In this Life on Tour series, WTA Insider spoke to a litany of players across the ranking spectrum to give fans an inside look at life on tour. In this first installment, the players look back on their first professional tennis memories.
Ons Jabeur made herself a name to watch after becoming the first African or Arab to win a junior Grand Slam title since 1964 after taking the prize at the 2011 French Open. She made her WTA Tour main-draw debut a year later thanks to a wild card at 2012 Doha. Ranked outside the Top 1000, the 16-year-old Tunisian took a set off Virginie Razanno in the first round.
"They were the first ones who gave me the opportunity to play on the WTA and let me see what the WTA is," Jabeur said. "I remember feeling lost. I remember seeing Serena, Sharapova, Halep, Venus, and I was like, 'Whoa.' I was praying to play one of them. As someone who loves to put on a show, I wanted to play them. It was a dream to be around them."
"Of course, then I got to share the court with them in later years. If you look back at how I was looking at them then compared to now, it's insane."
The early years were all a blur for Jessica Pegula. She made her main-draw debut at 2012 Indian Wells. Ranked No.305, Pegula won two matches to qualify before losing to Magdalena Rybarikova in three sets.
"Mentally it feels a lot different than what you're expecting," Pegula said. "And then when you play and give yourself a chance, you realize oh, it wasn't as tough as I thought it would be, I wish I didn't come in with such high expectations.
"So you feel both sides. You're kind of overwhelmed but you're also wondering why you were so overwhelmed."
The Ukrainian's tour-level debut was one to remember. A year after winning the junior title at the Australian Open, Kostyuk, just 15 at the time, won three matches -- including a 6-3, 5-7, 6-0 win over Barbora Krejcikova -- to qualify for her first main draw. She went on to become the youngest player to make Melbourne's third round in 20 years before bowing out to her compatriot, Elina Svitolina.
"It was pretty special but as quickly as I came in, I left just as quickly and had to come back again," Kostyuk said. It took her nearly three years after her debut to crack the Top 100. Kostyuk suffered from depression in the years following her rousing run, citing the crippling pressure she felt to back it all up.
"I tried to take the experience as a good one, but everything after that was not a really great time. It blurs everything good, which I'm really not happy about because I think life is about being different, good or bad. But that experience, I would like to have a good memory in my head, but I think it will still take some time.
"It was like I was given this little glimpse into the tour and now you have to work for it. It was a good challenge for me all the years afterward. It's about the journey."
The 36-year-old mother of two couldn't remember where she made her WTA debut. It came over 15 years ago at 2006 Luxembourg. She had built her ranking up inside the Top 200 via the ITF Tour, playing mostly 10Ks and 25Ks. Her most visceral memory of her early days on tour was just how special it was to be a part of the show.
"I don't remember the first tournament, but I remember the first time playing on the tour," Maria said. "I was super young. It was a great experience at the beginning. I felt better playing on the WTA Tour than the juniors. I loved playing the big tournaments."
Wang Xinyu made her tour-level main-draw debut at the 2018 Australian Open as a wild card, but in her mind, her "real" debut came a year later at 2019 Shenzhen.
"I remember playing Sharapova in the second round. It was eventful," Wang said with a laugh. "I don't think you get that every time. You're playing someone you grew up watching. It was really special. Especially because it was in Shenzhen, playing in front of my home crowd.
"It was pretty perfect. Until the end."
Wang took the first set 7-6(4) over Sharapova before having to retire with an injury in the second set.
Magda Linette was walked around Warsaw wide-eyed after getting a wild card into qualifying at 2010 Warsaw. She was ranked outside the Top 700 and lost in three sets in the final round of qualifying to Anna Chakvetadze. "Everything was spectacular," Linette said. "You didn't get that treatment at juniors and I was playing ITF 10Ks. It was a big jump. Also it's your home country, so it feels different.
Linette made her main-draw debut three years later in Strasbourg, where she earned her first WTA win over Olga Puchkova. But it's her second main-draw appearance at 2013 Baku that left a lasting impression.
"I remember qualies was so tough because I beat players who were my demons on the ITFs. In the quarterfinals, Ons was completely kicking my ass and then she retired and gave me the walkover into the semifinals.
"I felt so bad for her. I felt angry because I felt I didn't deserve being in the semifinals. She was kicking my butt."
If there's one thing Yulia Putintseva has made clear over the course of her career, it's that she's never been short on self-belief. Putintseva didn't even have a ranking yet when she played her first WTA qualifying event in 2009 Luxembourg. Octogon gave her a wild card and she ended up beating a Top 80 player, Stefanie Voegele.
"I was expecting to play good and that I was good enough already, even though I was 14 years old," Putintseva said. "I was full of hope. I always had this mentality that I can do it, no matter who is on the other side. That helped me win that match. I lost to Flipkens in the last round of qualifying.
"It was a cool experience to come from juniors and play the pros. When you have nothing to lose it's easier than when you have to defend points. I was on fire."
To be fair, Mirra Andreeva didn't have to think too long to remember her WTA debut.
"The first thing I think of when I think of 2023 Madrid is when I first saw Andy Murray," the 16-year-old said.
It was a wild 2023 campaign for Andreeva -- who has been nominated for WTA Newcomer of the Year. She started the year with a heartbreaking three-set loss in the Australian Open junior girls' final, only to win her next 13 matches on the ITF Tour.
That earned her a main-draw wild card for her tour-level debut in Madrid. Ranked No.194, she proceeded to beat 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez before notching back-to-back Top 20 wins over Beatriz Haddad Maia and Linette. And she didn't even lose a set.
"When you first go to a tournament at this level, the atmosphere that you are now inside of it, that you are playing with all of them, that you deserve to be here, that feeling is hard to describe. It's just euphoria and adrenaline.
"But the first thing I remember is Andy Murray."