Katarina Siniakova is in the midst of a breakout season in 2017. The 21-year-old Czech is set to rise back into the Top 40 on Monday after capping off a seed-slaying week in Bastad, beating top seed Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-4, to win the Ericsson Open. En route to the title, Siniakova ousted the top three seeds in the tournament, scoring wins over Anatasija Sevastova and Caroline Garcia before beating the former WTA World No.1.
The Bastad title is Siniakova's second title of the year, after she kicked off her season with her first career title at the Shenzhen Open, where she tallied two impressive wins over Simona Halep and Johanna Konta. But it hasn't been easy for her since that breakthrough title. Siniakova entered Bastad in a prolonged slump, having failed to win back-to-back matches in her previous six tournaments.
But there's just something about Sweden. A finalist in Bastad last year, Siniakova rediscovered the magic on the Swedish seaside.
WTA Insider sat down with Siniakova earlier this season and the affable Czech entertained a variety of topics, including why she chose tennis over swimming, how her Russian fluency (she's half-Russian) helps her in the locker room, and why it's fine if you think she looks like Taylor Swift.
WTA Insider: How did you come to start playing tennis?
Siniakova: I started at five, six years old. My parents decided to try it, and they just wanted me to have a sport. They played volleyball in high school and they just like sports; they never played professionally or anything, but they’re sporting people. We just tried tennis, and that’s how I started.
Years go by and I started to play better and better; around 12 years old, I was No.1 in my age group in the Czech Republic. That’s when I decided to stay in tennis and become professional. My dreams were to be No.1, and from that age, I decided to stay in tennis.
WTA Insider: That’s a very young age to think about being a professional at anything. A lot of kids don’t think that until they’re teenagers.
Siniakova: It started to be all about tennis. When I was really young, like six, seven, I also did other sports like swimming, but that was never professional, just to do something. When you’re young, your parents want to keep you fit. Once I started going to school, it was school and tennis. It used to be part of my life, and that’s when I decided to go with it.
WTA Insider: So why tennis and not swimming, or why not volleyball? I know you’re not 6’5”…
Siniakova: I never tried that many other sports as seriously. Had I tried a lot more, maybe I’d’ve liked those more, but my parents told me that they were deciding between tennis and swimming. I’m glad that I played tennis.
Swimming is a good sport but tennis is better, because the game is always different and you can make changes. Swimming, it’s the same race all the time, and if you do something bad in the beginning, you can’t catch up.
Tennis, you can fix things every point. I’m glad that I’m not swimming for that reason; it’s the same for athletics. We have tournaments every week, but other athletes are working towards a World Championships, and you make one mistake…
WTA Insider: At what point did you realize you could really make a career of this, that it wasn’t just a dream?
Siniakova: The big tournament for me was a Grade A in Milan; I won that. It put me into the Top 10 in juniors, and from there I just kept believing in myself more and more. I never played great at junior Grand Slams - besides the final I made at the Australian Open - but I was still Top 5 and playing with the great juniors. It made me think I could do it.
At 17, I played some senior ITFs and then I got my first wildcard into my first WTA event. It was 2014 in Miami; I got a qualifying wildcard and I made the main draw. It was a big step because I didn’t have to play as many ITFs after that. It was good for me to have that that chance, and I took it.
WTA Insider: Did you have players you looked up to, or any idols?
Siniakova: When I was young, I really liked Maria Sharapova. I liked her game, and I’m half Russian, so maybe that’s why. She was always so great on the court, and off the court as well.
WTA Insider: If you’re half-Russian and half-Czech, what are the personality traits you feel come from each culture?
Siniakova: I was born in the Czech Republic, so I’m obvious better speaking Czech, though my parents have taught me Russian. I like representing Czech Republic; we have so many great players, and do so well in Fed Cup.
From the other side, it’s good to have another language because Russian is spoken around the world. I think I get my fighting spirit and determination from my Russian side. My dad is like that, and maybe that’s from him. I can also be emotional, and so I definitely think that’s my Russian side as well.
WTA Insider: Let’s talk about Shenzhen. That had to be a very cool week for you. What did it mean for you?
Siniakova: It was amazing. That was my first time in Shenzhen, and I really like it there. I was just playing well there. It was the first tournament of the year and I was happy to start there and practice; the organization is really good. I was just trying to focus one every match and every point.
When I first saw the draw, I didn’t really believe I could win the tournament because it was really tough; there were top players there. It felt great in the end, and it was my first final. I was nervous because I wanted to finally win a title. It was really nice and I think I’ll remember that week my whole life.
WTA Insider: Was there one win that meant most to you?
Siniakova: The match against Halep was probably the toughest, and my first Top 5 win. I think I appreciated that win most.
WTA Insider: Stepping away from tennis; we shared a car once on the way to the US Open, and I came to realize you know the words to pretty much every song on the radio. Are you pretty plugged into pop music?
Siniakova: I can say yes. I like pop music, but it doesn’t matter what song. When I like it, I try to find the words when I don’t understand. I can’t say I know every word, but I always know the chorus. Sometimes the English is hard to understand, with their accents. I find the lyrics online and I remember it. I like music!
WTA Insider: Do you have any favorite musicians?
Siniakova: I can’t say I have any now, but when I was younger, a lot of people told me I looked like Taylor Swift. I didn’t know her at the time, and I was like, ‘Who is this?’ Because of this, I started to look up who she was, and I found I liked her music. I was telling my friends that if she comes back to Prague, I’d want to go to one of her concerts. Whenever someone asks me my favorite artist now, she’s usually the first one I think of because of this funny story.
WTA Insider: What do you do when you’re not playing tennis?
Siniakova: I don’t feel like I have much off-time. Everyone thinks you have a lot, but I have to work in the gym, eat well. It’s not about going to the court and that’s it; it’s your whole life, and you need to try to stay as focused as possible. That makes you a great player, so you need to rest, eat healthy.
The game is stronger so we all have to work out more. The off-court work is almost more important than on. It can be hard to find time to spend with friends and family. I spent 10 days in Prague before I came here; I tried to make plans with my friends in the evening because I’d spend the day training, but it was so tough for me. When you’re not at a tournament, you can work a little bit harder, so I met my friends and I was just dying of exhaustion. We went for dinner so we didn’t have to walk too much, so it’s pretty tough.
When I do have time, I do try to spend it with my family, my parents and my younger brother. He’s 14, and he’s playing tennis pretty well. Sometimes when I come home, he’s at a tournament, so it’s tough to see him.
WTA Insider: Do you have a favorite tournament?
Siniakova: I like it a lot here, and it’s one of my favorite tournaments. I also like the Australian Open, but I haven’t played so well there lately, so it’s between that and Indian Wells, and also Bastad. There are so many good tournaments that I want to revisit; the atmospheres are great.
WTA Insider: Is there a player you’re looking forward to playing that you haven’t yet?
Siniakova: Sharapova. When I started to play WTA tournaments, I just wanted to play her because she’s my idol, and it was one of my dreams. Hopefully, soon!
WTA Insider: What app do you use most on your phone?
WTA Insider: What’s your instagram handle?
Siniakova: katy_katka. It’s more personal, but people can follow me.