ROME -- As a recent addition to the Top 20, Magda Linette displays remarkable humility.
When complimented for her crucial net skills that contributed to her opening victory against highly regarded 18-year-old Linda Noskova at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, she demurs.
"Well, she pulled me in with good drop shots -- I was lucky that I was reading her shots well," Linette said.
But there's still a quiet, hard-won confidence about Linette these days. She's blossoming on court at the age of 31 after making her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open. Off court, she's standing up for issues she cares about, writing thoughtful posts on self-worth and body image on social media.
The seeds of both were planted in the WTA Players' Council, on which Linette has served since 2021 alongside peers such as Jessica Pegula and Victoria Azarenka.
"I learned so much from all the girls, and I don't think they realize how much they helped me on court," Linette said. "I really had to do things I was not very comfortable with in the Players' Council. I had to speak up sometimes, which was really difficult for me. But I felt that transition into confidence on court."
Why did Linette stand for the role in the first place?
"When the pandemic started, I had a couple points and ideas," she said. "I didn't like how some things were happening, and I wanted some changes. I did not have full knowledge, either. I approached people from the WTA, and they asked me whether I would run for the council. So that was the first bit of it.
"The second was that I know I'm not going to play tennis forever. I wanted to do some kind of social work, a bit different to tennis. I wanted to gain experience being able to speak up and argue points. I thought there'd be no better practice than the Players' Council, in the subjects I'm familiar with."
Consequently, Linette, who takes on Beatriz Haddad Maia on Saturday in Rome, is now coming into her own both as a player and a person standing up for what she believes in. The phrase "being true to myself" crops up a lot in conversation with her, and she's passionate about the need to live authentically.
To this end, Linette has been open about her long journey to separate her self-worth from her athletic performance, recalling how even bad practices would cause her to deny herself good food. Her experience means that she's pleased by the growing awareness of mental health issues among athletes, particularly among the younger generation -- though she cautions, "I want us to speak about it, but it has to mean something and not only be a fad."
Linette's commitment to honesty also underpins an ongoing project with her friend, the photographer Monika Piecha, in which they push back against a social media culture of filters, enhancements and retouching.
"I don't want to be a part of the filtered, fake look," she said. "It affects me when I see it -- I just feel worse about myself. These social media pressures are not healthy for us.
"For me as a woman, I felt it always. I always struggled with it and I struggle with it even today. When I look at my photos, my first reaction is, 'Oh my God, I don't really like this, I really don't like that.' It takes me a while to process it and be fine with myself, to be OK with the way I look."
Linette says she understands why female athletes care deeply about their social media image.
She acknowledged the need to accept unflattering on-court photos, as they tend to become widespread. Linette expressed a desire for better pictures but noticed that social media was heading in a negative direction. With her photographer (and best friend), they chose to embrace authenticity, working with light but avoiding retouching. This decision allowed for natural imperfections to remain visible, creating images that were artistic, tasteful and real.
Linette didn't want to make others feel bad by presenting a false reality for social media likes. She emphasized the importance of accepting human imperfections as normal, rather than pretending something is real when it's not.
"I didn't want to be a cause of someone else feeling bad," Linette said. "That's not reality. It's something you try to fake for likes. It's not where the world should go. I don't want to pretend something is real when it's not. Wrinkles are fine, pimples are fine, everything is human and it's normal."
Keeping it real is something Linette says has enabled her to live and play with confidence and freedom. It's something she advises for everyone. But she also doesn't sugarcoat the process.
"It's not easy," she said. "You want followers and you want to be part of fads. If something is popular or somebody is looking better than you, there are always those temptations. But I do it for myself. I try to remind myself every single day to accept myself. It's not like you come up with this idea and that's it, your work is done. No, it's work every single day. Some days are better and some are worse.
Recognizing the challenge, she explained that the pursuit of followers and participation in trends can be enticing, particularly when confronted with popularity or comparisons to others. However, she centers her attention on herself, committing to practice self-acceptance. Linette emphasized this is not a one-time decision, but an ongoing process with ups and downs.
"But the thing is, I can't not be real," Linette said. "It's an honest way to be."