NEW YORK, NY, USA - The 2018 season saw Romanian tennis hit new heights at Roland Garros when World No.1 Simona Halep captured her maiden major title, becoming the first from her country to claim Grand Slam glory since Virginia Ruzici in 1978.
Halep leads a strong contingent of diverse talent, six of whom feature in the Top 100 and the main draw of this year's US Open.
25-year-old Ana Bogdan became the latest from Romania to join Halep's elite squad back in January, clinching her Top 100 debut after reaching the third round of the Australian Open, a career-best Grand Slam run.
Since then, she took top honors as April's Breakthrough Player of the Month, has been ranked as high as World No.59. She returns to the major tournament where she made her Grand Slam main draw debut in 2016 as a qualifier. Having twice made it into the second round, she will open against 2014 girl's singles champion Marie Bouzkova on Monday.
I caught up with Bogdan after she qualified for the Coupe Rogers, one of many events with a strong Romanian fan base.
"I could feel the Romanian vibes," she said after outlasting fellow 100 Club inductee Sofia Kenin. "They were all there, cheering so much for me. It’s so nice to see that. I can find them almost everywhere, in Canada, or France, and even in England. I find nice people supporting me. I’m proud to have Romanians here, and I really thank them."
In an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com, Bogdan opened up about her tennis beginnings, her unusual cross-training methods as a former skiier, and what makes her countrywomen so tough in any event they play:
1. Her Top 100 debut was a long time coming: Bogdan looked like a lock to end the 2017 season by cracking the Top 100, but it wasn't until she stopped thinking about the career milestone that it finally came to her in Melbourne.
"I was putting so much pressure on myself last fall, especially in October and November, because I knew I was so close to making it," she said.
"It was too much, and I said, ‘I’m not going to think about it anymore. It’s going to come; it’s impossible for it not to come!’ I just kept playing and playing, and after the match against Putintseva, my boyfriend and my coach told me, ‘Now you’re No.87, or 89,’ and I said, ‘Really?’ I didn’t realize it! It was a moment."
It was certainly a moment when she rallied from a set down to defeat Yulia Putintseva, breaking down in tears upon securing the hard-fought win in grueling conditions.
"That was a really big step I made, an important one, and one I really had been waiting for. It was like a barrier I had to pass and to break. When I did that in the Australian Open, a Grand Slam, it was even more enjoyable. I cannot forget that moment for sure."
2. Hailing from a town known for winter sports, Bogdan got her start as a skiier: Born in Sinaia, Romania, Bogdan hardly expected to one day find herself battling through 41°C weather in Australia.
"My parents were both skiers. I started at two years old, and there was one year where we didn’t have any snow. That’s when my parents decided to try another sport with me, one that you could play in every season, indoors and outdoors.
"I didn’t start playing tennis with a professional mindset; I was still so young, and dreaming about being a skier. It started to get more professional when I was 12 and I started playing tournaments. From there, it became all about tennis, but skiing is still my second passion."
3. Don't ask Bogdan to give up her ostensibly hazardous hobby: With all the injury risks skiing seems to pose, one would expect Bogdan to save the sport for the off-season, but the Romanian hits the slopes as often as she can.
"Some people tell me, ‘It’s so dangerous. You can break your legs.’ I said, ‘I could break my legs skiing, but I can break my ankles playing tennis!’ For example, I’ve already had two injuries this year – my back and my elbow – and they were both from tennis. Nothing happens when I ski, so I’ll keep going."
4. Bogdan credits the slopes with aiding her tennis technique: Though the climates may vastly differ, skiing nonetheless offers some practical elements that Bogdan takes to the tennis court.
"Skiing definitely helps with tennis, because you have to bend you knees on the slope to change direction. You have to bend and come back up, so it’s a similar motion. The biggest difference is endurance; a tennis match can have you out on the court for four hours. A ski run is two minutes, maximum!"
— Ana Bogdan (@ana_bogdan) May 13, 2016
5. Bogdan channeled her Top 100 confidence into immediate results: From the third round of the Australian Open against 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, Bogdan reached back-to-back WTA semifinals at the Abierto Monterrey Afirme and the Claro Open Colsanitas, an achievement of which she's particularly proud.
"The result in Australia was my biggest at a Grand Slam so far. I had a great win against Kristina Mladenovic at the Australian Open; at the time she was No.11 in the world. I also had a good match against Keys, who was No.9 in the world. I lost, but it was quite close.
"I then made two semifinals in a row on different surfaces. It's different from other results, because I was playing on two different surfaces in two weeks, and that's not that easy. In Bogota, we were at altitude as well, so it was all very tough."
6. Bogdan credits coach Gabriele Moraru with her meteoric rise: She paired with the former ATP pro last summer, and the combination directly correlates to her surge up the rankings from a low of No.127 in August.
"He’s trying to make me be more aggressive on my forehand. I didn’t usually play so deep with my forehand; I felt my backhand more comfortably than the forehand. He tried to work on that, and we worked on everything, particularly with my movement on the court."
— Ana Bogdan (@ana_bogdan) July 1, 2017
7. Bogdan believes an aggressive mindset is key to Romanian results: Despite coming up as individuals, Bogdan says she has plenty in common with her countrywomen on the court.
"I think we all have a similar game. We’re mostly aggressive players, and not too defensive. Simona runs very well on the court, and she plays well when she’s defending, but she can also be aggressive. She has two advantages in this way. Sorana [Cirstea] is aggressive, and Irina-Camelia [Begu] also plays deep and solid.
"Monica [Niculescu] is definitely more defensively; she stays on the court, and fights no matter what. She can stay out on court for four hours and gives her heart on the court every time she plays. We’re all fighters, though."
Bogdan and Niculescu have twice played in New York, with the crafty veteran winning both times.
"When we’re at tournaments, I prefer to stay focused and we go to dinner with my team and my family. Sometimes when we have time or a day off, we get in touch with each other, especially after tournaments. I think everyone’s doing their own thing."
— Ana Bogdan (@ana_bogdan) April 9, 2017
8. Bogdan has another ranking goal in mind before 2019: Now that she's cracked the Top 100, there's one more logical step before the season ends, and she nearly grabbed it earlier this summer.
"After I made the Top 100, my goal for this year was to get into the Top 50. I got very close after Paris; I was No.59, but I lost some points because of my elbow injury. I’m just trying to get back to that, and keep my elbow strong."
Catch Bogdan taking on Bouzkova this Monday on Court 8.