Anna Blinkova was the Wimbledon girls' runner-up in 2015 and the 2016 ITF Junior Masters champion - and she's ready for the big time next year.
Alex Macpherson
December 22, 2017

In April 2016, Anna Blinkova bade farewell to a stellar junior career in style, taking the title at the ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu with victory over Britain's Katie Swan in the final. And the Russian's transition to the pro ranks that year was just as dazzling, as she zoomed from No.826 to No.206 - finishing with her first ever WTA main draw win at home in Moscow, a dramatic 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(10) triumph over Anastasija Sevastova.

This year, the 19-year-old has backed up this early promise, particularly on the biggest stages. Having made her debut in Slam qualifying at the Australian Open, Blinkova went on to make it through the preliminary rounds at three of the year's four Slams - including sealing her first main draw victory in Melbourne in another epic, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 over Monica Niculescu. At Wimbledon, the youngster took her first set off a Top 20 opponent, stretching 2016 semifinalist Elena Vesnina to a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 scoreline.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing, as the teenager is the first to admit - but it raised her to a year-end ranking of No.136. From her off-season training base in Trnava, Slovakia, Blinkova chatted to wtatennis.com about her plans to break through next year.

1. Blinkova bookended 2017 with two Top 50 wins.

"There were really some matches this year that I will remember for all my life," the Russian reminisces. One of these came at the very start. Making her senior debut in Slam qualifying, Blinkova carved her way past Sesil Karatantcheva, Aleksandra Krunic and Anastasiya Komardina to make the main draw at her first attempt - only to face the finesse and wiles of Monica Niculescu in the main draw.

Coming off the Hobart final the previous week, Niculescu's idiosyncrasies have scuppered many a young gun's ambitions over the years - but Blinkova stuck to her aggressive game to emerge a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 winner in two hours and 15 minutes.

"It was a very tough match, it was 35 degrees!" remembers the Russian. "I had an advantage because I played three rounds of qualifying and I was already adjusted. I didn't think too much - I just played my game, I did my best and this helped me win."

Fast forward 11 months, and Blinkova rounded off her season by upsetting another tenacious counterpuncher. World No.38 Alizé Cornet was the No.1 seed at her home event in the Limoges 125K tournament, but she had no answer to Blinkova's power as the 19-year-old sped to a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Anna Blinkova (Getty)
Anna Blinkova (Getty)

2. She isn't satisfied with her results in 2017 - but knows what she needs to improve.

Despite her progress and big wins, Blinkova is frustrated with the inconsistency of her year. "At some points it was going good, but sometimes it was very bad," she grimaces. "I had some problems - only one injury, but by problems I mean losing many matches, losing my confidence."

As she bounced between ITF events and WTA tournaments in her attempt to transition to the main tour, Blinkova has learned what sets Top 100 players apart. "They have more experience," she says. "They have more tennis knowledge - that's why it's difficult to play with them because they are more clever, they play smart."

An example of this was Elena Vesnina, whom Blinkova faced in the first round of both Wimbledon and the US Open. At the All England Club, she pushed her veteran compatriot all the way, only falling 6-4, 5-7, 6-2. But two months later on the concrete courts of Flushing Meadows, the experienced Vesnina gave no ground en route to a 6-1, 6-3 win. "She played a lot better, I think," says Blinkova. "She remembered our first meeting, so she was ready for everything and I lost really easy."

In order to compete with the elite, Blinkova has identified two main areas to work on in the off-season. "If I improve my serve, it will help me a lot to win matches," she says. "And if I improve my variability of shots - if I can make more different shots - I can give more difficulties to my opponents. Some discomfort, you know?"

3. To this end, Blinkova has hired a new coach.

"His name is Mislav Hizak," she told wtatennis.com from her training base in Trnava, Slovakia, where she is spending her off season for the second year running. "I think he can improve my game. He can improve my shots, my serve, many other things - I think it's going to be a good cooperation."

Blinkova, who has hitherto been accompanied on tour by her mother Elena full-time and a coach on occasion, intends to travel with both Hizak and Elena in 2018.

4. Blinkova's foundation in singles is her power - but she's discovering the value of doubles as well.

"I'm an aggressive player, I like to play fast, I like fast surfaces," is how Blinkova describes her approach to singles tennis. She's no one-dimensional power player, though. Indeed, the Russian's biggest trophies to date have come on the doubles court, taking two ITF $100,000 titles in 2017 - alongside different partners to boot, Alla Kudryavtseva in Ilkley in June and Veronika Kudermetova three months later in St Petersburg.

"It's very important because it's a very good practice for many shots," Blinkova states. "The volleys, the serves. I also like to play doubles because you communicate with your partner and you are not alone - and it also gives me experience in tactics."

Anna Blinkova and Alla Kudryavtseva were doubles champions in Ilkley in June (Getty)
Anna Blinkova and Alla Kudryavtseva were doubles champions in Ilkley in June (Getty)

5. She's a voracious bookworm off court - which both helps her get away from tennis and learn how to improve.

"I like to read books very much!" says Blinkova with some excitement. Her choice of reading material ranges far and wide: she cites Jack London and Erich Maria Remarque as her favorite authors, and is also deeply fond of classic Russian literature. "It's about people - it's about what people think and what people feel," Blinkova explains. "I like to read about how people behave in different situations - I enjoy books with a little bit of philosophy and mental analysis."

These novels are Blinkova's escape from the courts - but she's also a fan of sports autobiographies. "This year I read Andre Agassi, Usain Bolt, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray..." she recounts. "From these, I have learned about working hard, fighting and self-confidence - about how to fight against your fears and your doubts."

It's this keenness to study the game and improve that is sure to see the young Russian break through in 2018.