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It was another stellar year for American tennis in 2023, with a wide variety of success stories. Coco Gauff won her first Grand Slam, Jessica Pegula finished in the Top 5 of the rankings again, while rising talents Alycia Parks and Ashlyn Krueger won titles. 

Unique among these narratives was the breakthrough season from Emina Bektas. After a college career and seven ITF Challenger titles, Bektas' Hologic WTA Tour surged this year, when she skyrocketed from No.360 at the end of 2022 to a career-high ranking of No.82.

Photo Gallery: The Top 100 breakthroughs of 2023

Bektas became the fourth oldest player to make a Top 100 debut on Nov. 6 at the age of 30.

"Haha, everyone keeps bringing up my age," Bektas told in an interview, reflecting on her quantum leap up the rankings. "Joking aside, I honestly was just really genuinely happy.

"Even more so, I was happy for everyone around me. The people that stood by and supported me and helped me and continued to believe in me even through the very tough and low moments. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this and stick through it without them."

Hana Bank Korea Open

It has been a winding road for Bektas, who jumped into tennis after she and her parents moved from Germany to the United States. She spent her formative years as part of the Indianapolis tennis community before training at the John Newcombe Tennis Academy and heading to the University of Michigan for college.

"I think each phase served its different purpose," Bektas said. "Growing up, it’s first the technique, then I played tons and tons of matches and the training gets tougher at the academy level. And then finally in college it’s the combination of the first two, plus just the growth you do as a person once you get to college."

At Michigan from 2011 to 2015, Bektas was a standout, becoming the university's all-time leader in singles wins and combined wins.

"Playing professional tennis was always a goal of mine, but I remember when I was at the Newcombe Academy, I went on a college visit at the time with my late friend Lilly Kimbell, and I remember being like, 'Woah,'" Bektas said. "Seeing the campus, going to the football game, just the team atmosphere really got me.

"Anytime in juniors, when I played a team event, those were always my favorite tournaments by far. I love, love, loved them and thrived in them, and I realized I wanted to be a part of that. Also, I was absolutely nowhere near ready to play professional tennis straight from high school, and I am so happy I chose that path."

Bektas shouts out her Michigan coaches Ronni Bernstein and Teryn Ashley-Fitch for her learning experiences at Michigan.

"One big lesson on the court we were always taught was just staying out on court," Bektas said. "Which sounds simple and easy enough, but so many dual matches could turn at the drop of a hat, so staying out on court, competing, helping out your teammates was always one of the main things."

After college, Bektas' ranking hovered between 150 and 400 for a few years, but 2023 was the year where all of those learning experiences paid off. The American made tremendous strides at tour level, reaching her first Hologic WTA Tour quarterfinal in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and her first Hologic WTA Tour semifinal in Seoul.

"Doing well in those tournaments just showed me how much I had improved from where I was at the start of the year," Bektas said. "I got through some really tough and long and challenging matches in both of those tournaments, so that definitely gave me confidence. It also showed me what I needed to continue to improve on if I want to keep having success at that level and playing with the very best players out there."

Bektas overcomes Birrell to reach first career WTA semifinal in Seoul

Then in her penultimate event of this year, Bektas won the WTA 125 title in Tampico, Mexico, her highest-level title to date. Bektas edged Anna Kalinskaya 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(3) in a gripping final and make her Top 100 debut.  

"I could probably sit here and say it was my first-serve percentage or the fact that I continued to stay aggressive throughout the match," Bektas said. "But in all honesty, I think it was just the resiliency I’ve had all year.

"Sometimes winning a title or reaching a goal just feels like a relief because you are immediately off to the next event and you don’t have much time to process or sit in those moments. But this one I was really able to soak in, and that’s a feeling that won’t ever leave."

Bektas credits her rise this past season to "more consistency with things off the court, which ended up helping on the court. Whether that’s with the mental aspect and understanding myself and my tennis better, or just the trust, support, and communication I had with the team around me. Consistency in training. Sticking to a plan. Listening to the guidance of those around me. Better scheduling."

In her offseason, Bektas had a period of regrouping before she recently resumed her training in Miami.

"I got a chance to visit with some friends, make a trip out to L.A., watch a Michigan football game," Bektas said. "I love, love, love sports, so with all of the traveling and different time zones I’m not able to watch as much as I would like. So I’m using all of this free time to watch all of the football, basketball and soccer that I can!"

China Open/VCG

Bektas will now start the 2024 season playing WTA 250 events in Auckland and Hobart before heading to Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open.

As a reward for her vast improvement over the past 12 months, Bektas will play a Grand Slam main draw without having to go through qualifying for the first time in her career.

"It still feels a bit surreal, to be honest," Bektas said of her first direct entry into a Slam. "I was just hoping to work my way back to qualies of Slams at the very least at the start of [2023], so to see myself directly into the main draw of a Slam is a really proud moment."

With these new experiences both behind her and ahead of her, Bektas is still keeping her perspective modest, despite starting her first season as a Top 100 player.

"I’m not a big 'have a massive goal to achieve at the end of the year' person," Bektas said. "I like to put down little milestones as the year goes on to see my progression, but I really just want to continue to build off last year.

"I want to continue to be consistent. But most importantly, I just want to continue to have fun on court and just put myself in the right positions on and off the court to be able to achieve success. Whatever happens from there happens."