The 100 Club editorial series honors the new players who made their Top 100 rankings debut in 2018. In an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com, Tamara Zidansek talks about overcoming injuries to storm onto the WTA this year, and why the itinerant lifestyle suits her.
Alex Macpherson
July 27, 2018

Some players are on tennis fans' radar way before they become full-time WTA players, while others sneak up on the Top 100 almost unnoticed.

Tamara Zidansek is one of the latter: when she broke that barrier at the start of June with a title run at the WTA 125 in Bol, the quietly confident Slovenian had still only played in one WTA main draw.

That changed this week, of course, when Zidansek dumped home favorite Daria Kasatkina out of the Moscow River Cup to notch up her first Top 20 victory and maiden quarterfinal, and backed that up with another victory over Laura Siegemund on Friday to advance to the semifinals. 

The 20-year-old's rise is far from that of the ITF Pro Circuit veteran archetype, steadily plugging away for years in the shadows and improving gradually. Rather, Zidansek - a former Top 20 junior - has been a winning machine in ITF tournaments ever since she took the title at her second ever pro event at the age of 16, a $10,000 tournament at home in Velenje in 2014.

Read more: Zidansek stops Kasatkina to reach Moscow QF

Fifteen more ITF titles would follow over the next three years, frequently involving eyebrow-raising winning streaks...but so did ill-timed injuries - the knee, the heel - whenever Zidansek seemed ready for the big time.

This year, though, those have been under control - and consequently, she has made her belated meteoric move, shooting from World No.205 in March to her current World No.90.

And the ninth Slovenian player in history to crack the Top 100 isn't slowing down. In an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com, Zidansek opens up about being a sporty kid in an intellectual family, why she loves being on the road - and why she's been slow to get into social media.

Tamara Zidansek - Moscow 2018 - Moscow River Cup
Tamara Zidansek in action at the Moscow River Cup (Moscow River Cup)

1. She grew up in an intellectual household in a country passionate about sports other than tennis.

Some players are pushed into tennis at the earliest possible age; Zidansek fell into it accidentally, against the odds. Her mother is a judge and her father a schoolteacher, and the young Tamara was initially encouraged to pursue rather different hobbies.

"My mom tells me now and again that she put instruments in my hand to play music, but I would always go and pick up a ball and play with it," she recalls.

Even then, Slovenia's passion for winter sports meant that Zidansek's athletic energy was initially channeled elsewhere.

"At the beginning I skied and snowboarded," she says. "In the summer the snowboarding club had tennis lessons, so I took them. I guess I liked it, so I took some more."

For a few years, Zidansek divided her spare time between tennis, snowboarding and athletics - but when she decided to focus on just one at the age of 12, it was surprisingly easy.

It wasn't because she was better at any one of them - after all, she points out proudly that she was a three-time national snowboarding champion for her age group at this point, "and I'd never won the national championship in tennis!"

No, it was because Zidansek wanted to chase the sun.

"First of all, I was really cold. That was one of my main problems with snowboarding. I was always cold, always." 

2. She would be a fan of traveling even if it wasn't part of her job.

Zidansek's trophy cabinet could double as her travelogue: she's won titles on five of the six inhabited continents, with victories spanning Georgia, India, Chile, Australia and Brazil.

Only North America remains to complete the set.

"I guess you have to love traveling in this business, but I really love it," she enthuses. "People take it for granted sometimes that you get to travel around the world - but I think you shouldn't, because it's really a privilege to get to see all the places. To see the scenery, and to try the food - and obviously you get to meet the people and experience different cultures."

Zidansek still has vivid memories of one of her first overseas trips, to New York in 2014 for the US Open juniors.

"That was my first time in America, and I remember I just wanted to see everything. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State, Central Park, everything."

Four years on, though, it's Latin culture that has her heart.

"I love South America and Spain - they have a similar influence," she says. "They're really laidback, chilled, fun, happy - I love it there."

When she's at home, though, Zidansek is happy being a small-town girl. Born in Postojna, a town famous for its network of spectacular caves, she now lives in Slovenske Konjice, with a population of 4,000.

"It's one hour from our capital Ljubljana and there's a big ski resort, Rogla, 30 minutes away - and it's close to the highway," says Zidansek.

3. She describes her game style as 'all-round'.

When watching Zidansek, several aspects of her game stand out - not least a heavily topspun forehand that, at times, seems like it will never miss, even as she maneuvers her opponent from corner to corner with it.

"I would call my game all-round," she says. "I like to play all sorts of shots. I love to come to the net. I love to mix a lot with the slice. I like to think of myself as a good mover - and a good attacker. So yeah, there's everything in there." 

It's a game that's been honed on clay: "In Slovenia we don't have hard courts, so all my life I've been practising on clay," but Zidansek is enthusiastic about the challenges other surfaces present.

"I really like grass," she says. "When it was my first time playing on it, I didn't know what to expect; this year, I knew. It's such a specific surface and a lot can happen on it."

Next up, hard courts.

"I've only recently started practising on hard," Zidansek admits. "But I like it a lot!"

4. She can't explain her winning streaks - but looking ahead is more important anyway.

In the summer of 2015, Zidansek won 31 out of 33 matches; a 13-match streak followed next summer, and she finished 2016 by winning another 14 on the trot.

This year, she burst on to the WTA Tour by qualifying and reaching the second round in Rabat - the culmination of another 14 consecutive victories, and 28 wins out of 30 matches between February and April.

"When it's happening you kind of don't think about it, it just happens," she says. 

"You know, you go from one tournament to another, trying to do your best, obviously to win every match. Now that I think back, I remember when it happened for the first time, reporters came to me and said, 'That's an amazing streak you have.' I was like, 'Yeah, but it's always just about keeping going and moving forward,' you know. So I hope there's more to come. I'm still breaking through, so I'm going to harder tournaments, so again - I have to prove myself there."

Tamara Zidansek - Bucharest 2018 - BRD Bucharest Open
Tamara Zidansek in action in Bucharest (BRD Bucharest Open)

5. Her injury breaks helped her learn to listen to her body - and to gain a new skill.

"In 2016, I had my first injury, my left knee," recalls Zidansek. "I was out for two or three months and we didn't really know what was wrong, no one could tell. I guess I needed a rest." 

She didn't think much of it at the time, but another issue a year later forced a rethink.

"Over the summer [in 2017], I had my second injury. I had a problem with my left Achilles heel. So then I started thinking, my team started thinking, it's not that normal to be injured so much. And again no one could tell what's really wrong, it was just some sort of an inflammation. So we reset and started finding exercises that help my whole body to balance so those kind of injuries wouldn't happen again."

So far, it's been successful: neither issue has recurred, though Zidansek has to make sure she sticks to her daily prevention routine.

And she got one thing out of her time on the sidelines.

"In the first period away, I got my driver's license!" she laughs. "It wouldn't have been possible otherwise, so I guess every bad thing is good for something."

6. Bol will always hold a special place in her heart - but another match over a future star also sticks out.

Ranked No.122 with just one WTA victory to her name, Zidansek was an unseeded outsider at the Bol 125K in June.

Nonetheless, she carved her way past four current or former Top 100 players - Ajla Tomljanovic, Alexandra Cadantu, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova and, in the final, Magda Linette - to capture her biggest title to date.

Even now, she can't stop grinning when she thinks about it.

"The secret to winning it? Well, there is no secret. It's just a result of long, long years of practise, and finally it came together in one tournament, and I'm really happy about that. The first time I [was in Bol] was for the Futures tournament in 2015. I felt amazing then, I feel amazing now, and the next time I go there, I know I'm gonna feel great there."

Read more: Zidansek's 'dream week' leads to Bol title, Top 100 debut

Further back, there's another match that's particularly memorable for Zidansek.

"I definitely remember my match with Jelena Ostapenko, before she became Roland Garros champion and everything," she says. "We played in juniors, it was the 2014 European Junior Championships [in Klosters, Switzerland]. She had just won junior Wimbledon and we played two weeks after."

Zidansek won 6-1, 7-6(4), and the pair have not met since - but the Slovenian is eager to take Ostapenko on again.

Quick hits with Tamara Zidansek:

Who's in her team?

"I have a coach, his name is Zoran Krajnc. We've worked together for a long time, I think it's been eight years, so we know each other really well. We've come far but we're looking to go further. And I have a manager, Marjan Cuk, who is also a tennis coach. And there is one more coach in our team - we have three players so we're like a team and we work together. I have a masseuse and a fitness coach, and they're all working really hard to make me a better player."

What does she like to do to relax?

"There is not much free time, but when I have it I go out, go visit my friends, my grandma - and watch TV series. I have a lot of favorites. Friends is one of them definitely. I also watch Riverdale, Supernatural, many more."

What's her favorite social media platform?

"I only recently opened my Instagram again. I did have Facebook and I did use to have Instagram - but I wasn't really using it. I'd just spend a lot of time on it for no reason. That's why I deleted it. But now I've received a lot of questions like this, so I said, 'You know what, let's try it again.'"