Queen Alexandra: One Year On
Published May 17, 2010 12:00
WARSAW, Poland - Alexandra Dulgheru caused one of the sensations of 2009 when she won the Premier-level Polsat Warsaw Open as a qualifier ranked No.201. To that point the young Romanian had found success on the ITF Circuit, but with her 20th birthday looming had never won a main draw match on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Things changed in the Polish capital as she notched wins over seeded players Sara Errani, Daniela Hantuchova and Alona Bondarenko, earning by far the biggest paycheck of her career and zinging to No.83 with a bullet. Understandably it proved a hard act to follow, but Dulgheru has hit her stride in recent months, reaching the semis at Barcelona, and beating Dinara Safina at Rome and Elena Dementieva at Madrid. This week she's at a new career-high ranking of No.32 - a clear sign she belongs, not least because it means a seeding Roland Garros.
We caught up with Alexandra, who celebrates her 21st birthday at the end of the month, ahead of the first match of her title defense.
How does it feel to be back in Warsaw as defending champion?
AD: Honestly, I can't believe one year has already passed. It feels like yesterday. But it's a great feeling to be back. It's my first time defending a title like this. I hope I can do well here but there's no reason to be too stressed. It's a tough draw; tougher than last year.
Could you really believe it when you won the tournament?
AD: No, it was like a dream come true. When I won, I couldn't stop the feeling that I still had another match to play… I couldn't believe it was over. It was a magical week.
What was it like afterwards, adjusting to your new status and the expectations that came with that?
AD: I went from around 200 to 80 in one week, which was was amazing but a strange feeling as well. I knew how much work it would normally to take to make that leap, and I still had to do that work.
Did it feel like a luxury to suddenly be gaining direct entry to Tour events?
AD: Yes, it did. Before, I was playing qualifying and was often first or second or third alternate for entry, so I never knew what plane tickets to buy! After the run here I was straight in there to the main draws most of the time. It was wonderful.
You had a bit of a tough time after Warsaw, though.
AD: Yes, it was difficult. I had already missed the ranking cut-off for Roland Garros so after Warsaw I went to Eastbourne and I sprained my ankle there. I couldn't play for a month, and then I pretty much went straight to the US circuit, which is a really tough part of the calendar. I talked with my coach and we decided not to focus so much on the results, but just on playing well and getting used to my new situation.
The last few months you've started winning matches pretty much every week, and had a couple of major wins - what's changed?
AD: Towards the end of last year and at the beginning of this year I had some really tough matches in the first and second rounds. I think I drew Wickmayer three times, in the second round at Linz, the first round of Luxembourg and at the Australian Open. I also played Kim Clijsters and Marion Bartoli. Then I started to get some easier draws, if I can say that. In reality nothing is easy, but at least they were matches where I could play my game, and that helped my confidence a lot.
What do you consider to be the best match you've played in the last year?
AD: Even though I lost in the end, I liked my match against Wickmayer at the Australian Open - it was 10-8 in the third set - and my match with Clijsters at Marbella. But the matches I enjoyed the most were against Safina and more so Dementieva. Safina was a good match, but I could tell she was uncomfortable on the court, coming off a long break. Even if I had lost the match against Dementieva I would still think it was a great match for me.
How has your game developed over the past 12 months?
AD: Just being there with all the big players makes your game improve, in every way. It has to. Confidence has a lot to do with it.
Do you have any particular aims for this year? Do you set ranking targets or specific tournament goals?
AD: Not really. I just want to improve the soft spots, be more aggressive and get some more power in my game. And it's my first full season at this level, so I also want to make sure that I keep enjoying it.
Read the Getting to Know interview conducted with Alexandra right after her Warsaw triumph!