In a WTA season which featured the emergence of various characters who have piqued the interest of tennis fans, Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania stands near the top of the list. Here’s a primer as to why you should keep an eye on the rising left-hander in 2018.
1. Despite a ranking outside of the Top 500 at the start of the year, she played her way into form. Buzarnescu had to miss half of 2016 due to injury, which caused her to begin 2017 in the Australian Open qualifying tournament on a protected ranking, with an official WTA ranking of World No.541. She then pushed herself hard between March and May, playing nine tournaments in twelve weeks.
2016 was not the only time Buzarnescu had contended with injuries which nearly stopped her career too soon -- she missed nearly two years’ worth of time during 2013 and 2014 as well.
Because of that hiatus, however, you can refer to her as Dr. Buzarnescu -- she obtained her Ph.D. in sport science during that time.
2. Mid-year, she started winning Challenger titles -- and she hasn’t stopped since. Everything clicked into place in June, when she won consecutive $60,000 ITF Challenger titles in Hungary and Turkey. From there, she won five more Challenger events to finish the 2017 season with seven singles titles, more than any other WTA player.
After a .500 (12-12) win-loss record to start the year, Buzarnescu compiled a 58-11 record since June, including a 16-2 record to end the season, and claimed 70 match victories in 2017.
Mihaela Buzarnescu picked up her seventh singles title of 2017 to move clear at the top of the women's leaderboard.
The Romanian's latest title triumph came in Japan at the $60,000 Toyota tournament and lifted her to a new WTA career high of 60.https://t.co/uSlTMeJsML pic.twitter.com/5ZH3EUJWqH
— ITF Pro Circuit (@ITFprocircuit) November 20, 2017
3. It’s been a year of firsts, at the age of 29 -- including her first appearance in the main draw of a major. After her triumphs at Challenger events, Buzarnescu got to play her first Grand Slam main draw this year. She won three qualifying matches to make it into the US Open, which she called “the happiest moment of my career” up to that point, in an interview with spaziotennis.com.
Buzarnescu was then matched up against who she correctly identified, during a press conference after her quarterfinal match at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz, as “the toughest draw for a qualifier,” No.5 seed Caroline Wozniacki. But the Romanian acquitted herself well in a 6-1, 7-5 defeat.
“I was just a little bit disappointed after the match that I didn’t play longer,” Buzarnescu continued in the press conference. “I just thought when I played against her that I could make it, I could beat her as well. I felt that it’s not like a totally different level. They’re also human, they’re players that we can also beat.”
“[The US Open] was really important, because that’s when I really thought I can really get into Top 100 and I can play at this level, and that my place can also be around these girls,” she concluded.
4. Another first was her breakthrough at the WTA level in Austria, which also led her to a ranking milestone. At long last, Buzarnescu reached her maiden WTA semifinal at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz in October. She again won three qualifying matches to reach the main draw, then won epic encounters over No.4 seed Anett Kontaveit, Ajla Tomljanovic, and comebacking former Top 10 player Belinda Bencic.
— WTA (@WTA) October 13, 2017
It was a superb week for Buzarnescu, who lost to eventual champion Barbora Strycova in the semifinals. “I came to Linz without any expectation, but luckily my coach pushed me to come,” Buzarnescu told spaziotennis.com. “For me, it is also great to play against Top 100 players.”
After her exploits in Linz, Buzarnescu joined the Top 100 players herself, making her debut in the highest-ranked echelon for the first time in her career.
5. Despite this late-career surge, she was pegged for success at an early age. Buzarnescu was a strong junior, peaking at No.4 in the ITF junior rankings, and winning the 2006 US Open girls’ doubles title with countrywoman Raluca Olaru.
Indeed, Buzarnescu said after her Linz quarterfinal that she had recently received kind words of encouragement from Dominika Cibulkova and Wozniacki, as well as from Wozniacki’s coach and father, Piotr, because they knew she had been constantly struggling with injuries and were at “the same level in juniors.”
But Buzarnescu knew she would have her hands full with Wozniacki at the US Open, because “when we played against each other in the juniors, I never won against her. But it was always a tough match!”
6. She is part of a Romanian wave that is sweeping through the WTA. Buzarnescu’s rise has pushed her firmly into the Top 60, guaranteeing her access to WTA tournaments for at least the first few months of the year. For example, she will be able to bypass the qualifying event at a Grand Slam for the first time in her career in Melbourne next month.
With year-end World No.1 Simona Halep leading the charge, Buzarnescu, the resurgent Sorana Cirstea, and consistent veterans Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu combine with the world's top-ranked player to form a solid quintet of Romanian contenders.
“Since [Halep] became so popular in our country, tennis has begun to be also more popular,” Buzarnescu said in Linz. “Young kids go to tennis, we have some clubs in Romania, it’s getting bigger and bigger, people know more. It’s not just only football anymore.”
It took Mihaela Buzarnescu under an hour to defeat Dalma Galfi 6-0 6-2 and advance to the quarter finals of the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge. #AHTC2017 #alhabtoortennischallenge pic.twitter.com/M0lhUtQpyZ
— Al Habtoor Tennis (@habtoortennis) December 13, 2017
7. After many fits and starts, Buzarnescu is starting 2018 with the confidence that she can still achieve her goals. The Romanian’s excellent end to the season proved that there can still be many career peaks to come despite her 30th birthday in May of 2018. Moreover, she thinks she can be an inspiration to other players in similar situations.
“I think right now, I just start to believe that you can do it,” Buzarnescu said in Linz, after her quarterfinal. “It doesn’t matter, the age, as long as you’re fit and you’re feeling good on the court. You can be over 30 and you can still play and win.”
“Before, I wasn’t thinking about this because of my injuries, and I never had this ranking or these high results,” she continued. “I always thought it’s not possible, when you’re almost 30 it’s time to maybe retire, if you didn’t make it, and do something else, I don’t know, have a family, or coach, or work somewhere else.”
“But now I really think and I really hope that I can be an example for other players, who maybe were in my position and would want to quit, or just don’t want to continue. I think if you really want to, and you really believe in it, you just have to go and play, and the results are coming, doesn’t matter the age.”