British wild card Harriet Dart bowed out of the Upper Austria Ladies Linz tournament in the opening round as she fell to the former Top 10 player Kristina Mladenovic, 6-3 6-4, but there were plenty of positives for the Brit to really hold on to in order to grow as a professional tennis player.
Dart gave away plenty of experience to the Frenchwoman Mladenovic in this particular encounter, but those are the sort of battles that the Brit really thrives upon and at times she did test Mladenovic in the duels from the baseline, but also with the points that required a deftness of touch in the forecourt.
The British wild card made the first move in the scoreboard, grabbing the first break and really profited from Mladenovic dropping her standards off of the serve. The former Grand Slam champion has had her notable struggles both off the serve and in terms of her consistency in a rapid drop from the rankings, but Mladenovic really showed her true quality after that early stumble, and really demonstrated how dangerous her game is when the serve does maintain its potency.
Mladenovic secured the early break at the beginning of the 2nd set and really kicked on from there, but there was plenty of reasons to be positive for the British underdog. I felt that Dart had her moments off the forehand side and really took the ball on on occasions, and the competitive edge she generally has a top professional really flows through her tennis. Not willing to accept being second best and is determined to really leave it all out their on the tennis court and that is how she’s risen up the rankings to inside the World’s Top-200.
Dart was honest but optimistic about her performances going forward in my one-to-one interview with the Brit.
“Yeah, I mean, I didn’t play my best tennis. You know, she played extremely well. She served big in all of the big moments. So it is always difficult to convert some of the big points. I think any player on here it is difficult because the courts are laid, especially for the tournaments and the lighting is quite tough. It is tough for all of us to play, so yeah.
It has been quite a whirlwind of a season for the Brit, who had a busy grass court season. Doing well and succeeding in the tune-up grass court tournaments really provided those building blocks for Dart to go into those bigger events like the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne with the confidence that was required.
Dart won 7 of her 10 matches in a successful phase of the year, making the semifinal in Surbiton, and then two quarterfinals in Manchester and Ilkley. That set the tone for some positive performances, particularly the standout performance against former World No.1 and Grand Slam finalist Karolina Pliskova in the opening round of Wimbledon–a tournament she entered as one of the wildcards. Dart spoke of that special experience and the things she took from it despite the loss:
“Yeah, first experience of playing singles at Wimbledon was huge and it definitely helped having the British crowd behind me. I also played a lot of matches beforehand on grass, and picked up some good results, so I was feeling confident going into it.”
Dart also starred in a fantastic run to the Wimbledon semifinals in mixed doubles with her good friend Jay Clarke, where they sensationally beat Grand Slam champion after Grand Slam champion en route to that special semifinal spot, and Dart had plenty of positive words to share about the mixed doubles journey:
“It was amazing. Especially my partner played great and we are really good friends, Jay. He’s also doing really good so that’s really nice to see. It was amazing because we got to play on Centre and we got to play on Court One, we beat many great players who have won Grand Slam mixed before I believe. And that obviously gave us a lot of confidence considering that is the first time we’ve played with each other and we did not have much experience.”
Dart has her standards and goals set high. But she noted that she has to keep things realistic as she makes her rise from a Top 200 player into the higher ranks of the women’s game.
“Short term goal is to get Top 100 as fast as I can. I’m not really so patient so. I’ve got to be realistic about things and make sure if I keep improving my game then the results can come.”
Nothing is a guarantee in tennis. Lots of factors make and shape a players career, but what is for certain is that Dart will do everything in her power to get the absolute best out of her own career in order to flourish on the biggest stage.