LONDON, Great Britain - Beatriz Haddad Maia earned her first main draw win at a Slam at Wimbledon, beating Britain's Laura Robson to advance to the second round. The big-hitting Brazilian's reward? A Wednesday date with World No.2 Simona Halep on No.1 Court.
"It's amazing to play here because I'm from South America," Haddad Maia told WTA Insider after her win. "Everyone from South America or Spain, we think we are better on clay. It's nice to win my first Grand Slam round on grass."
"In Brazil we just play soccer on grass," the 21-year-old said with a laugh. "For us it's a little bit difficult. Also we can't slide on grass. For us it's a little bit dangerous.
"But for me it's the most beautiful. The people who come here in London are very passionate about tennis. So it's very special to play on grass."
Haddad Maia - who goes by her nickname "Bia" - has soared up the rankings over the last 12 months. Ranked No.354 12 months ago, she cracked the Top 100 for the first time after making the semifinals at the WTA 125K in Bol, Croatia. It's a great span and string of results for a player who endured injury after injury as a young teenage talent, first a shoulder injury after taking a bad fall, and then herniated disks in her back that required surgery in 2012.
Armed with lefty-power with a mind for counter-punching - she watches Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, and Simona Halep to learn how to hone her game - Haddad Maia says the key to her rise has been mental.
"I played two challengers last year and I won two in a row," Haddad Maia said. "I said ok, if I can win these two challengers, that's 10 matches in a row. I can win these matches. I played very good tournaments. I played Stosur, Errani, Vesnina - all very good players. I was getting confidence and believing in myself every day.
The Sao Paulo native also cites her ongoing study of meditation via the Self Realization Fellowship. "I have homework and I practice every day in the morning, 30 minutes before breakfast. I have some exercises for the mind, for breathing. I started one year ago and now I have the results."
Haddad Maia's emphasis on the mental side of things comes as no surprise. She says if she wasn't a tennis player she would be an engineer because of her love of math and physics. She has kept her mind active by taking online courses in business.
Haddad Maia's sporting background is diverse. Her mother was a tennis teacher at her sports school. "I was studying and when I was finished I would go to the club with her," she said. "I also did swimming, soccer until I was 12 years old, and judo. I studied inside a club. It was like a university for kids. For me it was very important to grow up in sports, to have the feeling of playing a lot of sports.
"Tennis for me was always my goal. I remember when I had to choose I was practicing three times a week tennis and two for soccer. Then Saturdays I would play tennis and then slowly I left soccer for tennis.
"When I was 14 I moved from Sao Paulo to Santa Catarina. I was alone. I left my family, my friends, the school that I studied all my life. It was difficult for me because I was in an apartment and I would go to school, practice, and then at 7pm I would have to cook and wash my clothes.
"It was a very good experience for me. At this age I had in my mind that I wanted to be a professional tennis player."