In our Mid-Summer Swings, wtatennis.com takes you back to some of the best narratives, significant milestones and signposts for the future around the world during the low-key post-Wimbledon section of the season. This week, we rewind to the Idea Prokom Polish Open in Sopot for Dinara Safina and Flavia Pennetta's maiden titles, the Banka Koper Slovenia Open in Portoroz for Safina and Anna Chakvetadze's last trophies, the Baku Cup for Elina Svitolina's early milestones, the Brasil Tennis Cup in Florianopolis for Teliana Pereira's home joy and the Jiangxi Open in Nanchang for the start of Wang Qiang's surge.
Sicilian sagas: From Pierce to Pennetta, the best of Palermo
Austrian aces: Scenic sights and special moments
Swiss scenes: Home heroes and French success in Gstaad and Lausanne
Bucharest brilliance: Looking back on champions in Romania
Starring in Scandinavia: From first titles to super sweeps
Sopot: Polish premieres
Between 1998 and 2004, the Idea Prokom Polish Open was held on the clay courts of the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot in northern Poland, one of three WTA venues in the country in the Open Era (along with Warsaw, held every year from 1995 and 2010 except 2001 and 2008, and Katowice, a fixture between 2013 and 2016). Two of Sopot's first three champions were former Grand Slam finalists - 1994 Wimbledon champion Conchita Martínez was victorious in 1999, presaging her Top 10 resurgence the following year, while 1996 Australian Open runner-up Anke Huber took the 12th and final title of her career in 2000.
As the '00s got under way, though, the tournament became more of a launching pad for legends-in-waiting. In 2002, a 15-year-old Dinara Safina had already begun to seize the tennis world's attention - not only because of her famous older brother, former ATP World No.1 Marat Safin, but due to her own prodigious results. The Russian, a future World No.1 herself, had already powered to the semifinals of her maiden WTA main draw in Estoril that April, and had climbed over 250 ranking spots in the first seven months of the season.
Safina arrived in Sopot with something to prove, though. Her Grand Slam qualifying debut at Wimbledon had ended in heartbreak as she squandered a match point to make the main draw in the final round, falling 4-6, 6-2, 8-6 to Zuzana Ondraskova. In Poland though, Safina made no mistake, storming through qualifying for the loss of just 13 games - and then raising her game as the level of opposition went up. The World No.169's 6-1, 6-1 second-round rout of No.2 seed Patty Schnyder - her first ever meeting with a Top 30 player - was a resounding statement of intent; in the semifinals, a clash with another rising teenager, Vera Zvonareva, would be a significant harbinger. This week, Safina triumphed over her 17-year-old compatriot and fellow future multiple major finalist 6-3, 6-2, just as she would seven years later 6-3, 7-6(4) in the 2009 Australian Open semifinals, the most high-profile match the pair would contest. (Overall, Safina and Zvonareva finished their rivalry with six wins apiece.)
In total, Safina would drop just one set in eight matches en route to her first WTA trophy, defeating No.8 seed Magüi Serna 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 in the quarterfinals before sealing the final when 1998 champion Henrieta Nagyova was forced to retire due to a sprained ankle trailing 6-3, 4-0. It was also a win on the sibling rivalry scorecard - something Safina made sure her older brother knew. "After I won I called Marat to boast about my victory," she told the BBC afterwards. This run catapulted Safina into the Top 100, setting her up for her belated Grand Slam main draw debut at the US Open the following month - where she underwent a second-round baptism of fire against World No.1 and eventual champion Serena Williams, falling 6-0, 6-1.
Two years later, Sopot saw another star get her title count off the ground. Future US Open champion Flavia Pennetta's rise was neither as prodigious nor as rapid as Safina's: the Italian cracked the Top 100 two months after Safina did in September 2002, at the age of 20, but it took a year of consolidating her position before she stepped up another level.
In 2004, though, Pennetta had begun to establish herself as more of a threat. March had seen her reach her maiden WTA final in Acapulco, falling to Iveta Benesova; in May, she had scored her maiden Top 10 win in front of her home crowd in Rome, overcoming Nadia Petrova 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 in the second round. Returning to home soil in July led to another final run in Palermo, but this time Anabel Medina Garrigues - on her way to a Sicilian hat-trick of trophies - would deny her.
A brief detour to the hard courts of Stockholm resulted in a heartbreaking 5-7, 7-6(1), 7-6(8) loss to Nagyova, but proved no setback as Pennetta crossed the Baltic Sea to Poland. In Sopot, a rash of upsets meant that she did not need to face a Top 100 opponent before the final, dispatching qualifier Sanda Mamic, lucky loser Libuse Prusova, Nuria Llagostera Vives and wildcard Marta Domachowska - the only home player ever to reach the Sopot semifinals - without dropping a set. With the title on the line, the final was harder-fought - but Pennetta was able to overcome No.11 seed Klara Koukalova, whom she had just beaten in the Palermo quarterfinals, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 to seal the first of her 11 trophies and a Top 50 debut.
Portoroz: Slovenian swansongs, Srebotnik's quest
Held on hard courts in the Adriatic Sea resort of Portoroz, the Banka Koper Slovenia Open graced the WTA Tour between 2005 and 2010, moving from a September slot on the calendar to July for its last three years. Like Sopot, Portoroz would host its share of teenage prodigies: playing just her third WTA main draw and ranked World No.259, Tamira Paszek came through qualifying to lift her maiden trophy here in 2006 at 15 years and nine months of age, defeating No.6 seed Maria Elena Camerin 7-5, 6-1 in the final.
The Austrian, who went on to reach two Wimbledon quarterfinals and a career-high ranking of World No.26 in 2013, remains the fourth lowest-ranked and eleventh youngest player to win a WTA tournament; no 15-year-old would become a WTA champion for the next 13 years, until Coco Gauff captured the Linz title last October.
But Portoroz would end up seeing more players out than welcoming them. Its final two editions were both won by Russian former Top 5 players, Dinara Safina and Anna Chakvetadze - in what would turn out to be the last titles of their careers. In 2009, Safina entered the tournament as the World No.1, coming off a phenomenal 14-month spell during which she had won six titles and an Olympic silver medal, reached two Roland Garros finals, one Australian Open final, and semifinals at the US Open and Wimbledon.
In the peace of the Gulf of Trieste, Safina displayed confidence out of the spotlight, dispatching Tadeja Majeric, Ksenia Pervak, former finalist Camerin and Alberta Brianti without dropping a set. The indefatigable future Roland Garros runner-up Sara Errani was a tougher proposition in the final, but Safina was able to hold off a late-stage comeback from the Italian to seal her 12th title 6-7(5), 6-1, 7-5. Just months later, though, the chronic back pain that would ultimately end Safina's career began to emerge, and less than two years afterwards she played what would turn out to be her last match at the age of 24 at Madrid 2011.
Back problems would also be the reason for the premature end of Chakvetadze's career - though far from the only tribulation the Russian endured. After reaching the US Open semifinals and a peak ranking of World No.5 at the age of 20 thanks to her elegant, cerebral game, Chakvetadze suffered first the trauma of a home invasion and robbery in 2007 and then several years of battling injury and illness before playing her final match at Tashkent 2012 at only 25 years old.
By summer 2010, all of this had taken its toll on Chakvetadze's ranking: stop-start scheduling and a season win-loss record of 7-10 in WTA main draws had meant that she had sunk outside the Top 100 for the first time in six years. But the 23-year-old kicked off her Portoroz campaign with fine back-to-back victories over two future Top 10 players, Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 6-1 and Errani 6-1, 6-2, before pulling off two Houdini escapes, saving two match points in the quarterfinals before overcoming Vera Dushevina 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 and then rebounding from a nightmare start to defeat home hope Polona Hercog 0-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Back in a WTA final for the first time in two years, Chakvetadze found herself in her comfort zone. She had won the first seven finals of her career and lost just one, and was clinical in extending that record to 8-1 with a 6-1, 6-2 dismissal of Johanna Larsson. The confidence boost proved significant: Chakvetadze's Portoroz title kickstarted a 15-1 record over July and August that year as she followed it up by reaching the Copenhagen semifinals as a qualifier and winning the strong Bronx ITF 50K event - a run of form that saw her safely back inside the Top 100.
Hercog - who would not get a chance to improve her semifinal showing, as 2010 was the last edition of the event - was the second home favorite to go deep in Portoroz. Katarina Srebotnik, the only player to date to crack the Top 20 playing under the Slovenian flag (1977 Roland Garros champion Mima Jausovec reached World No.6 playing for the former Yugoslavia), already had four WTA titles under her belt before the tournament's first edition. Indeed, Srebotnik remains one of only seven players to lift the trophy on her WTA debut, a feat she accomplished as an 18-year-old at Estoril 1999.
Competing at WTA level at home for the first time, Srebotnik posted two valiant runs to the Portoroz final, losing three-set heartbreakers on both occasions - 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to Klara Koukalova in 2005 and 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Tatiana Golovin in 2007. A future doubles World No.1, Srebotnik also found the doubles title elusive, partnering Jelena Kostanic Tosic to the 2005 final but falling 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 to Anabel Medina Garrigues and Roberta Vinci.
Baku: Svitolina's milestones
Looking back at the five-year run of the Baku Cup, the only WTA tournament to have been held in Azerbaijan, between 2011 and 2015, one name sticks out in particular: future World No.3 Elina Svitolina, who repeatedly knocked off significant career milestones on the Caspian Sea coast.
Aged 17 and ranked World No.164, the Ukrainian made her first ever WTA main draw appearance in the Azerbaijani capital in 2012. Having climbed over 300 ranking spots over the previous 12 months, Svitolina had gained direct entry to Grand Slam qualifying for the first time that summer, losing to Garbiñe Muguruza in the preliminary rounds of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in an early harbinger of a top-level rivalry. In Baku, she would fall 6-1, 7-6(4) in the first round to World No.149 Sandra Zaniewska - now an established coach on the WTA Tour currently working with Alizé Cornet - but Svitolina was still able to use this losing debut as a springboard.
A month later, the teenager came through qualifying to make her Grand Slam debut at the US Open; at the start of 2013, she would capture her first WTA main draw win over Shahar Peer in Shenzhen. By the time Svitolina returned to Baku a year later, she was ranked World No.71 and the No.7 seed, fresh off her maiden WTA semifinal in Bad Gastein the previous week. After surviving a three-set first-round tussle against Aleksandra Krunic 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, the 18-year-old hit her stride, not dropping another set en route to her maiden title - coincidentally defeating Peer again, in the last final of the Israeli former World No.11's career, to seal the milestone, this time 6-4, 6-4. A notable clash along the way was Svitolina's 6-2, 6-3 upset of No.2 seed and fellow future Top 20 player Donna Vekic.
In 2014, Svitolina entered Baku as the No.2 seed herself. Ranked World No.37, she again dropped just one set en route to the title, overcoming former Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 before capturing her second trophy 6-1, 7-6(2) over 2012 winner Bojana Jovanovski in the final. It was the first of three successful title defences Svitolina has achieved in her career to date (along with Dubai 2017-18 and Rome 2017-18) - and was an immediate springboard to another milestone. At her very next tournament in Cincinnati, Svitolina would post her first ever Top 10 win over Petra Kvitova en route to her Premier 5 quarterfinal debut.
Florianopolis: Brazilian brilliance and Puig's prelude
Between 1977 and 2002, five different Brazilian cities hosted the Brasil Tennis Cup, with champions including Billie Jean King, Monica Seles and Anastasia Myskina. After an 11-year absence, the tournament re-emerged on the WTA Tour between 2013 and 2016 in a sixth, Florianopolis, held in July for its last two years.
In 2015, this coincided with home heroine Teliana Pereira's career year. Former World No.43 Pereira was the third of just three Brazilians to crack the WTA Top 50 in the Open Era (following Maria Bueno and Niege Dias), and that year had already won her maiden title in Bogota. This had made her the first Brazilian to lift a WTA trophy since Dias had triumphed over Pat Medrado - in the only all-Brazilian final of the Open Era - to win Guaruja in December 1987.
Arriving in Florianopolis as the No.4 seed, Pereira survived an arduous three-hour all-South American battle against Argentina's María Irigoyen 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-5 in the first round - before going on to match Dias as a champion on home soil, defeating No.3 seed Annika Beck 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the final. The semifinals, notably, saw Pereira overcome No.188-ranked Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 7-5; the Latvian was playing the second WTA main draw of her comeback from a two-year retirement, one that has since taken her to the 2018 US Open semifinals and a career high of World No.11.
Florianopolis's final year served as a prelude to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games - and though Monica Puig's stunning run to the gold medal there took most of the tennis world by surprise, the Puerto Rican had in fact served notice of her form in the Santa Catarina capital. Puig's run to the Florianopolis semifinals that year was ended by eventual champion Irina-Camelia Begu, but notably included a 6-3, 6-4 win over an 18-year-old, No.88-ranked Naomi Osaka in the quarterfinals. The Japanese teenager wasn't the only future Grand Slam champion in the 2016 draw, either: a 19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko was the No.4 seed, and also reached the last eight before falling to Timea Babos.
Nanchang: Wang takes it up a notch
For the Jiangxi Open's first three years as a WTA International event starting in 2016, the tournament was held in July and dominated by home players. In 2018, Wang Qiang became the third consecutive Chinese champion in Nanchang following Duan Yingying and Peng Shuai - a title run that sparked a career surge for the 26-year-old.
Wang had first cracked the Top 100 in November 2014, but to this point the World No.78 had struggled to go deep at WTA level. The last eight had been a particular hurdle: of Wang's first nine WTA quarterfinals, she had only won one, at Hong Kong 2017. In Nanchang, though, her toughest test would come in the second round, overcoming Sabina Sharipova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 - before surging through her last three matches for the loss of just 15 more games to lift her maiden trophy. The final, sealed by Wang when compatriot Zheng Saisai retired trailing 7-5, 4-0, was the third all-Chinese WTA final in history, following Zheng Jie's victory - also via retirement - over Li Na to win Estoril 2006, and Li's defeat of Peng to capture Shenzhen 2014.
Following this milestone, Wang was unleashed. A phenomenal Asian swing saw her seal a second title on home soil in Guangzhou, before posting back-to-back semifinal showings at Premier level in Wuhan and Beijing and wrapping up her season with consecutive finals in Hong Kong and the Zhuhai Elite Trophy. Starting in Nanchang, Wang went 29-9 until the end of the year, a run that included eight Top 20 wins over the likes of Karolina Pliskova (twice), Garbiñe Muguruza (twice), Elina Svitolina and Madison Keys. It was a surge that ultimately rocketed her into the Top 20, and established her as a threat to the very top - as illustrated in the last two Grand Slams by her big-name defeats of Ashleigh Barty at the US Open and Serena Williams at the Australian Open.