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Riske reaches Shenzhen final; Crawford, Stephens start strong

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Alison Riske of the United States in action in her Ladies Singles first round match against Lucie Safarova of Czech Republic during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
January 8, 2016 10:31 AM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

If 2014 was Alison Riske’s breakthrough year and 2015 was a sophomore slump, the early signs are that she’s on track for an impressive 2016 campaign.

Riske will contest for her first trophy in 15 months this weekend when she faces world No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanksa in the final of the Shenzhen Open, an international-level tournament held since 2014 in Shenzhen, China.

The 25-year-old American rallied from a set down to defeat eighth-seeded Annika Beck, 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-2, in the opening round, and she was pushed the distance again by Su-Wei Hsieh, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, in her second match.

Riske toppled Anett Kontaveit, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, in the quarterfinals before defeating Timea Babos in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, in Friday’s semifinal. She will now meet top seed Radwanska, who has yet to drop a set and will move up one place, to No. 4, in the rankings next week. Radwanska won their only previous encounter, in straight sets on the hard courts of Indian Wells last summer.

Riske, a 5-foot-9 right-hander, was ranked as high as No. 40 in the world as recently as June 2014, but she dropped to No. 97 at the end of 2015 after first-round losses in each of the four Grand Slam events, including the final three of the year, where she was drawn against a seed.

With few points to defend in the first half of the year, America’s No. 12-ranked female could quickly climb the rankings if she replicates this opening-week performance throughout the year. Riske, who reached the fourth round of the US Open in 2013, the third round of Wimbledon in 2013 and 2014, and the third round of the Australian Open in 2014, will climb around 20 places in the rankings by reaching the Shenzen final – and could climb even higher with a victory over Radwanska.

Riske's only previous tour-level title came in Tianjin, China, in October 2014 when she defeated No. 3 seed Belinda Bencic in the final.


Riske was not the only American to get into an early groove this week. World No. 142 Samantha Crawford made the semifinals in Brisbane as part of her Australian Open warm-up, defeating world No. 14 Bencic and No. 24 Andrea Petkovic en route, and 30th-ranked Sloane Stephens is currently in the final four of the ASB Classic in Auckland.

Crawford earned entry into the main draw of the Australian Open later this month after winning the USTA Pro Circuit wild card challenge in the fall.