Over the past year, Arina Rodionova quietly has been putting together a remarkable breakthrough. This week, the highest ranked Australian became the oldest player — at the age of 34 years and 52 days — to make her Top 100 debut.
Rodionova rose four places from No.101 to No.97 after reaching the Hua Hin final eight — just her second tour-level quarterfinal appearance and first since Nanchang in 2017. It follows a crowd-pleasing run on home soil to the Brisbane third round last month, featuring a notable upset of Sofia Kenin.
The foundation of Rodionova’s ascent was a tireless 2023 campaign. She started at No.302 after being sidelined for six months the year before with a wrist injury. She returned to compile a 78-27 record on the ITF World Tour, including seven titles in a season that saw her travel from Indonesia to Saskatchewan to Madeira in her quest to pick up points.
It’s a story that has been nearly two decades in the making. In June of 2004, Rodionova made her pro debut. She first entered the rankings on Feb. 21, 2005 at the age of 15, and the Top 200 in January of 2010, but until last year, she had never risen above No.116, a position she hit in October of 2017.
Before Rodionova, Tzipora Obziler, at 33 years and 306 days on Feb. 19, 2007, was the oldest player to make her debut in the Top 100.
“It’s crazy,” Rodionova said in Hua Hin last week. “I feel like I’m 10 years too late to the party, but better late than never. I feel I deserve to be here because I put in so much work last year. I’m excited, and I’m going to try and enjoy this year.”
Rodionova concedes last year was difficult and “had to start from zero, basically, and work my way up.” She was away from home for 10 months and alone for most of the year.
“I decided to do it without a coach, because I couldn’t find a good one,” she said. “This year, I decided to keep it that way, as it obviously works for me. But I have quite a few friends on tour, and that helps a lot.”
Rodionova made the decision to train intensely in December with the goal of making the main draw of the Australian Open. She fell short but says her upcoming targets now include the French Open and Wimbledon.
“I know for a fact how hard I pushed myself physically last year,” Rodionova said. “I took myself to the limit and probably further, and I don’t know how many others could have done it. I don’t need to scream about it on every corner, but I know what I’ve done and it was not easy. I’m super proud of myself. I deserve to enjoy it a little bit this year.”
Shnaider returns to Top 100 with first-career title
Last October, Diana Shnaider surged to a career-high ranking of No.60 after a stellar Asian swing, where in Ningbo she made her first tour-level final, then followed with a semifinal run in Nanchang. But the 19-year-old’s gains were offset by a slow start to 2024. Last month in Australia, Shnaider went 0-3 and was unable to defend the points that had led her to the Top 100 a year earlier. Her ranking dipped back down to No.108 last week.
Shnaider responded immediately. She won Hua Hin for her first WTA trophy, a title run that included victories against the tournament’s Top 3 seeds, including defending champion Zhu Lin in the final. Shnaider moves back up 35 spot to No.73.
Burel makes Top 50 debut
In Linz, former junior No.1 Clara Burel reached her first WTA 500 quarterfinal and rises eight places from No.52 to No.44. She enters the Top 50 for the first time. The 22-year-old Frenchwoman first broke the Top 100 in July 2021 but slipped back out the following year. As recently as last May, she was ranked No.122.
However, a strong second half of 2023 helped Burel reach her second WTA final, in Lausanne, then rounded off the year by capturing her first WTA 125 title in Angers. Last month at the Australian Open, she also made the third round of a major for the fourth time.
Other notable rankings movements
Jelena Ostapenko (+1, No.12 to No.11): Fresh off the Australian Open doubles final, she took a last-minute wild card into Linz. Ostapenko saved a match point in her opener against Clara Tauson, then did not drop another set as she powered to her second WTA 500 title in four tournaments this year. It is the first time since 2017, when Ostapenko won Roland Garros and Seoul, she has won two tournaments in one calendar season. She also moves from No.5 to No.3 in the Race to the WTA Finals.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (+8, No.42 to No.34): Ranked No.844 this time last year and just beginning her comeback from knee surgery, Pavlyuchenkova reached the Linz semifinals to climb to her highest ranking since May of 2022.
Wang Yafan (+10, No.78 to No.68): The former No.47 continued to re-establish herself as a presence in the Top 100 following a semifinal run in Hua Hin. It was the first time Wang had made the last four of a tour-level event since Seoul in 2019.
Jodie Burrage (+14, No.102 to No.88): The Briton reached her first WTA 500 quarterfinal in Linz after upsetting No.7 seed Varvara Gracheva in the first round. She is now three spots off the career-high ranking of No.85 she set last September.
Katie Volynets (+12, No.125 to No.113): In Hua Hin, the American made her second career semifinal and edges closer to a Top 100 return. Volynets, 22, peaked at No.74 in March last year.
McCartney Kessler (+25, No.177 to No.152): This time last year, the University of Florida alumna was ranked No.878. Last week, she won the ITF W75 tournament in Rome, Georgia — where she had also captured an ITF W60 title last October — to rise to a new career-high.
Solana Sierra (+15, No.183 to No.168): The 19-year-old Argentinian, who was the 2022 Roland Garros junior finalist, was ranked No.452 last February. After claiming the Buenos Aires ITF W35 trophy two weeks ago — her fourth ITF title in the past year — Sierra has hit a new career-high.