TORONTO, Canada - Ekaterina Alexandrova has long been a fixture of the ITF Pro Circuit. Her effortless power off both wings helped her reach 14 finals, winning seven titles over the likes of Timea Bacsinszky and Tamira Paszek.
Things began to change for the young Russian last year when she qualified for her maiden major tournament at Wimbledon, knocking out former WTA World No.1 Ana Ivanovic in straight sets to reach the second round.
Ending the year with a WTA 125K Challenger title in Limoges, Alexandrova made her Top 100 debut in the midst of a 10-match winning streak on the ITF level, but brought her big game to primetime in Paris, where she pushed eventual semifinalist and future WTA World No.1 Karolina Pliskova to three sets.
WTA Insider caught up with the 22-year-old after her emphatic arrival into the Rogers Cup main draw, where she only dropped seven games in two matches to book a first round encounter with fellow qualifier Sachia Vickery, whom she beat on Monday, 6-1, 7-6(3).
Late to the big-hitter’s bandwagon? Check out 10 things to know about the Russian-born, Prague-based Alexandrova:
1. She learned the game in Spain (but not on clay): On vacation with her father, she picked up the game in the clay court capital of the world; by pure happenstance, her tentative steps into tennis weren’t on clay, but concrete.
“Maybe that’s why hardcourts are my favorite surface!”
2. Her father has been her coach ever since: Alexandrova travels to tournaments with father Evgeny, which is the kind of mixed bag one would expect from your typical parent-coach pairing.
“It’s good, but it’s also tough because he wants to talk about tennis all the time, even at home or when I’m not at a tournament!”
3. She started to believe she could play tennis as a career as a teenager: A sporadic competitor on the junior level, Alexandrova made her debut on the ITF Pro Circuit as a teenager, making her first final less than two years later.
“I was 16 years old, playing so many tournaments and winning more and more matches; that’s when things started to get serious.”
4. A calmer approach has been key to her rise up the rankings: Known for her hyper-aggressive ground game, the Russian was reflective in what has been her biggest improvement.
“I’m much calmer now, more patient. I don’t always try to go for the winner after one or two shots anymore. Sometimes I still do, but I’m trying to play more rallies and look for my chances.”
5. Her best on-court memory came on her least favorite surface: Alexandrova’s match against Pliskova was a revelation for all who tuned into Court Philippe Chatrier. When she went on to Wimbledon, she proved a stern test to eventual champion Garbiñe Muguruza in the first round.
“Even though I lost, it was still one of the best matches that I played. It was so tough too, because she has such a big serve, and clay is not one of my favorite surfaces. I hope I can play more matches like that this year.”
6. Short-term goals? A Top 50 ranking: Earning a career-high of No.72 back in July, Alexandrova aims to climb higher by the end of 2017.
“Well, I’m in the Top 100 now, so I definitely hope to stay there, but I want to end the year Top 50. Anything’s possible, and I think I can do it.”
7. Netflix and Translate: Fluent in Russian, English, and Czech, she learned English “by listening to music, and watching a lot of Netflix. A lot of Netflix!”
8. Favorite phone app? “Apple Music. I use it all the time when I want to listen to a song, and I’m always able to find one for whatever mood I’m in.”
9. Favorite pump-up song? “Anything by Eminem.”
10. Favorite in-flight movie? “Indiana Jones.”
Alexandrova takes on former WTA World No.1 and 2010 Rogers Cup champion Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.