MIAMI – Forgive Linda Fruhvirtova if she was feeling a little giddy Friday afternoon.
A year ago, she lost in the first round of qualifying here at the Miami Open. Now, she’s into the third round after a surprising 7-5, 2-6, 6-1 victory over No.20 seed Elise Mertens. Surprising, because she’s ranked No.279 in the world.
“I mean, it’s definitely one of my best tournaments so far – I think the best one,” she said in the spacious press room underneath Hard Rock Stadium. “I never played against Top 25 player, and, yeah, it’s unbelievable.
“I still can’t believe it.”
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Did we mention that she’s only 16 years old? Fruhvirtova’s career goals are uncommonly and unflinchingly lofty.
“I have always answered that [question by saying] I want to reach No.1,” she said. “I want to win Grand Slam titles, which hasn’t changed.”
With the Williams sisters playing rarely these days – they’re handing out an Oscar Sunday night – and the sudden retirement of Ashleigh Barty, women’s professional tennis seems poised to embrace emerging players. Emma Raducanu beat Leylah Fernandez in last year’s US Open final, in a novel pairing of teenagers. They’re ranked Nos.13 and No.22, respectively, and still only 19. And then there’s Coco Gauff, already ranked No.17; she turned 18 earlier this month.
“Yeah, I would say definitely the game is going through kind of a shift right now, both sides, women and male side of young players coming up,” Gauff said. “So I would say there is definitely a generational shift happening right now. Yeah, I’m glad that I’m a part of it.”
Fruhvirtova, who was granted a shrewd wildcard here, could be the next one. She’s the youngest player to reach third round of the Miami women’s main draw since CiCi Bellis (15) in 2015. Coincidentally, Victoria Azarenka, her Sunday opponent, also did it as a 16-year-old in 2006. It’s worth noting that Azarenka checked both of the career boxes, the No.1 ranking and Grand Slam titles, cited by Fruhvirtova.
Most 16-year-olds, if they’re talented enough, are playing a junior schedule. After winning the 2019 title at Les Petits As, a premier junior tournament in France, Fruhvirtova looked ready to move to the next level. Fruhvirtova’s sister, Brenda, two years younger, took the Les Petits As title a year later, making them the first members of the same family to win the title in two consecutive years.
Linda has already won three ITF titles and got her first WTA-level win a year ago in Charleston when Alizé Cornet retired in the first round. She followed that up with a win over Emma Navarro before falling to Astra Sharma in the quarterfinals.
By virtue of being a year-end Top 5 junior player in 2021, Fruhvirtova has earned four "tournament merited increases" under the WTA Age Eligibility Rule at 16 years old and then again at 17 years old. Thus she can play a maximum of 16 tournaments at 16 years old and 20 tournaments at 17 years old.
Against Mertens, you might have expected the player with vast edge in experience to prevail in the third set. Instead, Fruhvirtova won six of seven games.
“I lost the second set, but I still knew that I can win this match and just keep playing my game and focusing on myself,” she said. “She had some chances at the beginning of the third set to break me, but yeah, it’s unbelievable. It’s like, did that really happen or am I just dreaming?”
Fruhvirtova is a product of the terrific Czech Republic system that has produced numerous champions and won six of the past 11 Billie Jean King Cup titles. There are currently eight Top 100 players from the Czech Republic: No.4 Barbora Krejcikova, No.8 Karolina Pliskova, No.32 Petra Kvitova, No.33 Marketa Vondrousova, No.46 Tereza Martincova, No.53 Katerina Siniakova, No.74 Karolina Muchova and No.87 Marie Bouzkova.
It shouldn’t be long before they have company.
Brenda led the Czech Republic junior Billie Jean King squad to the 2021 title. Last month in Argentina, at the age of 14, she won her third professional tournament, becoming the youngest player to win an ITF title in six years.
“We train together sometimes,” Linda said. “She’s obviously really good. We play doubles together. Yeah, I just can’t wait till she’s playing these tournaments, too, and we can be here together.
“Yeah, I think she’ll get here soon.”
Linda is trying to become the youngest to win a fourth-round match here since Tatiana Golvin in 2004.
While she doesn’t have much free time, Fruhvirtova listed two things she enjoys away from tennis: spending time with her sister and shopping. With $54,400 already in the bank for reaching the third round and an additional $50,000 on the line against Azarenka, the near future could involve a lot more of both.