PARIS, France - New training ground, new team, new mindset: France’s Fiona Ferro knew she had to overhaul everything in order to turn around her tennis career.
After stagnating outside of the world’s Top 200 for years, the 21-year-old's top-to-bottom changes paid huge dividends in 2018. She started the season ranked No.315, and ended it becoming the 43rd Frenchwoman to break inside the WTA Top 100.
Along the way, the Belgian-born French player with Italian heritage went on a 15-match winning streak, racked up four ITF titles, reached her first WTA quarterfinal and capped it off with “the proudest moment” of her career: winning her first Grand Slam match at none other than Roland Garros in front of her friends and family.
In an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com, Ferro discusses how embracing change helped bring about the consistency she needed to achieve the breakthrough season of her career.
1. After a long wait, Ferro broke the WTA Top 100 ranking after a first round win in Luxembourg.
“I knew I was close to reaching the Top 100, but I was not sure because it was also depending on other players results,” Ferro recalled. “I don’t think knowing it gave me extra pressure because I try to not think about the ranking too much.
“I used to think about it a lot before, but realised it was not bringing anything positive.”
The level-headed Frenchwoman added, “When I reached the Top 100 I was happy of course, but I just take it as a reward for this season. It’s one step on the way to reach my goals but not an end in itself.”
2. Ferro finally found the results she was waiting for when she made one big change...
It wasn’t easy for Ferro to leave her hometown of Valbonne, France and split with her longtime coach Pierre Bouteyre, but after years hovering outside the Top 200, she knew she needed to make some changes.
"I made that choice alone," the 21-year-old told L'Équipe earlier this year. “It was two, three seasons that I was stuck around World No.250, I felt the need to leave home and see something else."
So last year she packed up and moved to Paris to train at the National Tennis Center - where everything finally clicked.
“I felt like I needed some changes and that competent people could help me achieve my goals at the National Center,” she told wtatennis.com. “There is very good facilities here and I have a great team around me. My tennis coach is Stéphane Huet and I also have a fitness coach and mental coach that I share with other players from the Center.
“We have a good communication in this team and I think this is very important to help me to reach my goals.”
3. And when the wins eventually came, they didn’t stop coming.
Ferro had reached one ITF-level final every year since 2014, but she’d built up a disappointing 0-4 record in championship matches.
That changed this season as it all came together for Ferro, earning victory after victory and claiming four titles: Grenoble $25K, Padova $25K, Montpellier $25K and Olomouc $80K, the last of which saw the Frenchwoman defeat Karolina Muchova - who stunned Garbine Muguruza at the US Open earlier this season - in the final match.
Even more amazing, Ferro won Padova, Montpellier and Olomouc back-to-back, racking up an impressive 15-match winning streak.
“It has been amazing especially because it was my first titles,” she enthused. “I was trying to get a title for a long time so having four in the same season was very unexpected.”
Ferro added, “I think I always felt like I had the game to reach this level but mentally I was not ready for it. I used to be very emotional on the court and pay too much attention to insignificant things. I used to get very down when I was losing a match. Now, I try to not give losses too much importance and not getting to high or too low in my emotions.
“I’m focusing on improvement and not on stuff I can’t control.”
4. Ferro was born in Belgium, her father is Italian and she competes for France. Here’s how she breaks down her multinational background:
“My mother [Catherine] is Belgian and my father [Fabrizio] is French and Italian,” she said. “My parents had a restaurant in Belgium when I was born, and then decided to move to the South of France when I was a year old. They are now owners of two hotels in Valbonne, France.
“I have two older brothers, Gianni who is 25 and Paolo who is 24 and I also have a little brother, Flavio, who is 15. They opened their own Italian restaurant last year in Valbonne as well.”
Fun fact: while sidelined with injury for a few weeks in March and April, Ferro lent her brothers a hand in their trattoria during her recovery.
5. She picked up a racquet for the first time at the age of seven, and quickly got a taste for the competition.
“I started playing tennis when I was seven in Valbonne, my hometown. I first picked up a racquet because my two older brothers were playing, and at this age I wanted to do everything like them,” Ferro said.
“I realized I wanted to be a professional tennis player when I played my first tournaments. I liked the game so much and I was always so impatient to play my next match.”
6. Ferro recorded her first Grand Slam win in a fairytale moment at Roland Garros.
As a French player, Ferro regularly received wildcards into the French Open, but had yet to score a victory in her previous three trips to Paris. But that all changed this year when, in front of her home crowd, World No. 257 Ferro became the only French wildcard to advance into the second round (save for one all-French matchup) after she defeated Carina Witthoeft - a player ranked almost 200 spots higher than her.
“The proudest moment of my career was winning my first match at Roland Garros in front of my family, team and friends,” she recalled. “The emotions are always exacerbated at the French Open - it’s a tournament that I’ve always dreamt about and still dream about now.
“It was a very special moment for me especially, because I was waiting for it since a long time. I felt very relieved after this first round win.”
7. However, she faced the biggest test of her career in the next round...
Ferro’s euphoria was short-lived, as awaiting in the second round of Roland Garros was former champion and No.3 seed Muguruza.
“Heading into my first round at Roland Garros, I was trying not to think too much about what could happen if I would win or lose,” Ferro said. “By contrast to the previous years when I also got some main draw wildcards, I was able to focus on my game and how to win the points and not think about the ending.
“I was very relieved to win this first match and I stepped on the court for the second round with the same approach and way of thinking.”
The Frenchwoman put up a strong fight against Muguruza, recording a break in each set as she endeavored to keep the score close, but she finally bowed out after a 6-4, 6-3 loss.
“I played a good match,” she recalled. “It was not enough to get the win, but I showed I can go the distance against a top player.”
8. Ferro can count on the support of her fellow French players on the tour.
Proud Frenchwoman Ferro is still dreaming of making her Fed Cup debut, but she’s already in good company - there are currently four of her countrywomen inside the Top 100 (Caroline Garcia, Kristina Mladenovic, Alizé Cornet and Pauline Parmentier) and five more French players rounding out the Top 200.
“I don’t personally know all of them for the moment, but I do know Alizé Cornet because we are playing team matches together in Nice and Pauline Parmentier because we are sometimes practicing together in Paris.
“It’s very interesting to have the opportunity to play with players of this range for me, and on top of that they are very nice and supportive.”
9. She will continue to negotiate the tough transition from ITF to WTA level in 2019, but her plan is simple: take it one match at a time.
Now a regular fixture on the tour, Ferro had to wait a little while to get her first taste of WTA success after her Roland Garros heroics. Up against Chinese player Wang Xiyu, Ferro finally claimed her first WTA main draw win in Guangzhou - and she backed it up with a three-set stunner over No.8 seed Zheng Saisai before falling in her first WTA quarterfinal to the on-fire Wang Qiang.
“It’s tough because you have to be always consistent on the WTA tour, there are no easy matches,” Ferro said. “All the players are playing great so you have to bring your best tennis to win some matches.”
With her new high ranking, Ferro foresees playing more Grand Slam and WTA main draw matches in 2019, but she says that her approach to the competition will stay the same.
“For next year, my goal is to keep improving and focusing on myself and my game, and on not losing too much energy focusing on the things going on around me. And being able to bring my best tennis on the big tournaments.”
She added, “I won’t have a different approach. I will keep the same team and we will try to improve in all the sectors of my game. Maybe we’ll focus a little more on some details, but no drastic changes will be made.”