WUHAN, China - Kristina Mladenovic's breakout season has been in a stall since the tour returned to the summer hardcourts. The World No.15 won her first career title in St. Petersburg in February and went on to make three more finals, including Stuttgart and Madrid, before an emotional run to the quarterfinals at the French Open.
Then her soaring season came to a screeching halt.
Since sustaining a right knee injury at Wimbledon, Mladenovic has struggled to win matches. Her last win came in the first round of the Citi Open in July, where she was the No.2 seed. On Sunday she bowed out in the first round of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, losing 6-3, 6-2 to Katerina Siniakova. The match was her eighth consecutive match loss and her 15th and 16th consecutive sets lost.
"I do think today was the best match I've played in a while," Mladenovic told WTA Insider after the match. "It's tough to say that because I still only won five games. But that's how I felt. I'm going to try to be smart and take the positives out of it."
"It's obviously a tough period for me. I was playing extremely well, I was playing my tennis until my last match at Wimbledon. I slid on the grass, fell down, and stretched the right ligament in my knee. I was off for 10 to 15 days. To come back was really difficult. I lost a little bit of my physical shape and the momentum. I have specific physical practice and I never stop it. I have to keep it up and obviously, I couldn't do that because of the knee.
"I would have had a break even if this didn't happen. I would leave the racquet on the side but even if I was on holidays, every second day I would do a physical day so that when you get back on court you just have to readjust the tennis. You feel physically fit.
"When I stepped back on the court there was a little bit of apprehension. I was a little scared to go full on that leg. I had to fight back to find my physical form, from Washington, Toronto, and Cincinnati I was struggling a lot physically. I think it took me three weeks to come back to normal physical shape. But when you're struggling to find the physical shape obviously the tennis gets out of place. The tennis is going away a little bit. It's the life of a tennis player and a professional athlete.
"You're playing tournaments when you're not ready. There were big tournaments and straight away you're playing a Top 30 player, and you lose back-to-back matches, and then the confidence is not there and you're in a tough negative period where you really need that confidence.
"I was fighting every single week to find it again - the rhythm, the tennis, physically. I think now it's coming back a little bit. The results are still not there obviously because it's another loss. But I have to move on and try my best until the end of the season to try and get it back."
Asked to reflect on her 2017 season, which saw her notch wins over Garbiñe Muguruza, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Venus Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki, Mladenovic said she was most proud of her consistency. Which makes her sudden slide that much tougher to swallow.
"I had to dig deep," Mladenovic said. "I was not playing on a cloud. I pulled through so many tough matches that didn't look that easy. The biggest satisfaction for me was that I was having that level back-to-back, every single week, for a couple months in a row. So it was not a coincidence or a lucky period of confidence. When it's confidence and everything is flawless it can last a couple of weeks, but not that long.
"What's difficult for me to accept is this thing that happened, which completely cut my momentum and my form. It's not like all of a sudden, just by myself, I started to not play well. I had a physical issue, that could have been worse. My season could have been done if I really tore my knee. But obviously it changed a lot of things and unfortunately turned things around for me in a bad way. But it's still the best season of my career and I'm still trying to, even failure after failure, go back to practice the next day to get ready for the next one. At least today was the best one so far so it's improving in a way."
Despite her slump, Mladenovic still sits at No.9 in the Porshe Race to Singapore Leaderboard, a credit to just how phenomenal the first half of her season was. A few months ago it was tempting to write the 24-year-old into the field, but Mladenovic says she's not beating herself up over possibly missing out on her first WTA Finals.
"People may think that I'm completely out of my mind and nervous about being that close and not making it," Mladenovic said. "I wish I had pressure, actually," she said with a laugh.
"I feel completely fine about it because my bad stretch of results happened how it did. I don't like to have pity on myself. Things happen for a reason. It's also for me to find the solution to come back as fast as possible, but that's the tough part about being an athlete. All of the players out there are very tough and one little thing can make a big difference, and that is what happening for me right now.
"It's pretty amazing that I'm still in the Race after having such a bad few months since Wimbledon. It's still the best season of my career. Of course, I wish it could have been different. There's still a couple of tournaments left to try to find it back. If it's not Singapore then it's Zhuhai. I'm just trying to stay positive."
"I wish [the injury] didn't happen because obviously it's what messed up the second part of my season and it's such a shame because we don't know what it could have been."