The phenomenon of the teenage prodigy isn’t new to women’s tennis. Since 1887, when Lottie Dod won the first of her five Wimbledon singles titles at just 15, several precocious talents have turned heads with a swing of their racquet.
The Open Era, which began in 1968, has seen Tracy Austin, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis win Grand Slam crowns before their 17th birthday, and Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova achieve Major success before turning 18.
Hana Mandlikova and Emma Raducanu were 18 when they broke through. Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Chris Evert, Iva Majoli, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff had to wait longer, but managed the feat before blowing out 20 candles on their birthday cake.
Capturing public imagination
There have been other teenagers without the same level of early Grand Slam success — but they exerted a similar hold on the public imagination in their time.
Jennifer Capriati was the youngest player to enter the top-10 at 14 and an Olympic champion at 16 (Barcelona 1992). But she endured personal challenges in her teens and took a break from the Tour. She made an inspiring comeback to win three Majors in her mid-20s and climb to the top of the rankings.
Andrea Jaeger rose to World No. 2 at 16, making five semifinals and two finals in Grand Slam events in the early 1980s. But her career was cut short by injury. Anna Kournikova, a contemporary of Hingis, was another who was forced into early retirement because of injuries.
The incidence of injuries and stress-related burnout among teenagers forced the WTA into action in the mid-1990s. It introduced measures, which included limiting the number of tournaments teenagers could play, directed at “reducing burnout and increasing longevity”.
Perhaps as a consequence of these measures, and more concretely because of the prevailing competitive dynamics at the time, the period between the 2005 Australian Open and 2019 Wimbledon had no teenage first-time Major winners. Andreescu, Swiatek, Raducanu and Gauff ended that phase, and now another gifted teen has ambitions of joining them.
Mirra Andreeva, who turned 16 in April, has played in the main draw of four Slams — on each occasion, it has needed a top-25 player to stop her. She has already made two trips to the second week. After losing the junior final at last year’s Australian Open, Andreeva reached the third round at Roland-Garros, the fourth round at…