Irina-Camelia Begu: Newcomer Of The Year
Published November 18, 2011 12:00
BUCHAREST, Romania - After going from outside the Top 200 all the way to No.40 in the span of a season, it's no surprise she was given the WTA Player Award for Newcomer Of The Year. And with a game suited to all surfaces, it's only a matter of time before Irina-Camelia Begu breaks even newer ground.
Begu started 2011 ranked No.202 in the world. She had six ITF Circuit titles to her name but had never made a big impression on the WTA: she had an 0-2 career record, losing to Shahar Peer in the first round of Budapest in 2009 and to Timea Bacsinszky in the first round of Warsaw in 2010. But she kicked 2011 off promisingly, winning a $100,000 ITF Women's Circuit event in Colombia and reaching the final round of qualies at the Australian Open and Acapulco.
"My goal for 2011 was to get into the Top 100. I knew it was really tough but I was working a lot and started with some new coaches," the 21-year-old said. "I won a big tournament in Cali, Colombia and was having better results."
At Marbella, Begu qualified to reach her third WTA main draw. She made it all the way to the final, beating - among others - Svetlana Kuznetsova along the way. She ended up falling to Victoria Azarenka in that final, 63 62.
"I didn't start the week well and didn't expect to get to the final at all, but every match I played better and better. Beating Kuznetsova was a dream for me - we played three and a half hours and I was fighting for every ball against her.
"I was very nervous before my match with Azarenka. I had come from qualies and was ranked No.100-something. I just wanted to play well that day!"
Azarenka, who was ranked No.6 at the time, had encouraging words for Begu.
"She has a very good game, especially for clay," Azarenka said. "She has a big serve too. If she keeps going like this she can bring some big results."
It didn't take long for the big results to continue. In July, Begu reached her second WTA final at another clay court tournament in Budapest, where she had a semifinal win over Anabel Medina Garrigues - who recorded more wins on clay this year than anyone - before falling to Roberta Vinci, 64 16 64.
"It was like Marbella - I was playing better and better with every match. This time I really had my chances in the final - I was up 4-2 in the third set. But Roberta is a great player, a very experienced player. It was three hours in 40 degrees, but it was a really nice match. I really enjoyed that match."
The next two weeks followed suit, a quarterfinal showing in Palermo (where she got revenge on Vinci before Medina Garrigues got revenge on her) and another $100,000 ITF Circuit title in her hometown of Bucharest. Then, a month later, she reached the semifinals of a WTA hardcourt tournament in Dallas.
"I like to play on clay more than hardcourts, because in Romania there is much more clay than hard and I was practicing on it since I was small. But I think I have a good hardcourt game - I am more of a power player than anything.
"I beat some good players in Dallas. I played very well against Dulko, in particular. I had just taken some time off and didn't expect to do so well there but I improved my hardcourt game a lot there. Every match was good."
The last leg of the season wasn't as successful - a first round loss at the US Open (to, of course, Vinci) then second round losses at Seoul and Tokyo. Finally, she was forced to retire from her first match in Beijing due to a shoulder injury - that would be her last tournament of her breakthrough season.
"I had the same problem in Marbella. It was okay there, but then it started again in Asia. I was trying to go to the physios to recover but it didn't work and I had to stop in Beijing. I came home and did three weeks without playing. I had an MRI on it - it wasn't bad, but I had to take a break from practicing and playing.
"I started practicing again a week ago. I have no problems now. I feel good. I have a month and a bit to prepare for 2012. Everything's going well so far."
In November, Begu was named Newcomer Of The Year, an award that has been known to foreshadow some very big careers, including both Williams sisters, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova, who went from No.34 to No.2 this year after receiving the award last year.
"It was a big surprise for me. It was a big honor for me to get that award - a lot of very good players have received it and it's an honor to be among them."
Can Begu emulate Kvitova's springboard success? "If I can stay healthy and keep my passion for working hard, I think 2012 will be even better than 2011," she said. "But I really don't put a lot of pressure on myself. I try not to think about ranking points or anything - I just want to improve all areas of my game. I'm working really hard in the off-season. I'm hopeful for the next season.
"I really want to thank all my team for everything too - my coaches, my family and all the staff that helps me every day, I'm so grateful for them."