The era of teenagers running riot on the tennis circuit is long gone. It’s well-nigh impossible to find a Martina Hingis-esque occurrence in the women’s game these days. Though, every now and then, a couple of teenagers break through the barriers and make a name for themselves. But the number of teenagers breaking through has been steadily diminishing, making an all-teenager final a rare event in modern tennis. The Moscow River Cup International final will feature two seventeen-year-olds – Serbian Olga Danilovic against a gritty and determined Russian Anastasia Potapova. And, what’s more, it’s the fourth youngest WTA final ever, with the combined age of the two totalling 34 years and 9 months. They had to punch over their weights to make it through, and they did.
From Russia, with grit and determination
Anastasia Potapova, the 2016 Wimbledon girls’ singles champion, found her first major breakthrough in the form of a surprising Wimbledon win. It wasn’t quite the win that was surprising, rather the way in which she won. Potapova was the firm favorite and lost only one set (in the semifinals) en route to the finals. It was smooth sailing in the final too, until – as it is often the case in tennis – winning the final point turned out to be the toughest hurdle to cross.
Serving for the championship at 6-4 5-3, Potapova wasted 3 successive match points. Then she earned a fourth one. She served straight down the middle and the return from Dayana Yastremska sailed long. Potapova broke down in tears, only to find out her serve didn’t land in. Taken aback, she lost the point but won the next one to earn a fifth match point. This time she won the title, or at least she thought she did. Except her serve didn’t land in this time either. She lost the next point as well. As fate would have it, she double-faulted on her sixth match point. One look at Potapova’s face and you could tell she was personifying the gloomy and cloudy sky under which the final was being contested. Tennis is more of a mental game and the toll that a choke of such epic proportions takes on the mind is sometimes too difficult to overcome. But, Russians are known for their grit and determination. Potapova, sporting a very determined look on her face, stayed true to her Russian upbringing as she sealed the deal on the 7th attempt.
Punching above her weight
She was only 15 during her Wimbledon win, but showed a level of maturity that belied her age. Perhaps the most striking characteristic in her game is that maturity. She might struggle to get over the line, but she knows she will. And she’s going to fight tooth and nail until she does. That resoluteness is her x-factor. Injuries have sometimes played the villain in her still-nascent career, stopping her from showing her full potential. Most notably last year’s Wimbledon ladies’ singles when she had to retire in the first round itself. But she never paid much heed to it.
Playing as a Wildcard at her home event in Moscow, the grit and determination were in full display. Her attacking potential was in exhibition as she beat much higher ranked players en route. The win against Krystina Pliskova drew attention but it was the semifinal win against a struggling Tamara Zidansek that brought back memories of her junior Wimbledon victory. She lost the first set 3-6 and wasted chances to bag the second set. She finally did, but failed on six previous occasions. And as it was two years back, she converted her seventh set point. Lucky number? Might be.
We see ever so often, players wasting opportunities, crumbling under pressure and ultimately succumbing to a defeat. But, that’s where Potapova’s brilliance comes in to play. As Zidansek started struggling with GI distress, Potapova wasted no time to take control of the decider and make it all the more difficult for her opponent to come back in the match. Zidansek finally retired trailing 2-5, and Anastasia Potapova – showing maturity – didn’t celebrate overtly following her win.
A star’s treatment
She wanted to be a star at her home tournament and she grabbed every opportunity she got to act like one. The show of respect and the run to the final is only going to improve her status as the new Russian sensation.
“I can’t hold in my emotions any longer. It’s my dream to play a final at home before my fans. I’m so happy today”, Potapova said following her win. She’s still a kid and the teenage excitement has been present in her press conference.
And why wouldn’t it be? It’s not every day that a 17-year old gets to play her first ever final in front of a home crowd. And she’s tasted victory against Danilovic – her final opponent – earlier as well. Back in 2015, when two 13-year olds played each other in Les Petits As final, one which Potapova won 6-4 6-4.
Her opponent might be just 17 as well, but she has had a strong run herself. Playing as a Lucky Loser, she beat 8th seed Kaia Kanepi, top seed Julia Georges and 5th seed Alyaksandra Sasnovich. All in consecutive matches. Danilovic probably will have the upper hand going into the final and might her fancy her chances, but she’ll have to face a difficult opposition in Anastasia Potapova. A Russian punching over her weight with incredible grit and determination, backed by the Moscow crowd.