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Breakthrough players of the 2014 US Open

Social Sound Off: Impact Women
By Clair Maciel
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Every year, the US Open serves as a global stage for tennis stars to showcase their best tennis to the world, whether it’s a top-seeded player or a little-known qualifier. At the 2014 event, a rising crop of young guns took full advantage of the opportunity and made a name for themselves, proving that tennis’ future is indeed teeming with talent.

A few of these players, even though they may have lost early, made a lot of noise in the opening rounds, while others shocked the draw with deep runs and stunning upsets.

In review of the 2014 US Open event, we look back at some of the breakthrough stars who rose to the occasion of the year-end Grand Slam.

CiCi Bellis, 15, United States

One of the first to cause a stir was fresh-faced 15-year-old wild-card CiCi Bellis, who, with a WTA ranking of No. 1,208, sent No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova crashing out in the first round. As the world No. 2 junior, Bellis made her debut as a wild card into the women’s draw by winning the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships this summer, then earned her keep in New York by becoming the youngest player to win a main-draw match at the Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996.

Although Bellis fell in the second round to No. 48 Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, she showed the world that she possesses both the mental toughness and the game to challenge the WTA’s biggest stars. And she won thousands of new fans in the process.

Belinda Bencic, 17, Switzerland

Under the tutelage of Melanie Molitor, the mother and former coach of Martina Hingis, Belinda Bencic could very well be the next generation’s Swiss Miss. Her surprise run to the US Open quarterfinals included wins over three seeds, including No. 6 Angelique Kerber and No. 9 Jelena Jankovic, both in straight sets. She even proved that she can handle the pressure of playing a Top 10 seed under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium in her defeat of Jankovic.

Her results in New York could be a tell-tale sign of her future, as she was the youngest Open quarterfinalist since – you guessed it – Hingis, who won the title in 1997. As a junior, Bencic owns two Grand Slam titles from the 2013 Roland Garros and Wimbledon singles events. And she could very well duplicate that success at the pro level in the next few years.

Dominic Thiem, 21, Austria

Armed with a huge forehand, Dominic Thiem blasted his way through the first three rounds in his US Open debut, taking down two top seeds en route. Already ranked No. 36 in the world at the young age of 21, Thiem played with the character and poise of a Top 10 player when he overcame a two-set deficit against a strong No. 14 seed Ernests Gulbis in the second round. He earned 18 break-point chances against the big-serving Latvian in that match, which is by far no easy task. Thiem then followed that win with a straight-sets rout of No. 19 seed Feliciano Lopez before falling to Tomas Berdych in the round of 16.

Since the start of the 2014 season, Thiem has quickly risen 101 spots in the ATP rankings, reaching his first pro tour final at Kitzbuhel in August. His results in New York indicate that Thiem stands out as the leader for the next crop of Grand Slam contenders. 

Aleksandra Krunic, 21, Serbia

With eight ITF Circuit singles titles and six doubles titles to her name, Aleksandra Krunic shook up the draw in only her second Grand Slam appearance. As a qualifier, she ousted No. 27 seed Madison Keys in the second round before trouncing No. 3 seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to reach the round of 16. Though she fell in that stage to Victoria Azarenka, she took the first set, pushing the Belarusian and taking command of the rallies. Even Azarenka can attest to the young Serb’s promise.

“She played on a really high level and pretty consistent through the whole match,” Azarenka said of Krunic. “She gave a fight, and she wasn't afraid to go big on the important moments. I was a little bit surprised that she's not that tall, and she hits the ball and unleashes her forehand with so much power. So that was quite surprising. But she has a good future if she keeps going this way.”

Jared Donaldson, 17, United States

Teenage wild card Jared Donaldson earned high praise from US Open quarterfinalist Gael Monfils, who faced off with the American in the first round. “He was tough,” Monfils said. “He has a big forehand. I was surprised that his forehand was that heavy.” Though Donaldson took the loss to the No. 20 seed that day, the No. 303 shows plenty of promise as a rising American star, as he’s already won three pro circuit Futures titles this summer with a 15-match win streak.

The young gun with a big game has learned a lot in the past year, not only from coach and former pro Taylor Dent, but from Roger Federer himself. Donaldson trained with the 17-time Grand Slam champ for three weeks last December in Dubai, and it appears to have had a profound effect on him. About the experience, he said, “Obviously it did a lot for my game just because I got to see what the best ever did and how he trained and what he worked on, how he worked on it. I got to feel his ball, play points against him. It did so much for me.”

Borna Coric, 17, Croatia

Borna Coric made a statement early at this year’s US Open event. Entering as a qualifier ranked No. 204 in the world, the young Croat shut down No. 29 seed Lukas Rosol in straight sets during their opening-round meeting. The teen has made a seamless move into the pro circuit in recent months, with four ITF Pro Circuit titles to his name as well as an ATP quarterfinal result in Umag. Coric has tasted success on the courts of Flushing Meadows before, taking the boys’ singles title at the 2013 US Open event.

Though he bowed out in the main-draw second round after a hard-fought battle with 34-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos, Coric showed that his big serve and equally formidable forehand are big weapons against the ATP’s best. 

The fact that these players demonstrated so much potential on this stage at such a young age indicates that they are well on their way to a bright fututre in the professional ranks. Look for them to be among the leaders for the next generation of rising stars.