of the 80K clay-court event in Dothan, Alabama, losing to the eventual champ.
No Australian player rose as sharply as Woolcock, who kicked off her season in style with victory at the Burnie 60K Pro Tour event in January after beginning the tournament in qualifying. It was her first career title. The 24-year-old later advanced to the 15K final on clay in Naples (USA, not Italy) and posted a further three quarterfinals as the season unfolded to crack the top 300.
Like Inglis, Mendez was one of the most prolific winners on the ITF circuit in 2019, notching more than 50 match victories. The 20-year-old won six 15K titles to boost her ranking before turning her attention to 25K and 60K tournaments as the season progressed. Playing almost entirely on clay this season, Mendez reached the final of a 25K tournament in Italy in September and a 60K quarterfinal in Colina, Chile earlier this month.
2018: no ranking
One of the more heartening stories in 2019 was the return of Storm Sanders to the singles court. Ravaged with injuries throughout her career, the left-hander had concentrated primarily on doubles in recent years — and even completed a university degree — before making her return to singles on the Australian Pro Tour after a two-year absence. After qualifying in Bendigo and advancing to the quarterfinals, Sanders then won the 60K Playford title. She has since gone on to reach the second round of the WTA 125K event in Taipei as a qualifier, boosting her win-loss record in her comeback to 12-1.
Playing a swathe of events on European clay from June through to August, Popovic won 13 of 20 matches and returned to Australia with plenty of match practice and confidence under her belt. Once there, she reached back-to-back semifinals at Pro Tour events in Darwin and Brisbane, results that helped the 19-year-old crack the top 500.
The 19-year-old won more than 30 matches in her first full season on tour, with 22 of those coming in qualifying rounds and helping her progress to the main draw at 10 different ITF tournaments. Her best result was a quarterfinal finish at the 25K clay-court tournament in Aschaffenburg, Germany.