Clara Tauson hasn't had many opportunities to make an impact recently - but when she has, she's made the most of them.
This week, the Danish teenager upset No.1 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the Open 6ème Sens - Métropole de Lyon. It is the second time in the past six months she has come through WTA-level qualifying before claiming a Top 50 victory. She also defeated Jennifer Brady 6-4, 3-6, 9-7 in her Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros in September.
Tauson, 18, has been bubbling under for a while. She was the 2019 Australian Open girls' champion, where she beat Leylah Fernandez in the final. Her transition to the professional ranks has been almost seamless. She won her third pro tournament, a W15 in Stockholm in 2017, at the age of 14, and has racked up nine ITF titles to date. Currently, Tauson sits at a career-high No. 139 ranking.
Tauson's ranking position has been unfortunate - too low to gain entry into the fewer high-level tournament opportunities on offer, with climbing made more difficult because of the rankings freeze instituted last year.
Nonetheless, her form has been undeniable. Tauson's record since the tour resumption is 35-8, and this year she has gone 15-3 so far. wtatennis.com caught up with the rising talent after her win against Alexandrova. Get to know more about who she most wants to face on tour, training at the Justine Henin Academy and why she loves to watch crime shows to relax.
How does it feel to have beaten a player like Ekaterina Alexandrova, who has won more matches indoors than anyone else since 2018?
Tauson: I didn't know that before. I actually called my dad after the match and he said, "What - did you win? She's won so many matches indoors!" But I had hoped that I would be drawn to play either her or Fiona [Ferro, the No.2 seed] because they're two really good players.
Even though opportunities to gain ranking points are harder to come by at the moment, is it more important for you to play better opposition?
Tauson: Yes, I played a lot of tournaments this year, 25Ks - you don't get a lot of points from them even if you win them. I've won two this year [in Fujairah and Altenkirchen]. But I'm still developing my game and I'm still quite young - so I really want to get the experience of playing these kinds of players. Even if I might have lost pretty big, I was still happy getting to play that match.
I love playing the good players. That's where I want to be. There's definitely a gap between the 25Ks and here - you saw today in the match, if you go just five or 10 percent down, two or three games are gone. In 25Ks you maybe get some easy points, and you don't here. So it's good for my concentration to play these matches - I need to get my concentration better for when I hopefully get on this level all the time.
You've only played three WTA main draws, and you've upset a Top 50 player in two of them. Do you think you raise your level against better opposition?
Tauson: It's only the second time I've played a Top 50 player, so I don't have a lot of experience with that - but we can say it's gone well these two times! Going into these matches I just try to play as free as I can and show what I can do.
You beat Jennifer Brady at Roland Garros. A few months later, she reached the Australian Open final. How did it feel to watch that?
Tauson: All my friends texted me - "You beat her, this girl who's in a Grand Slam final!" It was definitely fun watching her. I was happy, because you see you actually have the level to play and win those matches.
I'm not saying I'm gonna be in a Grand Slam final anytime soon, but when you see someone you've beaten do well, you get confidence from that. You think, maybe I could have been there also. ... But I need to get more solid in the whole tournament like her.
You say you love playing good players. Who would you most like to face across the net?
Tauson: I definitely want to play [Simona] Halep one day. I think she's just a champion, she plays 100 percent every tournament she plays and no matter what the score, she's always there. And [Petra] Kvitova also - I love watching her play. I want to feel how her balls are coming, because she just hits so big and I want to play like her.
Would you describe your game as aggressive, then?
Tauson: Definitely. I like to come in the court and finish at net if I have the opportunity - but it's really hard to do that against [WTA] players because they play so good. I would like to be the kind of player who serves really well, plays big shots - like Kvitova. She's not afraid to hit the ball. I really think I can be that type of player.
Last year, we said goodbye to the best Danish player in history, Caroline Wozniacki. Did you had much contact with her growing up, and how important was she for Danish tennis?
Tauson: I played two or three tournaments where she was and we spoke, but she lives in the U.S. so it's not like we got to practice. She was the only one who's really got to the top from Denmark so she was important, of course, but we grew up in two different times. Danish tennis right now is not too huge and I hope I can inspire people to play tennis, because it's a good sport, I think.
What do you like most about tennis, and how did you get started in it?
Tauson: I love that I can decide where I want to play the ball and it's only me who decides if I win or lose. I'm definitely not a team player! Of course there's an opponent you have to beat, but it's me who decides where and how I play the balls. And the tactics also - it's like a board game, but you don't know how the opponent is going to play, because it's so different from player to player. But the individual thing is the best thing for me.
Tennis is the only sport I've ever played. People are actually surprised when I say that, because kids always play a lot of sports, but I've only ever played tennis. My uncle, Michael Tauson, is a former ATP player, so everybody in the family has tried tennis, it's been going on for generations. He was the World No.101 - the worst ranking! If I get to the Top 100 I'll have beaten that.
What do you like to do off court?
Tauson: I train in Belgium with my coach, Olivier Jeunehomme, and all my tennis life is there. But my friends are mostly in Denmark - so I like to Facetime them, or watch Netflix. When I'm not on court or doing fitness I just like to be on the couch. I really like watching crime shows, like The Blacklist - I have an obsession with watching shows like that because they get my mind off things but are still so exciting.
You train at the Justine Henin Academy - have you ever met Henin, and do you have any memories of her as a player? Or is she a bit before your time, as she retired for the first time when you were five years old?
Tauson: Justine is at the academy almost every day watching everyone practice, so we see her quite a lot. She's really down-to-earth and really nice. I remember the first time I came to the academy, she spoke to me like I actually knew her - of course I'd watched her play, so it was a big deal for me just speaking to someone like that. But it's really comfortable talking to her.
I didn't watch her too much growing up. But when I was younger, I used to watch YouTube videos of tennis every day. I think everyone watches the great players and their highlights, so I saw quite a few of her playing against Serena and Venus.
Do you have any specific goals for the 2021 season?
Tauson: Yes, in my mind - but not for anyone else! Last year my goal was to be Top 150. I only played nine tournaments and I reached it. I don't have a goal ranking-wise now - just to play as many WTAs as I can and see how far it goes.