BY JIM DURHAM
July 28, 2019
Two women currently ranked in the Top Ten in the World – Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens – failed to make it past the 2nd and 1st round, respectively, as young players earlier this decade in the Lexington Challenger. Two others in the Top 30 now – Johanna Konta and Sofia Kenin – fell just one match short of grabbing the crown at UK’s Boone Tennis Center.
Fourteen “alums” in all are in the WTA Top 100 that was updated July 22. Only ONE, though, wears the mantle of Lexington champion – #78 Madison Brengle, who prevailed in 2014, third-time-the-charm at The Boone. Nine months later, after reaching the Australian Open fourth round, she climbed to a career-high #35.
Need any more evidence or reason to check the early rounds of the 2019 Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships, July 29-August 4? Best time to spot a future “Osaka” is Monday through Wednesday.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka – currently the World’s #2 – is perhaps the best example of a promising youngster who was missed by most tennis fans in the Blue Grass. She was a mere 15 in her lone appearance here in 2013, losing 2 & 2 in the 2nd round to 4-seed and eventual champ Shelby Rogers.
On January 28, 2019, Ōsaka became the first Asian to attain #1 in the World after defeating Petra Kvitova for the Australian Open title. Last September, she was the first Asian to win a grand slam, upsetting Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final. A shocking first round loss at Wimbledon 2019 has dropped her from the top perch to #2.
American Sloane Stephens – now at #8 – is just as good an example. In her lone LEX appearance (2011) at age 18, our 3-seed bowed out in the first round to unseeded veteran Jennifer Elie in straight sets.
Flash forward to 2013, Stephens defeated Serena Williams and reached her first slam semi in the Australian Open. That summer, she fell in the Wimbledon quarters to another LEX “alum,” eventual titlist Marion Bartoli. In 2017, Stephens won the U.S. Open, dismantling “alum” Madison Keys 3 & 0 in the final. She reached a career-high #3 in July 2018, a couple of months after losing a 3-set French Open final to then #1 Simona Halep of Romania.
Below are our 14 “alums” CURRENTLY in the Top 100, their ranking as of last Monday, followed by their Lexington highlights (or lowlights) of yesteryear:
2 – Naomi Osaka, Japan – a Lexington qualifier ranked #530 in 2013, she easily won her 1st round; then lost to eventual champ Shelby Rogers 2 & 2.
8 – Sloane Stephens, USA – when veteran Jennifer Elie upset the highly-touted 19-year-old from Fort Lauderdale 2 & 6 in our 2011 first round, who would’ve believed Stephens would get a WC into the U.S. Open a month later and reach the third round?! (Elie, down to #406 is expected back in this week’s Lexington main draw at age 32.)
15 – Johanna Konta, Great Britain – Australian-born Konta was a pedestrian #213 in 2012, until she upset 2-seed Erika Sema of Japan 7-1 in a 3rd-set 1riebreaked here; then Lauren Albanese 7-5 in the 3rd and Shelby Rogers in the quarters 4 & 2. In the semis, she bested 4-seed Misaki Doi of Japan 6-1 in the 3rd, before apparently running out of gas. Unseeded Julia Glushko of Israel was a 3 & 0 winner in the finals. Footnote: Konta’s career-high ranking was #4 in July 2017 after reaching Wimbledon semis. She’s also been a semifinalist in the Australian (2016) and French (2019) opens.
17 – Madison Keys, USA – lost 2R in 2011 to 2-seed Alison Riske, 6-3 in 3rd. In 2012, she won her first three matches in straight sets, including over Julie Coin (a 2-time LEX runner-up), then lost semis 3 & 3 to eventual champion Glushko.
23 – Amanda Anisimova, USA – in 2017, upset 8-seed Ksenia Lykina of Russia in 1R here; lost to Emina Betkas 4 & 2 in the quarters. A month later she won the Junior U.S. Open. Footnotes: Anisimova won 1st WTA title this April at Copa Colsanitas at age 17. Also in 2019, the Jersey girl upset defending champ and #3 Simona Halep of Romania to make the French Open semis, where she lost 6-3 in 3rd to eventual winner Ash Barty of Australia. She also won Wimbledon three rounds at this year’s Australian and one round at Wimbledon.
28 – Sofia Kenin, USA – lost to 5-seed Hirohito Kuwata of Japan in 2016 1R, 6-0 in 3rd set; but, as 2-seed in 2017, reached finals, losing to 7-seed Grace Min 4 & 1. Footnotes: this year, she won her 1st two WTA titles – Hobart (Australia) without dropping a set & Mallorca (Spain), defeating three Top 25 players in the last 3 rounds, all in 3 sets. Biggest moment was upsetting Serena Williams in the French Open 3rd round, before falling to eventual champ Barty.
37 – Alison Riske, USA – in ‘09, her first of 4 consecutive years here, wild card Riske upset 3-seed Melanie South of Great Britain in first round, 4 & 5; but was sidelined in 2R by Chang Kei-chen of Taiwan 6-2 in the 3rd. As
5-seed in 2010, fell to 1-seed and eventual winner Kurumi Nara 6-2 in a 3-set quarterfinal; as 2-seed in 2011, she beat unseeded Madison Keys 6-3 in 3rd, but fell in quarterfinals to unseeded Lauren Davis 5 & 0; her most disappointing showing here was 2012, losing 1R as 6-seed to China’s Yi-Fan Xu, 6-0 in 3rd.
45 – Monica Puig, USA – the reigning (2016) Olympic champion was just 17 when she and her coach arrived here days early to prepare for the 2011 Challenger; she even played a part in our press conference. But, she got little competition, losing 1st round 6-4 in the 3rd to 8-seed Li Zhang of China. Footnotes: Puig’s career-high of #27 in September, after reaching 3rd round of both Australian and French opens and upsetting Angelique Kerber in the Olympic Final.
73 – Lauren Davis, USA – as a 16-yr-old qualifier in 2010, she lost 1R main to Kimberly Couts, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5; a year later, Davis defeated both Nicole Gibbs and Grace Min in 3 sets, the 2-seed Alison Riske 5 & 0; she lost that 2011 semi to eventual winner Chiara Scholl 2 & 7. Footnotes: In the next 7 years, the 5-2 dynamo would rack up wins in all four majors, including reaching the third round of the Australian Open three times and Wimbledon twice. Her career-high #26 ranking came in May 17.
76 – Jennifer Brady, USA – a month after helping UCLA win the 2014 NCAA team title, she lost 2nd round here to 7-seed and eventual runner-up Nicole Gibbs, 6-2 in 3rd; as the 6-seed in ‘15, Brady lost in quarters to eventual runner-up Samantha Crawford, also 6-2 in 3rd. Footnote: Her career-high #60 came in October 2016 after reaching the 4th round of the Australian and U.S. opens.
78 – Madison Brengle, USA – at age 19, she took first 2 rounds of our ‘09 event as the 4-seed; then lost quarterfinal to 6-seed Yuan Meng of China 3 & 3; four years later she returned here, unseeded, unceremoniously losing ‘13 first match to Alexandra Mueller 3 & 4. Coming back to The Boone in 2014 as our 2-seed, she was Madison on a Mission, sidelining Kentuckian Julie Ditty, Aussie Daria Gavrilova, Swiss Romina Oprandi the 8-seed in the semis; there she outlasted 3-seed and ‘08 champ Melanie Oudin 6-3 in the 3rd. She took care of 7-seed Nicole Gibbs, the former Stanford star from Cincinnati, 3 & 4 in the final. Footnotes: in her 2015 run at the Australian Open, she kayoed Coco Vandeweghe in the third round, before losing to Madison Keys in the next. Brengle famously began 2017 by sidelining Serena Williams 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 at Auckland (Australia)!
79 – Jessica Pegula, USA – has fallen 8 spots from career-high 71 back in May…at 18, the Buffalo native reached our 2012 second round, losing to Mallory Burdette (was had already ousted top seed Olivia Rogowska of Australia) 5 & 0. In 2015, Pegula fell second round to 2-seed and eventual winner Nao Hibino of Japan in two tiebreakers. Last year, she upset 6-seed Gabriella Taylor of Great Britain in straight sets en route to the semis. Ann Li ended her run 6-4 in the 3rd.
86 – Misaki Doi, Japan – the 28-yr-old from Tokyo, whose career-high #30 ranking came in October 2016, has been up and down in recent years. Five years after her previous LEX appearance, she (then down to #246) lost her 2018 opener 6-2 in 3rd to Jessica Pegula. Better times here were 2012, when as 4-seed she lost a 3-set semi to Johanna Konta; and 2013, when as top seed she fell 3 & 4 in quarters to eventual runner-up France’s Julie Coin. Footnote: Doi’s nemesis in that 2016 banner year was Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who survived match point 1R before going on to win the Australian; and Kerber ousting her again 3 & 1 in the fourth round of Wimbledon – still giving her the label of first Japanese woman to reach the 16s there in a decade.
87 – Daria Gavrilova, Australia – the Moscow-born player was still representing Russia when Lexington was a brief stepping stone in 2014. At age 19 and ranked #368, she defeated Arina Rodionova 4 & 5 before running into Brengle. The eventual champ won 6-2 in the 3rd.
Now an Aussie, we haven’t seen Gavrilova here since – which makes her one of the best reasons to catch some early-round action. Perhaps we should have anticipated the achievement you’re about to read – as she won the U.S. Open Juniors in 2010 and was ranked the world’s #1 junior that year.
Gavrilova had ELEVEN conquests of Top 10 players from 2015 through 2018. Those include: then-#2 Maria Sharapova in 2015; #1 Angelique Kerber in 2016; #3 Garbiñe Muguruza in 2018; and three wins over Petra Kvitova over that span.