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Sabalenka, Sasnovich And Lapko. Young Belarus Tennis Stars Who Will Fire 2019 Up

In case you didn’t notice there are three young Belarusian players who have made a charge up the rankings in 2018 (and keep climbing). They are Aryna Sabalenka, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and Vera Lapko.

John Farley reviews on the WTA: its policies, programs, tournaments, matches, players, and whatever else pops up in the professional women’s tennis world.

sabalenka sasnovich lapko belarus tennis

So, I will tell you. These are the three young women who carried Belarus to the Fed Cup final in 2017 and did well enough in 2018 to qualify for the World Group in 2019, Belarus’s third straight year in World Group.

Among the 105 nations competing in Fed Cup, Belarus is ranked №3, only behind the Czech Republic and the USA.

Belarus kicks off its 2019 Fed Cup campaign in Germany, 9-10 February and it will be the rising-level games of this triumvirate to get past Germany and possibly on to another final.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus has moved up one spot in the updated WTA rankings to advance to WTA No.9 for the first time in her career. The WTA Top 100 includes 3 more Belarusian players: №33 Aliaksandra Sasnovich, №48 Victoria Azarenka and №60 Vera Lapko (note – BelarusFeed).

Each of these young women has her own story in ITF events and WTA qualies and main draws on courts from Minsk to Madrid, from Brisbane to Beijing, from Wuhan to the Western and Southern Open.

Aryna Sabalenka

“I feel she has the potential to be one of the best in this new generation of women, perhaps even the next great player in the women’s game. And she’s only 19. My God… Her’s is not just another blip on the tennis radar. It is a robust signal that’s saying… ‘I’m coming.'”

Photo: twitter.com/WTA

This is what John Farley wrote about Aryna Sabalenka back in January, just before the Australian Open, as she was playing in Hobart and getting some double-takes from tennis fans worldwide. Well, she has come and in a thunderously big way – Sabalenka, now 20, ended last year at №11 in the world.

A climb of 66 points through tough opposition

The trip that took her from №78 in the world featured five quarter-finals in Shenzhen, Hobart, ‘S-Hertogenbosch, Beijing, and Tianjin; one semi-final at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati; and four finals in Lugano, Eastbourne, the Connecticut Open in New Haven, and Wuhan.

Coming into 2019 with a ranking of  №13 off two WTA titles in Connecticut and Wuhan, Sabalenka took the trophy in Shenzhen beating Alison Riske in a tough 3-set final, knocking out Maria Sharapova along the way.

Read also: New tiger from East. What tennis world thinks of Aryna Sabalenka

With that win, she has risen to №11 in the world and set the stage for some real tennis poetry. The Belarusian won the first tournament of the year in Shenzhen and can elegantly punctuate her success by winning WTA Final in Shenzhen – the last tournament of the year. Go get it, tiger.

she won first tournament at Shenzhen, the poetry comes in IF she wins the WTA Final at last tournament of year in Shenzhen.

Aliaksandra Sasnovich

Aliaksandra Sasnovich first came to my attention in Belarus’s semi-final victory over Switzerland in their 2017 Fed Cup tie. In her singles wins over Victoria Golubic and Timea Bacsinszky, she elegantly moved around the court imparting her own court craft and the Minsk crowd energy into every point and shot.

I saw something special there in this 23-year-old Belarusian who was only ranked №96 in the world at the time. I made a mental note to keep my eye on her, but it was Aryna Sabalenka who was mostly grabbing my attention.

And I kept my eye on her as she masterfully put away Sloane Stephens (№13) at the 2017 Fed Cup final which the USA won in a deciding doubles match. Sasnovich came into 2018 with a career-high ranking of №30.  This is how she got there.

Read also: Azarenka led Belarusian star trio into historic 3rd round at US Open

In Brisbane quarterfinals, she avenged her loss last year in the final by beating №4 Elina Svitolina. She got through the qualies by beating the Olympic Gold Medal winner, Monica Puig, and continued her ‘slaying’ of top ten players with a big win over №10 Daria Kasatkina in Sydney semifinals.

Two weeks in and already two top-ten wins. I would say Sascha has come out of the gates on fire.

Vera Lapko

I don’t remember the tournament where Vera Lapko first got my attention, but I do remember noticing in this 6’0″ Belarusian player power and poise that belied her young age of 20.

I could see that these basic elements of the game were yet undeveloped in her, but I could also see the potential she possessed for making a major climb up the rankings in both singles and doubles which she has been successfully balancing.

At the very end of 2018, she has a singles ranking of 65 and a doubles ranking of 93. At the end of 2016 and 2017 her singles and doubles rankings, respectively were 131,102 and 318,283.

Although during 2018 she put her attention mostly on WTA tournaments, along the way she picked up 2 more ITF single titles, was a runner-up in one, and made a quarter-final run in another.

Reaching the singles quarter-final in Luxembourg combined with her doubles final showing there has established a strong foundation for Vera Lapko to take on 2019. She has her doubles ranking inside the top 100 and strong singles ranking at №65 in the world.

Read also: 18-year-old Belarusian wins tennis tournament in US

At only 20 years old, she has a big game and has established herself on the tour as a formidable opponent.  Now ranked at №63 in the world, she is poised to move into the top 50 in singles.

Prediction for 2019

My prediction is that in 2019 this triumvirate will continue to triumph.

Aryna Sabalenka will craftily blast her way into the top ten and will be on many short lists for winning slams in 2019. Aliaksandra Sasnovich can surprise and rebound when she’s down a few games or a set.

Slowly, but unrelentingly, I see her taking her maturing game and imperturbable court demeanor into the top 25, even into the top 20 by the end of the year. I see Vera Lapko be on the threshold of a breakthrough to a consistently higher level of play.

Read also: Azarenka’s child custody fight continues, as U.S. and Belarusian courts butt heads

We saw that kind of breakthrough with Sabalenka this year. With such a breakthrough, only what awaits her are more breakthroughs, which could take her inside the top 40 and beyond.

For each of these players individually and for the prospects for Belarus in the Fed Cup for 2019, the future looks very bright.


Text by John Farley, the author of John Farley’s Spotlight blog