BRONX, NY, USA - Magda Linette turned pro in 2009, and she had to wait a decade before her first taste of WTA glory finally came this weekend at the NYJTL Bronx Open. In front of a packed house at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis and Learning, Linette came back from a set down to stun Camila Giorgi and claim her first career title.
“It means the world to us,” an emotional Linette told press afterwards. “I’m 27, so it’s not super super young. So it means really a lot. It gives a lot of boost - you know, for the confidence, and also a reward. Finally, it’s a reward for us, for all the hard work.”
‘Hard work’ was certainly the theme for Linette in the Bronx. Ranked No.80 in the world, Linette had to fight through a full three rounds of qualifying just to reach the main draw. But with each match the Polish player grew more and more fearless.
“I think it was a lot with the confidence,” Linette mused. “Because in the practices, I knew that I could do great - I’ve played in practices with many top players, and I know I’m able to beat them, but when I went to the matches, something was missing. And that was the confidence. Here, I was just finding it from match to match.”
She was fueled by frustration after spending an up-and-down season seeing her hard work on the practice court not translate onto her on-court results: a solid start in Hobart was followed by an illness in Australian Open, a deep run in Hua Hin by an injury during Fed Cup. In Madrid, it was food poisoning.
“All the time it was something,” she lamented. But finally, after Rome Linette was finally healthy and playing well - and her game took off. She put in a head-turning performance at Roland Garros, taking defending champion Simona Halep to three sets, and recorded a career-best third round finish at Wimbledon.
“I was really feeling that I’m playing so much better. Even in the preparations for the hardcourt season, I practiced with so many girls and I knew I’m playing so well, and I was just so frustrated that it does not show up in the results.”
For eight matches in a row at the Bronx, Linette grew in confidence - even if physically she was exhausted after 14 hours of tennis. She made a point to project a positive body language: during many points of her epic final against Giorgi, Linette seemed to run out of steam before eventually finding a second wind just in time to stay in it.
“I just tried to lie to my body and myself a little bit,” she said. “When I was going down, in the next point I tried to maybe fake it, to be over-reactive maybe, sometimes, maybe be too loud. But I just had to somehow force myself to get that extra energy.”
Linette drew even more energy from the strong Polish support in the stands of the packed Stadium Court, and chants of “Mag-da! Mag-da!” willed her through the rollercoaster third set, where she had to turn around a break deficit.
“I was really surprised how many Polish people are around here, so I’m really thankful for them that they came and supported me,” she acknowledged. “It’s great, because we don’t have a tournament in Poland, we’re not really used to having a home crowd. So it’s always that they come for the big tournaments, I’m so happy that they came to watch my final.”
The seemingly-perpetual Polish No.2, Linette spent a decade of her career trailing fellow Pole Agnieszka Radwanska, the country’s first Grand Slam finalist and former second-ranked player in the world. This weekend, Linette became the first Polish player since Radwanska’s retirement to win a WTA title - but she already finds herself eclipsed by the next big thing in Polish tennis: current top-ranked Pole Iga Swiatek, the teenage wunderkind who reached the fourth round at Roland Garros earlier this year.
“I’m so happy [for them] because I know how tough it is,” Linette said of her fellow Polish players success, adding, “And you know, in our country Agnieszka was everything. Now, Iga is everything. I’m always in the shadow of somebody.
“So I’m glad that I’m having this moment, because I worked for it so hard. I don’t have sponsorships, I don’t have a lot of media around me. We all do it with my team and the people who believe in me. It’s a family business, in a way for us.
“So maybe that’s why it was so emotional for all of us, because in a way so many people told us it’s not going to happen, or doubted us, or tried to cheat us. But we always pushed through, and the guys always stayed with me for so many moments, especially [my coach] Izo [Zunic].”
But Linette can’t let herself savor her long-awaited moment of glory for too long. In two days, she’s set to be back on the tennis court again - this time, making her start at the US Open against Australia’s Astra Sharma.
“I still don’t know how I’m gonna recover,” Linette said. “I’m glad that it’s a player that I know, I played against her before, I had chances against her. I lost, but I know that I will have a shot for sure.
“If I’m going to play like I did this week, I’m definitely positive that it’s going to be a great match. I hope I can win, and I’m going to do everything that I can to win the first round, because I’m going to focus on every match - like here.
“I hope I’m just going to continue because now I know what it feels like to win a title, I know what it takes. I hope it’s going to be many more to come.”