“Dear all, I want to inform you about my latest decision – retirement from professional tennis”. Those were the words chosen by Anastasija Sevastova four years ago when she announced her retirement from tennis.
She continued, “Because of almost three years of conftinuing illnesses, injuries and the related problems, I don’t see myself carrying on in this complex sport at the highest possible level.”
Fast forward four years from that decision and where can you find the Latvian? Into her first Premier Mandatory semi-final and poised to crack the top twenty in the world of course.
Sevastova’s narrative falls neatly into the “fairytale” category. An early success story was cut agonisingly short by injury and illness but redemption and a second run on the WTA Tour has given the 27-year-old a fresh approach.
— Mutua Madrid Open (@MutuaMadridOpen) May 11, 2017
The “First Career”
The Latvian largely bypassed the junior circuit, heading straight for the ITF Tour where she began making a splash aged just 17. In 2007 she reached her first professional ITF final in Antalya and just a fortnight later qualified for her first WTA Tour level event in Istanbul where she lost to Alona Bondarenko in three tight sets.
Five ITF finals in 2008 put her within qualifying range of the Grand Slams. In 2009 she delivered, qualifying for her first major at Roland Garros. Later in the year Anastasija Sevastova notched up her first victory at a Grand Slam, defeating Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn at Flushing Meadows.
A career highlight came in the following year when, aged 20, she stormed through the field to collect her first – and only – WTA title on the red clay of Estoril. The title catapulted her to the fringes of the top #50 and in 2011 she peaked at a high of #36 in the world.
“I was not having fun anymore”
From there though it all began to unravel. A string of injuries to the back and arms saw her ranking plummet and her enjoyment of the game began to waiver. “I was not having fun anymore”, she later told the New York Times.
In February 2013 she lost her third first round in four matches. Three months later she officially hung up her rackets and retired from the sport. That might well have been that for the career of the talented Latvian.
Anastasija Sevastova’s retirement U-turn
Yet, as is common in tennis, retired players can never stay away from the game for long. After spending time recovering and healing both her body and mind, Anastasija Sevastova returned to the court at the start of 2015. An explosive start followed.
In her first six ITF tournaments she reached five finals, winning four and boasting a 25-2 record. She did not have to wait long for her return to the WTA circuit, playing in Bad Gastien in July.
By early 2016 Sevastova had collected enough points to return to the top #100 and she cracked the top #50 after reaching two more WTA fianls in Mallorca and Bucharest.
Flushing Meadows was the venue for her most impressive career run last year as she surprisingly made it through to the quarter-finals of the US Open. The marvellous run included dispatching French Open champion Garbine Muguruza and Britain’s Johanna Konta who was in red-hot form.
Success in Dubai and Madrid
The path through to the quarter-final was rewarding for the Latvian who moved to #30 in the world, a new career high. While she may not have been consistent so far in 2017 she has had a couple of remarkable tournaments.
In Dubai she sailed through to the semi-finals for the loss of just one set before falling to Caroline Wozniacki. Now in Madrid she has reached another semi-final after defeating Kiki Bertens, this time her first at Premier Mandatory level. This will guarantee she becomes the first ever female Latvian to crack the worlds top #20.
She faces a mammoth task to progress further through the competition, welcoming Simona Halep in the semi-final. The defending Madrid champion has looked good on the red dirt and defeated Sevastova just two weeks ago in Stuttgart 6-3 6-1.
Upset complete! ✅
— WTA (@WTA) May 8, 2017
There is little question that Anastasija Sevastova’s stock is rising at an alarming rate. She is chalking up the big victories and has defeated two top ten players in Karolina Pliskova and Johanna Konta recently. To label her as a dark horse for the French Open would not be unjust given the open nature of the tournament. Do not be surprised if the 27-year-old is still present in the second week in Paris.
As Roger Federer has recently emphasised, prolonged rest can do wonders in modern tennis. With one “retirement” already under her belt, Sevastova has had plenty of rest. Now can she capitalise?