INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Sorana Cirstea is seeing tennis in a whole new light these days and she gives all the credit to her new coach, Thomas Johansson. The 32-year-old Romanian has enjoyed a resurgent week at the BNP Paribas Open, where she knocked out No.5 Caroline Garcia in the fourth round to advance to her first Indian Wells quarterfinal.
"I never won against her but at the same time, I knew that I'm playing very good tennis," Cirstea told WTA Insider in Indian Wells. "I felt this for a while but the result wasn't really showing this. But I just kept working."
After shutting down her 2022 season after the US Open with a shoulder injury, Cirstea linked up with Johansson. The 2002 Australian Open champion and former ATP World No.7 has worked with the likes of David Goffin, Maria Sakkari and Borna Coric.
"The way I'm playing right now is because of him," Cirstea said. "He's improving so many areas of my game and helping me see the tennis with different eyes, to be smarter on the court. This is the reason why I'm playing so good. I'm really happy with the way I'm working with him.
"I think as a player, he could read the game really well and read the opponents really well. So he started to teach me that a little bit. Also, I told him to teach me a little bit of the men's mentality, the way men handle situations, and hopefully that can help me in the women's game."
Smiles all around 😀@sorana_cirstea takes out the No.5 seed Garcia in three sets! pic.twitter.com/Jl2luEaZ2m— wta (@WTA) March 15, 2023
One of the important adjustments Cirstea has made is to keep her eyes trained outward rather than inward. Most tennis players adhere to the oft-repeated mantra: "I'll just focus on myself and what I have to do." Under Johansson's tutelage, Cirstea says she's now paying attention to what's happening on the other side of the net.
"He made me smarter on the court," Cirstea said. "My shots were always there, but sometimes I couldn't see certain things."
Now ranked No.83, Cirstea is preparing for the toughest problem to solve in women's tennis at the moment in World No.1 Iga Swiatek. Indeed, the path to Cirstea's first WTA 1000 semifinal in nearly a decade will have to go through the defending champion, who has dispatched back-to-back major champions to return to the quarterfinals.
Their only other meeting came 14 months ago at the 2022 Australian Open. There, Swiatek rallied from a set down in a dramatic, high-quality duel to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the Round of 16.
"It was an amazing match, and usually I don't say that when I lose a match," Cirstea said. "Since then she just took off. She's been playing amazing."
The two were frequent practice partners in the offseason in Dubai. Cirstea has seen what Swiatek can do up close.
"She's such a complete player, she moves great, she doesn't have any flaws in her game," Cirstea said. "She's, from my point of view, the best mover we have. She serves well, she returns well. It's really hard to find a weakness in her game.
"I've been playing quite well as well, so I'm quite confident in my game. I know it's not going to be easy. I know she's the favorite. But I'm going to go out there and swing and do my thing and we'll see."