DUBAI -- Emma Navarro will be the first to admit none of this was a given. In fact, she still flinches when she realizes she's firmly a Top 30 player. 

"It's always a challenge to feel that I am the player that I'm ranked as," Navarro said. "That's something that even if I repeat it to myself 10 times over I don't know if I believe it. That's not so much a physical ability thing, it's more that it's just happened really fast. 

"My brain needs time to catch up in terms of processing that."

Navarro, 22, hasn't had much downtime to process anything that's happened over the last twelve months. The 2021 NCAA singles champion for the University of Virginia, Navarro turned pro in 2022 to try and make her way on the pro tour.

She has been an absolute workhorse since the start of the 2023 season. Ranked No.149, she began last year at an ITF 25K event in Florida. What followed was a non-stop schedule that ran through 29 tournaments and a total of 88 singles matches.

"I felt like it was really important to just take my time and kind of go through this rite of passage of playing ITFs and getting a bunch of matches in," Navarro said. "Just gaining confidence in who I am as a player and how I like to play and the plays I like to go to in big moments, just figuring all that stuff out. 

"By getting a lot of matches in, I think that was really important for me and it gave me a lot of confidence coming into this new level."

As she grew in experience, the wins came. She captured five ITF titles and made inroads on the Hologic WTA Tour as well. She made her first WTA quarterfinal on her favorite surface, clay, in Strasbourg. One month later, she was into her first WTA semifinal, this time on the grass in Bad Homburg. Then came her first hard-court semifinal in San Diego. 

The progress was quiet and incremental. But by the end of the year, Navarro found herself knocking on the door of the Top 30. 

"There was a time, when I was 15 or 16, when being a decent college player was going to be good enough for me -- and maybe not even that," Navarro said. "Maybe that wasn't going to even happen. 

"So it's taken a lot to believe in myself and believe that I can play at this level with this caliber of player. I'm a perfectionist and I expect a lot of myself every day and when I don't get that my initial reaction is to think I'll never be good enough." 

Navarro has shown no signs of any wavering belief in 2024. She opened the year with her first WTA title in Hobart. She built on that to post her best result at a Slam, a run to the third round at the Australian Open. Making her main-draw debut at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week, Navarro came from a set and 5-3 down to defeat Katerina Siniakova 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the first round. She'll face eighth-seeded Maria Sakkari next. 

The victory was Navarro's 13th of the year, putting her behind only Elena Rybakina and Jelena Ostapenko for the most wins on tour. Now the No.4-ranked American, she's on the precipice of breaking into the Top 20. 

"End of last year my goal was to be Top 30 in two years," Navarro said. "So I kind of beat that timeline a little bit. 

"I've never gotten too hung up on rankings or results. It's just been process-oriented. So just continue to get better. That's what I love about the sport. I can go practice or play a match and there's always something to improve on. It's never the end."

If the trend continues, Navarro won't be flying under the radar for much longer. On a deep American bench, she sits only behind Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, and Madison Keys. If she can hold that position, a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team would be hers for the taking this summer. 

"As a tennis player, I would want [fans] to know that although I don't show a lot of emotion, I'm always giving it 110%," Navarro said. "It means the world to me. I'm going to always fight as hard as I can until the last point. Even if I'm not first-pumping or doing whatever, it doesn't mean it matters any less to me.

"I put my all into this. Results and rankings don't come easily, although someone like me it looks like I just showed up in the rankings, but I've put a lot of work in over the years and so has the team that I have around me. It takes a lot of hard work, and it's been a long time coming. It's taken a lot of years to get here."