Teenagers make statement at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Kimiko Date-Krumm is the oldest woman in the Australian Open draw at 42, with some competitors less than half her age still in high school.

Eleven teenagers advanced to the second round, compared with three in 2012. So many teenagers are moving up in the rankings that former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki feels like a veteran at 22.

“There are still a few older ones than me,” she said after beating 16-year-old Donna Vekic of Croatia in the second round 6-1, 6-4. “I still want to try to feel young out here. But, you know, it’s the way of life, I guess _ 22, it’s old in the tennis world soon.”

Just not yet. The next generation of female players have made a statement at the Australian Open, but there’s no expectation they’re ready to hoist a Grand Slam trophy like Martina Hingis and Monica Seles did at 16 and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova did at 17.

Of the 11 teens in the second round, only three progressed _ 17-year-old American Madison Keys, who took out 30th-seeded Tamira Paszek; 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, who beat another 19-year-old, Kristina Mladenovic of France; and 18-year-old Laura Robson of Britain, who ousted eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova.

It’s much tougher than it was a decade ago for a young player to break through and actually win a major. Part of the reason is the sheer physicality of the game today, a change brought by better training and conditioning, more powerful rackets and, of course, more powerful players like the Williams sisters and Sharapova.

Stephens plays Robson next in a potential glimpse of major finals to come.

“We’re the same age, I guess it’s a rivalry. I mean it’s not like Federer-Nadal rivalry,” Stephens said. She paused, before continuing: “It could be. We’ll see.”

Robson, the former Junior Wimbledon champion who will turn 19 next week, enjoyed a huge upset win over Kvitova on Rod Laver Arena.

She said after her victory that she definitely feels she’s closing in on the top players.

“This year, you know, I set my expectations a bit higher,” Robson said.

The British player climbed from No. 131 to 53 in the rankings last year, thanks to her impressive run at the U.S. Open where she defeated Kim Clijsters and Li Na en route to the fourth round.

Serena Williams, who easily beat 19-year-old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza in the second round, isn’t ruling out another teenage Grand Slam winner. She thinks Keys has the game and the poise to do it.

“I think it will happen again probably soon,” she said. “I think if the person is strong enough physically and mentally, I think it’s completely possible.”

Madison Keys is like 6-foot-2, and she’s very strong and she’s only 17. She has several years while she’s still a teenager to win a Grand Slam.”

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