Natalia Vikhlyantseva had her breakthrough season this year having broken into the top-100 of the rankings for the first time in her career, and she was considered a newbie to the WTA tour as 2017 marked her first full year on the tour. The Russian showed her potential with good runs in her home country coupled with her first win over a top-20 player allowed her to solidify her status as the future of Russian women’s tennis. Although Vikhlyantseva displayed some unbelievable inconsistency throughout the year, she edged closer to a top-50 debut towards the end of the year.
Vikhlyantseva had a disappointing 27-25 win-loss record this year, with 11 of those losses coming against lower-ranked players, of which eight of them were ranked outside the top-100. Her worst loss in terms of rankings was to Jacqueline Cako in the opening round of the qualifiers at the BNP Paribas Open, falling in three tight sets.
Vikhlyantseva earned six impressive wins over top-50 players this year, first starting off with clinical displays of aggressive tennis against Yaroslava Shvedova and Daria Kasatkina in St. Petersburg before finally earning her well-deserved first win over a top-20 player in Moscow against compatriot Elena Vesnina.
Vikhlyantseva started the season in the best possible way, qualifying for her debut Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open with a win over Daniela Hantuchova in the process. Her first Major appearance ended in the hands of eventual quarterfinalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round of competition.
However, the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy was her breakthrough tournament as she ousted Shvedova in the opening round before claiming an incredible win over good friend and compatriot Daria Kasatkina, both in straight sets. World number four Simona Halep then gave Vikhlyantseva a walkover, which allowed the Russian to reach her first ever semifinal at a tour event, moreover, it was a Premier event. There, she put up a tough fight before falling to eventual champion Kristina Mladenovic.
Vikhlyantseva’s list of achievements only got longer after she played just the second grass court tournament of her career. With her aggressive game style working extremely well on the fast-paced courts at 's-Hertogenbosch, the Russian reached the second round the year before, falling to Mladenovic as well.
However, this year she came into the main draw on a direct entry and was able to upset Andrea Petkovic and Ana Konjuh to reach the first ever WTA final of her career. Nerves seemed to have affected her greatly as she was unable to play her best tennis against Anett Kontaveit in the Championship match, falling in straight sets.
Her most impressive match came at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz, where she ousted the dangerous Veronica Cepede Royg in straight sets, triumphing with a dominating 6-0, 6-2 scoreline. Vikhlyantseva then played an extremely tough match against Sorana Cirstea in the second round but fell in over two hours of play as she failed to convert her opportunities, falling 14-16 in the opening-set tiebreak.
Playing in Russia always seemed to have helped Vikhlyantseva bring out her best tennis as she ousted surprise US Open quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi in the first round before shocking BNP Paribas Open champion Elena Vesnina in straight sets, putting up a merciless serving display. She then came from a set down to triumph against the higher-ranked Alize Cornet, looking impressive throughout the match.
An arm injury affected the Russian greatly in her second Premier semifinal of the year, which both coincidentally came in her home country. Despite putting up a tough fight, Vikhlyantseva ultimately fell to eventual champion Julia Goerges 5-7 in the final set.
Vikhlyantseva also played a major role in sending Russia to the World Group Play-offs as she claimed an important win during their 4-1 win over Chinese Taipei, looking impressive on the indoor hard-courts.
Vikhlyantseva had some serious troubles while trying to back up her result from St. Petersburg, falling in the qualifying rounds or first rounds in nine of her next 10 tournaments, amassing a disappointing 6-10 record in the next couple of months.
Inconsistency also kicked in for the Russian as she was unable to keep up the high level of her play throughout the season, having fallen to lower-ranked players on many occasions. Arguably, her worst defeat came at the hands of Sachia Vickery in the opening round of the US Open, missing out on a golden opportunity to win a couple of Grand Slam matches.
Overall, it could also be considered as a disappointing season for Vikhlyantseva as she fell in the qualifying rounds in nine events (out of a possible 11 tournaments), with her results looking lackluster with the exception of the Premier tournaments in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Season Grade: C
A “C” grade perfectly represents Vikhlyantseva’s season as she only peaked at certain events while she struggled at the other tournaments after failing to put in consistent performances. Currently ending the year as the world number 54, the Russian has a huge opportunity to enter the top-50 with several deep runs next year.