One of the feel-good stories sprouting from the 2023 season was the emergence of Russian prodigy Mirra Andreeva.
At the tender age of 16, Andreeva is the youngest player in the world's Top 50, making the other accomplished teenagers in this club (Coco Gauff and Linda Noskova) feel like veterans. But the beauty of sport is that if you're good enough you're old enough.
Age is not necessarily a limiting factor in tennis, whether young or old and in the case of Andreeva, it was a reminder of this fascinating point. Andreeva, who hails from the banks of the Yenisei River in a city called Krasnoyarsk, Russia, had a dream introduction to life on the women's tour.
In recent memory, was there a more compelling rise by a teenager this young on the WTA? Perhaps the only one that stands out is Coco Gauff from four years ago. This makes Andreeva well worthy of being called 2023 Newcomer of the Year.
Year-End Ranking: 46th
Andreeva finished the season ranked 46th, which is her personal best ranking. When Gauff broke through in 2019, she achieved a year-end ranking of 68th. So the Russian appears to have won this battle at the introductory stage.
It's mind-boggling to digest that she played her first match on the ITF Junior Circuit in 2020. And less than three years later, she would be playing at the top level of women's tennis and winning over half of her 22 matches.
Even though Andreeva shot to prominence this season, she actually made her WTA debut last year at the Tunisia Open in Monastir. She lost a two-hour 35-minute battle to fellow Russian Anastasia Potapova.
Season's Accomplishments: Four Top 20 Wins, Fourth Round of Wimbledon
Apart from skyrocketing in the rankings (she began the year ranked 293rd), Andreeva's season started with a runner-up finish in the Australian Open junior tournament to her doubles partner and equally talented compatriot Alina Korneeva.
She played one more junior tennis tournament before transitioning to the senior level of the ITF tour and made quite the splash, winning a couple of W60s in Chiasso and Bellinzona in Switzerland. Impressed by what they saw of the then 15-year-old, tournament organizers of the WTA 1000 in Madrid offered her a wild card.
She reached the fourth round on her debut at a WTA 1000 tournament, scoring a pair of Top 20 wins over Beatriz Haddad Maia and Magda Linette. Andreeva had to qualify for her first senior Grand Slam at the French Open.
She reached the third round on her Grand Slam main draw debut in Paris where she lost to Coco Gauff in three sets. But the watershed moment of her young career came at Wimbledon where she came through the rigors of qualifying to reach the main draw.
Andreeva pulled off a shock win over Barbora Krejcikova (6-3, 4-0, ret.) and made the second week for the first time in a major. Once again, it took an experienced player to stop her, as Madison Keys won in three sets.
There were some learning experiences between Wimbledon and the US Open as Andreeva failed to win back-to-back matches in three WTA tournaments including the US Open where she would lose Gauff, the eventual champion, again.
However, she was becoming a force to be reckoned with, and even the top stars found her to be a daunting prospect. In Beijing, Andreeva earned her fourth WTA win over a Top 20 player, beating Krejcikova for a second time. She came so close to knocking off Elena Rybakina for a statement win in the next round but lost in three sets.
Andreeva finished the season with a 14-8 record on the WTA tour and with a Top 50 year-end ranking. At 16, when most of her contemporaries are still toiling on the lower rungs of the circuit, she is already a player to watch out for next season, and the 2024 Australian Oepn can't come quick enough for her.