Close, but no cigar. Such has been Petra Martic, the current World No.31 on the women’s circuit, whose tennis career of misses threatened to dent her dreams. Martic – hailing from Split, the second largest city in Croatia – picked up a racket at the age of four, and her ambitions were clear from the get-go. The 28-year-old Croat fought valiantly from the brink of retirement to scale the dizzying heights of being a seeded player at the 2019 French Open.
“I started playing when I was four. The older I was, the more serious it got,” Martic said in a recent interview in Charleston.
She added, “It was clear what I wanted to do. School wasn’t kind of my thing you know.”
Martic at the 2019 French Open
After storming past French hopeful Kristina Mladenovic for the loss of three games to book her spot in the third round, a lot of people are taking notice of Martic’s rise. Although victory was devoid of any drama this time around, it is worth pointing out the last collision between the pair in Istanbul lasted three hours and 17 minutes (the longest WTA match in 2019) and fittingly, it was decided by a final-set tiebreak.
There was no sign of torpor shrouding the Croatian, because that victory served as catalyst for her maiden title win, where she came full circle in the final in a career of comebacks. She came from a set down to beat Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova to claim the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup.
“It’s huge. I have no words, still. I’m full of emotions and I can’t believe I even managed to turn this match around. Winning my first title is incredible, and it’s the best day of my career, a jubilant Martic said shortly after that win.
She nonchalantly continued, “I hope it’s going to give me more confidence in the rest of the season, and maybe win another.”
Winning another might be a long shot, but certainly not improbable. The Croat claimed another huge scalp in knocking out the second seed Karolina Pliskova in the third round to equal her best ever run in a Grand Slam. She also extended her tour-leading match-wins on clay to 14. Her blend of topspin, drop shots, and agility absorbed Pliskova’s power game and the Czech cut a frustrated figure as she was broken five times during the course of 86 minutes. Martic’s emphatic 6-3 6-3 win over the Rome champion was her fourth career top-10 win and her best in terms of ranking.
The long road back
Just over two years ago, Martic was ranked as low as World No.662 and doubted if she would play competitive tennis again, as a result of a career-threatening back injury. But after spending nearly a year convalescing from disc protrusion in her lower back and making a low-profile return in an ITF event in April 2017, she has since worked her way to a career-high ranking of No.3 1 at the start of 2019.
As an all-around player with one of the most damaging kick-serves in the women’s game, the one-time wunderkind is in her second reincarnation. She calls it a second chance.
The 28-year-old reached the fourth round of the French Open in 2012 and she has since showed only glimpses of her best tennis until 2019 Australian Open. While Martic reached the fourth round at Roland Garros multiple times before this year, she failed to build on those achievements.
Martic lost narrowly to Sloane Stephens in Melbourne in two tiebreaks, having led in both sets. She was in tears after that defeat, and it was symbolic of the struggles she had been through in her career. But that chastening loss barely lasted in her memory as she is now having her best run of any year. A quarterfinal beckons for the Croatian if she can get past either Veronika Kudermetova or Kaia Kanepi. The last three women’s champions in Paris were first-time winners of a Grand Slam. Who would put it past the in-form Petra Martic to extend that list?
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