Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are all expected to contend for No. 1 next year on the WTA tour. But it’s worth focusing on those currently ranked outside of the top ten who could steal some of the spotlight from the elite tier and perhaps even win a few titles next season.
Ana Ivanovic – Another steady season has brought the former French Open champion closer to being back in the elite ranks of the WTA. Ivanovic may have a tough time going deep at the Majors, but she should continue to improve her results elsewhere especially on the hard courts. If she does that, a top 10 finish at the end of the year is almost assured.
Maria Kirilenko – Having reached a career-high ranking of No. 12, Kirilenko, with her steely resolve and all-court game looks poised to finally break into the top 10 perhaps by summer. Watch for her to go deep either at Indian Wells or Miami. But no hockey tapping on court again, okay “MaKiri”?
Varvara Lepchenko – The big-hitting lefty broke into the top 20 thanks to finally being able to play any event she wants since becoming a U.S. citizen. Lepchenko reached the semis of Seoul and will aim to win her first WTA title this year. Her biggest challenge is that now players expect a tough match from her. An early test will be the Brisbane and Sydney events.
Venus Williams – Now that it appears the former No. 1 is dealing better with her auto-immune disorder, Williams could climb back into the top 15 or higher. Breaking into the elite tier might be tough, but Venus could be a contender at Wimbledon if she stays healthy.
Yaroslava Shvedova – The WTA’s Comeback Player of the Year and the one who earned a much talked about “golden set” at Wimbledon, Shvedova is full of confidence now. With an all-court game that works well on any surface, a run to a semi at a Major is not out of the question for her.
Urszula Radwanska – Aga’s younger sister is making a name for herself thanks to breaking into the top 30 this year. Though she plays a more conventional baseline style than her sister, expect Ula to climb even higher in 2013.
Sabine Lisicki – If she can stay injury free, and that’s a big if, Lisicki certainly has the power game to test anyone. Grass will again be the surface Lisicki shines best on, but she might surprise at the Australian Open where she reached the fourth round last year.
Sloane Stephens – A gifted athlete who hasn’t even touched her full potential, Stephens has future top ten player written all over her. But she’ll have to avoid getting negative during close matches especially against the elite. Watch for her to possibly win a clay court title leading up to Roland Garros.
Laura Robson – The Brit’s run to the fourth round of the U.S. Open proved she can compete with the very best on tour. If she can handle the increased expectations from her home fans, especially at Wimbledon, a top 20 finish for her is very realistic. Watch for her in Melbourne as a dangerous floater in the draw.
Andrea Petkovic – Though a prolonged injury kept the German out of action for most of the second half of this year, the former ten player looks ready to make a comeback in 2013. She’ll definitely be an early round opponent few will want to face.
Other names to key an eye on: Tamira Paszek, Mona Barthel, Kristen Flipkens, Donna Vekic, Mallory Burdette, and Madison Keys.