TORONTO, Canada - A complicated year for Caroline Garcia took a turn for the better when the Frenchwoman began to run simple, reaching back-to-back second weeks at the French Open and Wimbledon. Into the third round at her first event of the US Open Series, Garcia endured a few complications in her first round only to simplify things in her second, easing past Varvara Lepchenko, 6-1, 6-4 at the Rogers Cup on Wednesday.
“It was definitely a good win, because I wasn’t very happy about my match yesterday,” Garcia told WTA Insider. "I was up 6-2, 5-2 and I got myself in trouble. She started to play well, and that made things complicated. I was really frustrated, wanting to play a good match today.
“It’s really important to know yourself better, and that has definitely been a good part of this year.”
That “one match at a time” mentality may be clichéd, but it’s one that the ever-maturing French Open quarterfinalist has taken to heart since a back injury interrupted her clay court season. Physical issues were compounded by controversy among her Fed Cup teammates when she elected to skip the yearly competition after leading France into the final last fall, winning both her singles rubbers against the Czech Republic.
“Things were complicated before the French Open. I don’t think it motivated me, but it made me learn things about the way I was working and about others around me. In high-level sports there are always some people you kind of have to be careful with.
“I learned a lot about what I could do to be a better person, and from that, I can become a better player. I’ve just tried to be more focused on myself, what my team thinks, and forget the other people around me.”
The new approach immediately paid off for the 23-year-old, who marched into the last eight of her home Grand Slam, silencing demons from years past - particularly 2016, where she opened a post-loss press conference to Agnieszka Radwanska with an apology.
“The French Open was definitely a great tournament for me; in the past, it was a little bit complicated for me to play well there. Outside of the doubles title, I don’t have too many good memories. I took what I learned from the previous week in Strasbourg, walking on court and focusing on myself and what I can improve.
“I stopped thinking about who I played next, or the draw, or what people on social media think about me or my game. It was nice, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. It gave me a lot of motivation to keep it going because those are the matches I want to play.”
Battling future WTA World No.1 Karolina Pliskova through two tight sets, Garcia moved to grass, a surface that has never been her forte, but one on which she rolled into the second week without dropping a set, treating the Manic Monday crowd to classic against Johanna Konta in the fourth round of Wimbledon.
“When I walk on court, I don’t think too much about the past or the future; I want to finish a match better than how I started, not worrying about the result or what comes next. There are a lot of things to learn and a lot of lessons in life. Sometimes they come earlier than you’d want, but while I can’t say it was a great experience, but one I learned from.”
One lesson was to cut down time spent on social media, onto which some of those Fed Cup issues spilled.
“There are plenty of people who follow you all year long and send very positive messages, but there are also the ones that can hurt you. It’s difficult when, you’re already a little bit down about your loss and you’re game, you read something that really puts you even further down.
“I still go on Twitter and Instagram, but I read a little bit less of what people send me. With my personality, reading negative messages can really hurt me, so I try to avoid those as much as possible.”
The second had to do with scheduling; following a full grass court season, the Frenchwoman turned back to clay for one more fortnight on the terre battue.
“I’m not sure I will do it again, but it was a good experience. Six weeks before Gstaad and Bastad, I planned to go back, and even after a good Wimbledon, I wanted to go back. Those are tournaments where you can learn things and get good experience, but it’s complicated to go back because you’re a little bit tired and the court conditions can change a lot.”
Making one last surface switch before the end of the season, the hardcourts don’t promise too many changes for Garcia, who earned an impressive win over Konta earlier in the year at the BNP Paribas Open.
“I don’t try to change too much from one surface to another. There’s always some adjustments you have to make to your game, but I try to stay the same player overall, very aggressive, standing inside the court, and using my serve. When I serve well, that definitely helps my game.”
Her second appearance in Toronto’s main draw provides the rare opportunity to explore a new city, one that presents its own complications, but one Garcia intends to attack simply.
“It’s difficult to make the switch every year. It’s like, I know this place, but I don’t really know it because it was already two years ago. I end up forgetting parts about it every time I’m here. The two of them are very nice tournaments, and we can see that fans love tennis here. It’s great to have a lot of support on the court. But in Toronto, no one speaks French like they do in Montréal!
“We want to go to Niagara Falls; it’s maybe an hour away. I really want to see how it is, because I saw some pictures and it looks amazing. That’s the plan, but after the tournament!”
Garcia takes on American CiCi Bellis for a spot in the Rogers Cup quarterfinals on Thursday.