Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova made major strides in her second year on the WTA circuit. Starting 2018 ranked No.242, she rose from a low of No.260 all the way into the Top 100; the move guarantees a first-ever direct entry into a Grand Slam tournament at next month's Australian Open.
"I have more confidence, self-confidence, now that I’m now Top 100. I know now that I can compete on this level," she said in a phone interview in September.
The 17-year-old broke down the keys to her rapid ascent, explained her ease under a home tournament spotlight, and more in an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com.
1. She started 2018 with a full circle victory in St. Petersburg.
The youngster appeared poised for a breakthrough at last year's Wimbledon - 12 months removed from her run to the junior title - only to incur an injury against Tatjana Maria at the first hurdle.
Starting from scratch at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, the local wildcard avenged the loss to Maria to win her first WTA main draw match and book a clash with reiging Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki.
"I think it’s all over," she said of her improvements. "I got better in every way. I mean, in my tennis skills, in my fitness, in my mentality. It’s all about everything."
2. She played one of the best WTA matches of 2018.
Potapova continued proving her mettle in front of her home crowd when she entered the inaugural Moscow River Cup in July - an event run by longtime agent Alexander Ostrovsky. This time, the wildcard made it into the final, twice rallying from a set down en route.
"It’s actually so special," she noted of the hometown bump, "because you’re always playing on the big courts, on the stadiums, with a big crowd who is supporting you always. It meant a lot to me, and I will give my all to be better, and to make as much as I can for my fans here."
In the final she met fellow 16-year-old Olga Danilovic; the teens battled for over two hours before Potapova fell in three grueling sets. Despite the disappointment, she reemerged hours later to partner former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva to capture the doubles title, 6-0, 6-3.
"Every tournament is so special for me, but that moment, especially. It was my first final, especially at home, and the tournament director was my agent! So it was really, really special, I felt really at home. It was an incredible week, and I’m really satisfied with this."
3. The Russian reached a second final two months later to secure her Top 100 debut.
Though she narrowly missed out on qualifying for a US Open main draw debut, Potapova got another shot at revenge as the tour turned to Tashkent. The teenager turned the tables on Danilovic in another three-set thriller to make a second final in as many months. All the while, she closed in on the world's Top 100.
"I knew I could make it, but I didn’t focus on it much, because I was focusing on my game, on my playing. I knew that if I’m gonna work hard, and I keep winning, it will be all good at the end. So I just made it, and it’s good."
Finishing runner-up to resurgent countrywoman Margarita Gasparyan, Potapova aims to master the art of the championship match in 2019 in the hopes of winning her first singles title.
"I learned that the final is always a little bit different game than others. I should stay more calm, and be confident, but don’t think that your opponent will not play her best tennis. So I'll just wait for all and be ready for everything."
4. Potapova credits her team - and growing fan base - with helping keep her focused in 2018.
The Russian continued working with coach Irina Doronina and hitting partner Nikita Zimin (husband of former World No.25 Lina Krasnoroutskaya), and felt their influence was essential with helping her end the season with a career-high ranking of World No.93.
"They help me, really a lot. I mean, out of the court and on the court, about everything which I need. So it’s cool to have this big team who stand behind my back and improve me every day."
"Team P" also grew larger in 2018 thanks to her voracious social media presence, cracking 25,000 followers on Instagram. The extra attention hasn't bothered the teen too much.
"Things have changed, because I got more popular, of course. But anyway, I’m still on my road to the top, and I’m just enjoying what I do. And that’s it!"
5. Potapova takes inspiration from her generation...but is keeping 2019 goals under wraps.
Potapova joined junior rivals Dayana Yastremska and Amanda Anisimova in the Top 100 this year, and admits to following their results when she can.
"It’s actually really cool that the young players are starting to hit the Top 100 and make it into the big tournaments. This inspires me, and I want to be, I mean, the first one. So we’ll see!"
After a dramatic clash with Anett Kontaveit at the Kremlin Cup, she vacationed in Punta Cana before heading to Bratislava and Miami for what has been an intense pre-season.
"I actually have big goals for the next year, but let’s keep it for ourselves," she said with a laugh. "Maybe next year at the end, we will talk again, and I will say if I made it or not!"
Potapova will play her first tournament of 2019 at the Brisbane International.