French Open 2019: Marketa Vondrousova's moment of reckoning arrives on back of her unyielding tenacity and sublime skills

For the average tennis watcher, Marketa Vondrousova is a relatively new name, but big nevertheless. At all of 19 years old, the Czech ace, who is currently ranked World No 38 after having begun the year as No 67, is in the final of the French Open, playing another first-time finalist, Ashleigh Barty. Neither is a claycourt specialist, but this Open, each player has unleashed something special en route to the finals.

 French Open 2019: Marketa Vondrousovas moment of reckoning arrives on back of her unyielding tenacity and sublime skills

Marketa Vondrousova will play Ashleigh Barty in French Open final today. Reuters

Although Marketa Vondrousova has been having a wonder season, it has not been all smooth sailing for the teen, who has already had to face injury derailments early on in her career.

More than halfway through the 2018 season, Vondrousova was still chipping away at the rankings. As recently as August 2018, the Czech teen was yet to cross the top 100. In the months after, 18-year-old Vondrousova, who had made the semi-finals at the Swiss Open, did well to finish in the Round of 16 at the US Open, ousting the tournament 13th seed Kiki Bertens before losing to Lesia Tsurenko.

For Vondrousova, her climb up the rankings has not been based on a small, few, explosive performances. It is her consistency that has served her best, and indeed, since the beginning of the year, she has chipped away at opponents at every tournament on every surface, following the injury layoff that had caused her to drop down the rankings in the first place.

Last year, on the clay at Stuttgart, Vondrousova came through the qualifiers, proceeding to oust tournament third seed Carina Witthoft.

Putting up a fierce battle, although in vain to Lesia Tsurenko in the Round of 16, Vondrousova would go on to lose to the Ukrainian at the exact same stage at the US Open only months later. Despite her relatively early exits at a number of tournaments, the latter half 2018 was the year of Vondrousova putting in the grift to move further and further up the rankings.

It has not always been smooth sailing for Marketa Vondrousova, and for her, the difficulties came early. Playing the juniors at Roland Garros in 2016, she was forced to take the rest of the year off with an elbow injury.

But if anyone knows a comeback, it’s Marketa Vondrousova. Almost immediately from her injury layoff, the teenager won the Ladies Open Biel/Bienne, becoming the youngest winner of any WTA title since 2015, when Ana Konjuh won the trophy at Nottingham. It was in 2017 that Vondrousova first hit the top 100.

2018 had its share of ups and downs for the teen, who combined some phenomenal performances against top-ranked players with early exits that did not help her standings in the WTA. What those performances did do, more importantly, was declare Vondrousova’s intent to make a mark.

The Czech started 2018 as the world No 67. By halfway through the year, she had dropped, as a result of patchy results, to 106. But her performance at the US Open pushed her back up the rankings, and despite a 40-rank drop by August, Vondrousova, with a combination of the same gameplay and the resolve we saw her put on display in her semi-final, would end 2018 at 68 — almost exactly where she started.

But this year has been a breakout year for the young star. Partnering the experienced Barbora Strycova at the Australian Open this year, Vndrousova finished in the semi-finals of the tournament. On the hard courts of Budapest this year, however, the 19-year-old served two bagels en route to the finals, where she had the first set 6-1 against German Alison van Uytvanck, but eventually lost.

At Indian Wells and Miami, Vondrousova defeated 2017 French Open champion and then 22nd seed Jelena Ostapenko, before dispatching former World No 1 Simona Halep. She made it to the quarter-finals of the tournament, losing eventually to Lesia Tsurenko, against whom she had even taken the first set.

Before she was temporarily derailed by injury, Vondrousova made her third final of the season at Istanbul, and again, having led 6-1 to the in-form Petra Martic, Vondrousova would end up on the losing end — something that may worry her going into a final.

Of late, Vondrousova has shown mental prowess needed to hold her guns until the end — something that will be very valuable going further and further onto the Majors stage. For the teen, she also has a phenomenal lob and some great shots in her arsenal, and most crucially of all, she knows exactly when to use her shots. A combination of skill, physicality and the ability to strategise is crucial, and for Vondrousova, she has been able to stay balanced while those around her have crumbled.

Sometimes, that is the most important thing. And at only 19, it is something Marketa Vondrousova appears to have mastered. Majorly.

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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2019 17:39:42 IST