MADRID -- The thin air at the Caja Magica has been a perfect venue for Alycia Parks' to snap a two-month-long main-draw losing streak. Making her tournament debut at the Mutua Madrid Open, the 22-year-old American ousted 2011 champion and former No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 7-5(5) to advance to her first third round at a WTA 1000-level tournament.
No player surged through the finish line of the 2022 season like Parks, who reeled off 10 consecutive victories to win back-to-back WTA 125K tournaments in December to seal a Top 100 debut at the end of last year.
Guided by faith, Parks readies for a breakout in 2023
Then, in her first main draw of the new season, Parks captured her first Hologic WTA Tour title, defeating No.5 Caroline Garcia in the final of Lyon. What followed was a long dry spell.
"I think it was a little bit of expectations and a lot of little stuff thrown at me," Parks told WTA Insider. "So I had to go back to how I was winning these matches. I had to literally sit down with my dad and be like 'What's happening? Why is this happening?' He said, 'You changed your routine.' So I had to go back to that. I'm back on track now.
"My family is my own team. I think that's kind of when I got off track, allowing other people in my tennis to kind of direct me off track."
Reunited with her father Michael, Parks finds herself in a more positive and focused headspace as she turned to the clay season. Last week in Stuttgart, she played a sharp match that was decided by just two breaks of serve against Zheng Qinwen, losing 6-4, 6-4 in the first round.
"She's a little bit tough to beat because she has a really huge serve that's difficult [to] return," Zheng said after that match. "I think she has one of the fastest serves in the tour for the moment."
A FOURTH consecutive victory against Top-20 opponents ☝️@TheRealAParks takes out former finalist Azarenka to advance to Round 3 in Madrid!#MMOPEN pic.twitter.com/8OeotfleoJ— wta (@WTA) April 28, 2023
The victory over 16th-ranked Azarenka was her fourth consecutive win against a Top 20 opponent. She is now 4-1 in her career against Top 20 opposition, with wins over Karolina Pliskova, Maria Sakkari, Garcia and Azarenka.
"Every opponent, I just look at them all the same," Parks said. "I don't think about their ranking or what they achieved. I just go out there and play them as if I was playing someone 1000 in the world or someone with no ranking.
"I just don't see the number."
Not too shabby for a player ranked No.163 a year ago. Now ranked No.54, Parks continues her rise up the rankings as she builds on her breakout six-month campaign.
Playing just 15 main-draw matches this season, Parks has hit 131 aces, placing her fifth on the tour's ace leaderboard behind Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Caroline Garcia and Zheng. With her 13 aces against Azarenka, Parks now leads the tour in average aces per match with 8.7, edging ahead of Wimbledon champion Rybakina.
When told of the stat, Parks laughed. "That's exciting. So I'm just going to keep going out there acing."
8,47 - Alycia Parks is the female player with the most aces on average per match in 2023 (8,47 - 127 in 15 matches). Danger.#MMOPEN | @MutuaMadridOpen @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/OsYqVrGn1s— OptaAce (@OptaAce) April 28, 2023
With her solid performance in Stuttgart and now two good wins in Madrid, Parks is shedding the scar tissue from her two-month rough patch.
"As soon as you start losing, people want to down you," Parks said. "I was having that a little bit after Lyon. I just had to stay focused. It's not the end of the world. Each week you have an opportunity to win a tournament. So you can't really focus on the losses."
"Wins obviously really give you confidence when you had a little rough losing patch. So each win, I put it in my pocket. Each loss, I put it in my back pocket and get rid of it."
Though the bulk of her success over the past six months has come on indoor hard courts, Parks says she's more than comfortable on clay. She credits a training block on the surface during the Covid shutdown for accelerating her comfort on the surface.
"I like clay because I like to slide. I never really slide on hard court because I feel like you can roll your ankle out there."
"If anything, I think I gain more power [on clay]. I can put my whole body into it and twist."
Regardless of the surface, Parks says the key to her success is to just get out of her own way.
"I would say that I just try to work hard every day and get these results," Parks said. "Try not to think about it as much because I know if you think about it too much it can kind of get into your head. Just play the matches and be free."