Cristiano Ronaldo may bed the pin-up boy of Portuguese sport right now, but there's a young girl on the horizon who will be challenging soon as the favourite of the nation. She's a tennis player - and she's only 15.
Michelle Larcher de Brito is fast making a name for herself, and many Portuguese fans are pinning their hopes on the youngster to finally give the country some success on the courts to match their formidable Iberian peniinsular neighbours Spain.
The diminutive Portuguese player has risen rapidly up the WTA rankings from 296 in 2007 to a impressive 126 at the end of this year. While most of the girls her age are only just entering the junior events, Larcher de Brito is impressing many of the top players with her power game and shot selection. Her experience gained whilst attending the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy has stood her in good stead for a successful career, and the maestro himself has named Michelle one of his best talents.
Although Michelle failed to win any junior Grand Slam events, she did take victory in the 2007 Orange Bowl, one of the most prestigious events on the junior calendar, defeating top-ranked juniors Arantxa Rus and Melanie Oudin on the way to the title. As well as junior events, Larcher de Brito was also playing in the ITF events throughout the year and made many quarter-final and semi-final appearances, enabling her ranking to move up considerably.
As such a young player trying to make her mark on tour Michelle has made quite a name for herself and many tournament directors are keen to see how she handles the pressure. She was given a wild card entry into many tournaments during the year and she didn't fail to impress wherever she went.
In a Tier 1 event in Miami, one of the top tournaments outside of the four Grand Slams, Michelle reached the third round on an impressive debut. Even more spectacular was her victory in the second round against current top 10 player Agnieska Radwanska of Poland. The victory came from nowhere, especially with the Pole being in such good form in 2008. It was the first sign that Michelle should be taken seriously.
Although playing only a limited schedule due to her age, Larcher de Brito had further success in 2008 qualifying and reaching the second round of a Tier 2 tournament in Stanford, losing narrowly to Serena Williams in three sets and also gaining her first WTA tour quarter-final berth in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
She had other notable victories against top players such as Flavia Pennetta, Marta Domachowska and Gisela Dulko. In Montreal at another Tier 1 event, Michelle took the then world No.4, Svetlana Kuznetsova, to three sets before losing narrowly. She certainly likes the limelight and these matches at big events show Larcher de Brito has the ability to carve out a great career for herself.
I'm sure that in 2009 the Portuguese youngster will prove to be a hit with the fans and it will be interesting to see how quickly she is able to move up the WTA rankings and how she deals with being another of Bollettieri's protégés, though her dad is her full-time coach nowadays. Could Michelle Larcher de Brito be a rival for Britain's Laura Robson in the future? Watch this space.