Perfect Storm Potapova Hits Miami Open: Russian Teen Wins On WTA Debut
Published March 21, 2017 12:14
MIAMI, FL, USA - The Miami Open began on the first day of spring, and its mix of searing heat and cool breeze created a perfect storm by the name of Anastasia Potapova.
At just 15 years old, the 5'8" Potapova is already a force of nature, playing a unique brand of tennis that the junior Wimbledon winner describes as a cross between "beautiful" and "emotional."
"It's not enough to be like, 'I won a point; that's good,'" she tells WTA Insider after making her victorious tour debut, still with enough energy to imitate her stone-faced competitors. "No, I love to play emotional tennis, and sometimes funny tennis, like when they call a kid to come on court to play a point for you."
All of those elements were on display out on Court 9, a peninsula-inspired arena with just one side open for fans and enraptured on-lookers, both of which filled the stingingly hot bleachers as the winding match wore on.
Potapova was playing Greek star Maria Sakkari who, aged 21, was every bit the veteran against the tenacious teenager; herself prone to occasional outbursts, the World No.84 was nonetheless a calm foil to the soap opera across the net.
While she sat for the full 90 seconds between games, Potapova could hardly sit still, bounding to the line - ball in hand - with often half a minute to spare.
"I had a lot of energy today. I really wanted to win it!"
That desire was evident throughout; the wildcard hit through early nerves to win the opening set, and survived a second set bagel to triumph in just under two hours, holding off a late surge from Sakkari to whip through a final set tie-break.
"Before the match, I felt a little bit of pressure and I was nervous. In the third set, I thought to myself, 'Come on, you can do it!' I'm really happy that I made it."
Trying to transition onto the senior circuit won't be as easy as converting new fans, even the one that switched allegiances mid-match to cheer for the young Russian. Potapova hopes to mitigate the growing pains by drawing inspiration from the past, present, and future of the game.
"I have a big team here; my coach Irina Doronina is here, and so is Nikita Zimin, my hitting partner, and Alexander Ostrovsky, my agent. Lina is Nikita's wife, and that's why she was here to watch me today."
"Lina" is none other than former World No.25 Lina Krasnoroutskaya, another teen prodigy who was just two years older than her charge when she reached the French Open quarterfinals in 2001. Krasnoroutskaya now coaches in Miami, where Potapova has established a stateside training base, and was vocal from the stands, encouraging her to keep working through the emotions, presumably to find the beauty within.
"I'm happy, because she helps me, but we actually don't talk about tennis! Tennis is everywhere. We try to talk about life, and that's it!"
"It was crazy! I'm so happy for Elena from the bottom of my heart. We're good friends, and I'm so happy for her and Svetlana both. It was a crazy match that was lovely to watch. Thanks girls; you did an amazing job!"
The pair first met after their respective Wimbledon runs, when Potapova admitted to inadvertently borrowing the World No.13's signature grunt in the final.
Amazing!!!@EVesnina001 https://t.co/sVHxZTYAeT— Anastasia Potapova (@nastiaapotapova) March 19, 2017
"I wasn't thinking about it. I just played my game, and that's it. But after this, when I was watching the match back, some players and some people told me that I look a lot like Elena on the court. I didn't mind hearing that!"
Thunders of a Vesninaesque "Ai-ya!" echoed early in the decider, as Potapova tried to steady her breathing and her nerves, all in the hopes of excelling at an event that also plays host to Amanda Anisimova, one of her chief rivals from the junior leagues.
"Girls like Amanda really inspire me. We're both juniors, and we're the same age. When she wins a tournament, I also want to win. That's a great thing to have."
Potapova struck first in their senior head-to-head, winning a three-set final to take home her first professional title in Curitiba, Brazil.
"It gave me a lot of confidence in myself. When you win a 25K, you know you'll have to play good players, maybe some in the Top 200. Then I was able to come here at the Miami Open, I knew I could beat them and just try to play my best."
The Russian clearly thrives on the Florida coast, home to the Miami Heat, her favorite basketball team.
"I'm really happy to have gotten my first win in Miami because it's my favorite city! My first time here was maybe five years ago; I played Eddie Herr and I won it. That was a good memory, and I just enjoy playing here. I love the atmosphere, the weather, the courts. Everything.
"I think this will turn out to not just be my favorite city, but also my favorite tournament."
It was a prophecy packaged in Potapova's sunny off-court disposition, but beware the brewing clouds on the horizon.
Hear more from Potapova - including whether she plans to challenge Nick Kyrgios on the basketball court - right here on the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast: