INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Britain's Harriet Dart arrived in California for the BNP Paribas Open with one simple goal: just to be able to play the event. The World No.122 had come to Indian Wells twice before but never took the court. In 2020, the event was canceled due to the pandemic and in 2021, she was felled by a viral infection that landed her in the emergency room.
But this year, playing as a qualifier, she has advanced to the Round of 16 at a WTA 1000 event for the first time, earning her first career win against a Top 20 opponent. With victories over No.12 seed Elina Svitolina and Australian Open quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi, Dart is closing in on her Top 100 debut.
WTA Insider sat down with Dart to discuss her pathway to professional tennis, the break-up that forged a new steely resolve and the lessons she's learned.
WTA Insider: How did you come to play tennis?
Dart: My mum comes from a background of playing tennis. I was introduced to the sport by her. I used to go along to a lot of my mum's tennis matches, sit on the side of the court, and one day I just asked to play. That's kind of how I started.
WTA Insider: Did you try any other sports?
Dart: I was actually a decent long-distance runner. I had to choose at some point whether I was going to play tennis or long-distance. My dad advised me to keep playing tennis because women in tennis, with Billie Jean King paving the way for equal prize money and all of that, the opportunities in tennis were better than in running.
WTA Insider: At what point did you think you might want to try and become a professional tennis player?
Dart: When I was about 13, I thought, I really want to do this. When I look back I definitely would have told myself a few things to do differently. Have more fun, enjoy it more, little things like that.
You don't really know what it takes. You have this dream when you're that age and you don't realize the commitment and the choices from your parents, for example, that they make so that you are able to go places to be able to get training, travel abroad, play.
It's such a long journey. You get so caught up with being the best 14-year-old or 15-year-old when it really means nothing. It's more about improving your game, developing yourself as an athlete. I think that's a huge thing. I see a lot of really good young players, but physically they're so behind. It catches up on you when you get onto the tour.
I would definitely tell myself to take my time a little bit more and not worry so much about losing in an under-14 event.
WTA Insider: What has made the difference for you this week in Indian Wells?
Dart: I always knew my level was there, but until you get those wins under your belt, that's when you really believe. I feel like I've grown as an individual and as a player in the last year, especially. A lot of things have happened to me on and off the court, a lot of different changes in my life. I went through a really rough time, which really affected me on court. Being happy off the court has made me feel happy on the court. That's been a huge part of my success.
To be honest, I was coming here with really no expectations and just taking everything in my stride, just enjoying being here, but also knowing that I can play at this level. Whether my results were going to come this week, next week or the weeks to come, it's just about being patient. I'm really happy that my performances have showed some good results this week.
WTA Insider: When you talk about going through a rough time, what was the key to turning that around?
Dart: I was really at a low point. It was a real struggle for me to get out of a rut where I felt like there was nowhere to go. I put so much work in and then the results weren't happening. Also, my emotional maturity on the court was not still very good. So I needed to grow in that aspect. I've really worked hard on that and just taking every opportunity as it comes and enjoying being there.
There were a lot of emotions that I would feel on the court and sometimes I really wouldn't want to be out there and that's really not me and within my character because I'm such a fighter on the court. I really want that to show and I want to give everything. I don't want to look back and think you really should have pushed yourself more.
You get this one life and one shot at tennis, and it's really not that long in the grand scheme of things. So it's just about enjoying more, the little things, the day to day, pushing myself to the limit. I quite enjoy seeing where my limit is.
WTA Insider: Do you think you've discovered your limit yet?
Dart: In working hard, I always push myself to the limit when we have pre-season, when we do physical stuff. I feel I'm in the best physical and mental shape that I have been in a long while.
I'm a very emotional person and I feel like that comes out in the court a lot. I'm very fiery, I can get down on myself, but it's also my greatest asset. It's just about channeling it in the right direction. I feel like I've been able to do that a lot more. If I have a bad result one week, not bringing it for the next few weeks. I'm very quick to step out of it and just keep plugging away.
Because everyone can play at this level, it has so much to do with mental strength. I really feel like I found an inner me. It's been there but now it's come out. So I'm pretty proud of myself for that.
WTA Insider: When did you feel like you turned the corner, coming out of that rough patch and into this new, more resilient you?
Dart: It's such a roller coaster this tennis life. I went through such a rough patch that I only really stepped up out of it was before French Open last year.
WTA Insider: Do you know when you slipped into it?
Dart: I went through a really horrible breakup, which I wouldn't wish upon anyone. It was a real rough time for me and it really affected me on the court. As much as people say those things shouldn't affect you, it's really challenging to sometimes separate it.
I realized I had to find my own something really deep inside me. I'm so much more than just a tennis player and I can really do anything. I wanted to really show myself that I was mentally so strong and I can overcome anything, no matter what someone has done to you.
Now I feel like I've got a better perspective on things in terms of separating my private life and my work. At the end of the day, I play tennis. It's not my everything, but it's my work. I go to work and I give it my best. I can only look back and think, I gave it my best, I gave everything, and if that's not good enough and that better than me today, that's fine. But I want to know when I go to sleep at night that I've given everything and that I haven't mentally tapped out, I haven't just thrown the toys out of the pram and been a bit of a brat.
I want to look back and be like, you gave everything and they just played better. Or, you got tight today, but we go again tomorrow. But I don't want to look back and be upset with myself that mentally I wasn't there because I felt like that's the been the biggest key in the last year for me.
WTA Insider: What does this week in Indian Wells and getting these wins mean to you?
Dart: I saw two strange versions of this event, so to finally actually be here, it's just great. So accept whatever will happen on the court. Sometimes you don't always feel the ball, but to give yourself the best chance, be really super positive. I was at 5-2 down in Kanepi and I thought, you're in the third round of Indian Wells. Who cares if you lose? Just go out and give the best that you can do and that's all you can give yourself.
I think I've been most impressed with myself that I've been able to back it up. That's a big thing. Everyone can play good level. Everyone can play one good match. But it's about really proving to myself that I can be at this level week and week out.
WTA Insider: What are your goals for 2022?
Dart: I just want to make sure that I'm in the main draw at the Slams because it's so difficult. To not have to play in qualies, everyone is such a good player and it's so tough to win three back-to-back matches. So to put myself in that position would be nice.
WTA Insider: Does your run here at Indian Wells change your perspective on what you want from yourself this season?
Dart: I don't think so. I think it might change my schedule a little bit. Maybe I won't have to dip down to so many challenger tournaments, which would be nice. Playing these top events, you get so well looked after and it's great to be here. I want to put myself in a position where I can play these tournaments week-in and week-out. It's just exciting.