FORT WORTH, Texas -- Caroline Garcia wasn't exactly bursting with confidence when she touched down in Texas ahead of the WTA Finals. But 10 days later, the 29-year-old Frenchwoman had her arms wrapped around the WTA Finals trophy after putting on a serving clinic to hold off Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(4), 6-4 to win the biggest title of her career.
The week was a microcosm of Garcia's campaign. The Frenchwoman underlined how quickly fortunes can change in a week.
Now ranked No.4, she was outside the Top 70 six months ago. But Garcia went on a tear and won more matches than any other player since the start of June. She won four titles and reached her first major semifinal, at the US Open.
Considering all she has accomplished, Garcia is still aware she's been here before -- enjoying a career-best season only to struggle with the follow-up.
This time, Garcia says her maturity and clarity she gained in the five years since her initial breakthrough leave her prepared for what's to come in 2023.
WTA Insider: You won eight of your last 10 matches against Top 10 players, with those two losses coming to No.1 Swiatek and No.2 Jabeur. Before that, you had just one Top 10 win since 2018. What does that turnaround mean to you?
Garcia: I think the Cincinnati tournaments proved to me that I was able to play and beat the best players in the world and do it day after day. It looks like the tournaments in a week suit me better than the Slams for now, so I need to make some adjustments. But it's a great experience and the week in Cincinnati really helped me get some confidence in my fitness, my level of tennis, my game style.
To go all the way at the WTA Finals you have to play to win four to five matches against the Top 8 players in the world. It's a good experience for now and for later.
WTA Insider: Sitting here after winning the biggest title of your career, is the WTA Finals title the most meaningful moment of your season? Or were there others?
WTA Insider: It's difficult to pick because at the key moments everything means so much. To win Bad Homburg meant a lot. Trust me, it meant a lot. I was struggling during the tournament, I had to save match points against Alize, the match against Andreescu was an insane scenario. It had been so many years since I had made a final, won a title. It was a big achievement for me, for the team. It proved that what we were doing was working.
In Warsaw, I beat my first No.1. It meant a lot because it was the first time I did that after so many years on tour.
WTA Insider: How do you sustain this into next season?
Garcia: It looks like I have to keep running fast and running forwards [laughs]. Obviously, I've done good in the past, I was Top 4, but the year afterward was kind of tough. It was a good lesson for me and I want to be able to manage that part better.
I think I grew a lot in these five years. Obviously, we're still going to make mistakes here and there, but we try and do as little as we can and learn really quickly. But I really want to be focused on the future, enjoy the present, see what I can improve in my game, my fitness, my mental capacity. I'm sure there are a lot of things I can still improve.
This year has been a really good experience in the day-to-day work. It was paying off from one day to another. I want to have this mentality again and again.
WTA Insider: Speaking to other players, they're very impressed and complimentary of your game and Maria Sakkari said no one plays like you do. What are you focused on improving?
Garcia: I see so many little things that I can improve. Talking about my return-and-volley, I think sometimes my return can be more accurate. Sometimes my target is too big and I get passed because it's too easy for my opponent. I think my second serve can improve.
My first serve was good. Aces and free points are something I enjoy a lot and I want to keep going. It's helping me a lot. It's an important part of my game. When I move forward, be faster to be closer to the net.
When you look deep there is no finish line for how you can improve your game.
WTA Insider: You've won a title this year on hard court, clay, grass and now indoors. Do you think your success across surfaces is because you are good at adjusting or because your game style just works regardless of surface?
Garcia: My game style, it is what it is and today I'm more mature than I used to be, to really embrace all the good parts of it and the bad parts of it. I just go for it. I really try to focus on what I can do and what I can control, and that's the best way I'm playing tennis.
I've tried in the past to adjust more, be more patient, move back a little bit, and we can see that it was not paying off very much. Now the identity is clear and I want to keep going that way.
WTA Insider: Last question for you - What feels closer to you right now as you sit as the WTA Finals champion and World No.4: Winning a Slam or becoming World No.1?
Garcia: Slams. Iga is far in front [laughs].