PARIS, France - Look at the current WTA Top 30. Scan the list. Then pick the player with whom you're the least familiar. Chances are, it's No.28 Irina-Camelia Begu.
That could change over the course of this Paris fortnight. Begu is floating in Garbiñe Muguruza's quarter of the draw and plays CoCo Vandeweghe in the second round at Roland Garros on Wednesday. Two of her four wins over Top 10 players have come in this month alone; if that form holds, she'll be into the second week in Paris for the first time in her career.
The 25-year-old Romanian may not have the results of Simona Halep, the prodigious history of Sorana Cirstea, or the unique game-style of Monica Niculescu that makes you sit up and take notice. But heading into Roland Garros this year, no player on tour has posted more consistent results than Begu. After marking the fourth round of the Miami Open, she followed it up with a quarterfinal run at the Volvo Car Open, quarterfinals of the Mutua Madrid Open, and capped it all off with her career-best result, the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams.
Having reached a career-high ranking at No.25 last year, Begu looks well on her way towards besting that number in what is shaping up to be a career year. It's quite a turnaround considering her 2016 took a major blow right when it started. Begu injured ligaments in her knee in her first tournament of the season at the Shenzhen Open, where she was forced to retire in the second round.
"I was upset," Begu told WTA Insider. "I was working really hard in the off-season and the first tournament I got injured. It was a really difficult moment for me.
"I didn't practice for four weeks and I started slowly. It's tough because in four weeks you lose your muscles and the first few days I couldn't walk. It was tough but when you go back on court you try and enjoy every moment, because you never know when something like this is coming."
Begu returned to the tour in March at the BNP Paribas Open; in her third tournament back she made the Round of 16 in Miami.
"In Indian Wells and San Antonio I didn't play my best," Begu said. "I was just trying to get confident back on court. But in Miami I was fighting for every ball. It doesn't matter if I was feeling bad or if I had some problems. I was trying to fight for every ball. When you're working hard everything is coming back."
Once the tour moved to clay, her favorite surface, Begu flourished. After a bit of a sputter in Rabat, taking a 6-3, 6-4 loss to No.139 Richel Hogenkamp, Begu quickly got on track.
"After Rabat, I played so bad in that match and I was so disappointed with my attitude I had with my game," Begu said. "One day I was only thinking about the match and what I did wrong and I was so disappointed with me. My coach was helping me a lot that day because I was so down. He was trying to help me to get through the moment and I went to Madrid and I was practicing so hard. He said to me if I work hard again and just be confident, the results will come again."
"Even if you feel good on the surface there's so many tough players and every round is difficult," she said. "It's not like I feel so good on clay and I can beat everyone. No, I have to work for every match. I feel confident, but still I have to work for every match."
Quick Hits with Irina-Camelia Begu...
WTA Insider: How did you first start playing tennis?
Begu: I was three-and-a-half years old and my aunt was a tennis coach and tennis player, Aurelia Gheorghe (playing for Germany, Gheorghe reached a career-high No.326 in 1989). I went with her to the practice and I was just [picking up] the balls. Then I started to pick up the racquet. It was funny in the beginning. The racquet was bigger than me.
When I was seven years old, when I started the real practice in Romania, my family and my aunt told me you only play if you want. You don't need to play for us. I was so motivated. I really enjoy playing tennis. I still do. It's a job and sometimes you want to sleep more, but still I enjoy it so much.
WTA Insider: When did you realize you might be able to make a living as a tennis player?
Begu: Maybe when I was 14. I was winning tournaments when I was 10 years old, but you never know what is happening. Tennis is an expensive sport and you have to play more tournaments, and it's expensive.
When I was 14 I played the European Championships in Armenia and I made the semifinals and final, and then I start to think a bit that I can be a good tennis player. After, they picked eight girls and eight boys and the ITF made a one-month tour with these players. It was really nice for me. It was a really nice experience.
WTA Insider: Do you remember any of the other players who were on that ITF tour with you?
Begu: Grigor Dimitrov and Ricardas Berankis, I remember.
WTA Insider: What's your favorite tournament?
Begu: I cannot say only one tournament. So I think Indian Wells, Rome, and Acapulco.
WTA Insider: What's your favorite shot?
Begu: Backhand down the line.
WTA Insider: Favorite surface?
WTA Insider: Where is your favorite place for a holiday?
Begu: I love the Maldives. It's amazing. For me there's nothing better than the Maldives.
WTA Insider: Do you prefer TV or movies?
I watch TV only when it's tennis. I have a lot of movies on my laptop.
WTA Insider: Who do you like to watch when you're watching tennis on TV?
Begu: I love Federer and I admire a lot Rafa. These are the two players I really enjoy when they are playing.
WTA Insider: What do you do to take your mind off tennis?
Begu: When I'm at home I really enjoy being in my kitchen and being in my house. I love being there. I go to the theater, I go to watch some movies at the cinema, go with some friends outside. I'm not so long at home, but when I am at home I like to do these things.
WTA Insider: Which of the four Slams would you like to win the most?
Begu: Australian Open.
WTA Insider: Really? Not Roland Garros?
Begu: It's strange, no? I like clay court, but Australian Open is my favorite Grand Slam. The conditions and the organization is so good there. They make us feel so good there. Maybe it's also because it's the first tournament of the year. It's nice.
WTA Insider: What's your first memory of playing Roland Garros?
Begu: I was playing in qualies when I was 18 or 19 and I lost in the last round 6-4 in the third. It was tough. I was a bit disappointed but at the same time I was happy I could reach the third round of qualies.
WTA Insider: What's the best win of your career so far?
Begu: This year, beating Azarenka in Rome.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.