Wimbledon 2021: U.S. women tennis players 21 or younger to watch
When Wimbledon begins on June 28, the women’s side of the tournament will be wide open. World No. 2 Naomi Osaka is skipping the event to “take some personal time with friends and family” after withdrawing from the French Open and revealing that she had been dealing with anxiety and depression. Defending champion Simona Halep has withdrawn because of a calf injury, and top seed Ashleigh Barty hasn’t played a match on grass this season. That could open the door for others to make a splash over the fortnight.
Seven-time Wimbledon singles champion Serena Williams is, as usual, among the favorites at the All-England Club. But 2021 has been a good year for United States women besides Serena. Jessica Pegula, 27, notched her first win against a top 10 player at the Australian Open in January and reached the quarterfinals before falling to fellow American Jennifer Brady, 26. Sloane Stephens, 28, and Sofia Kenin, 22, both made deep runs at the French Open. Coco Gauff, who became an overnight sensation when she stunned Venus Williams in the opening round at Wimbledon in 2019, also reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, where she lost to Barbora Krejcikova, the eventual champion. It’s hard to believe that Gauff is still only 17.
Who else could be waiting in the wings, ready to make a breakthrough? Here are four other young American women, all of them age 21 or under, to watch at Wimbledon:
The King of Prussia, Pa., native has reached the third round at two of the last three major tournaments, the U.S. and the Australian Opens, and has moved up 78 spots in the WTA rankings since the beginning of 2020. She won her first WTA title in January—upsetting Brady, the eventual Aussie Open finalist, along the way—sharing the Grampians Trophy title with Anett Kontaveit when the championship match was canceled because of COVID-19. A two-month layoff because of an abdominal tear sidelined Li for much of the clay-court season, but she won her main-draw debut at the French Open, defeating Russian Margarita Gasparyan, and then pushed Petra Kvitova to three sets at the Bad Homburg Open. That all bodes well for her first Wimbledon. “Compared to last year, I feel like I belong here more. I think overall, my body physically is a lot stronger,” Li told Tennis.com. “I’m trying to cut back on the errors and molding into a solid, ‘This is how I play every time’ game plan.”
A right-hander with powerful groundstrokes, Anisimova is often compared with Maria Sharapova, the five-time major champion with whom she shares an agent. Anisimova burst onto the scene in 2019, when she she advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open; won her first WTA title, at Bogotá; and made it all the way to the semifinals in Paris, notching wins over No. 11 seed Aryna Sabalenka and No. 3 Simona Halep along the way. She finished the year ranked No. 24, and looked like she might be tennis’ next star. Following the death of her father, who was also her coach, Anisimova withdrew from the 2019 US Open, and only played two more events that year. She started 2020 with a semifinal appearance at the Auckland Open but then lost in the first round of the Australian Open and didn’t advance past the third round in any tournament last year. Halep exacted revenge on her in the first round at Roland Garros this year, and Anisimova lost in the first round at the Berlin Open, a Wimbledon tuneup event. But the heavy hitter—who doesn’t turn 20 until Aug. 31—is still capable of a deep run at Wimbledon.
Liu, a former world junior No.1, seems to be rediscovering her form. The 21-year-old, who hails from Thousand Oaks, Calif., won back-to-back titles in May, when she beat China’s Wang Xinyu to win the USTA Pro Circuit event in Charlottesville, Va., and followed that up with a win in Charleston, S.C., her sixth ITF singles crown, helping her reach a career high in the WTA rankings. “Two weeks and two titles … coming for ya Europe,” Liu posted on Instagram after her victory. She has good reason to feel confident heading into Wimbledon. Liu has a history of success on the hallowed grass courts at the All-England Club. In 2017, she became the first United States girl to win the junior Wimbledon title since Chanda Rubin in 1992. The following summer, she qualified for the ladies’ singles field and, in the second round, became the only player to take a set off of eventual champion Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon in 2018.
Volynets might not be a big name—yet—but she has the perfect tennis surname. And she is fresh off winning her first career ITF Women’s Circuit singles title, in Bonita Spring, Fla., in May. She advanced to the main draw at Wimbledon by beating Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia 7-5, 6-4. Volynets did not drop a set in her three qualifying wins. This isn’t her first appearance in a major main draw. In 2019, the Walnut Creek, Calif., native—then 17—earned a wild card for the main draw of the U.S. Open by winning the USTA Billie Jean King Girls’ 18 National Hard Court Championship.
Kayla Francione is a contributor for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to raising the visibility of women and girls in sports.
More Tennis Coverage:
• 2021 Wimbledon Women’s Seed Report
• 2021 Wimbledon Men’s Seed Report
• Mailbag: Looking Ahead to Wimbledon and Assessing Seb Korda’s Promising Future