Long may tradition reign at Wimbledon’s All England Club, but one of the more unforgettable moments from the 2016 Championships saw past, present, and future all collide on No.1 Court for a riveting junior final featuring Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova and a surprising cameo from the Hawkeye review system.
“Last year was so crazy for me, especially at the end,” she told WTA Insider ahead of her tour-level main draw debut against Tatjana Maria. “The challenges at the end were just insane!”
Serving for the match against Dayana Yastremska, Potapova, then 15, saw two of her first six championships overturned in dramatic fashion, clinching her maiden major title in a titanic final game.
“I have the warmest of memories from last year. I’m feeling great to be back here as a pro, because I won the title last year as a junior. That gives me a lot of confidence, and it’s just amazing to be here. Playing the final last year, it gave me the strongest feelings that I can remember on a tennis court.”
The self-proclaimed queen of “emotional tennis,” she received a wildcard into just her second career WTA qualifying draw and rolled through three matches without losing a set.
“I continued my streak!” she said, celebrating her 15 straight grass court wins - dating back to last year’s junior triumphs at Roehampton and Wimbledon. “I don’t know why, but I’m so comfortable playing on grass. It’s like a second home for me, to be on grass and at Wimbledon.
“Grass courts are more compatible with aggressive tennis, and maybe a few slices. That’s what I’m trying to do here.”
Potapova last appeared on the WTA circuit in March, winning a topsy-tuvy three-setter against Maria Sakkari at the Miami Open. Just shy of her 16th birthday, the Russian rallied from a second set bagel and recovered from losing a big lead in the decider to earn her first Top 100 win in a final set tiebreak.
Back at Roehampton for the first time since winning the junior event, she blitzed former Top 100 players Patricia Maria Tig and Cagla Buyukakcay before playing an on-brand final round encounter with fellow former junior Slam champion Elizaveta Kulichkova.
Potapova nearly let a lapse in concentration get the best of her, but ultimately managed to not only outlast her countrywoman in straight sets, but also book a spot in the Wimbledon main draw.
“It was a crazy match, similar to last year, but without Hawkeye! Sometimes when you’re ahead, you can lose something, and so you have to find the way to find your focus and just win it.
“In the second set, I was up 5-2, and 40-0 on my serve. I just started to think about how, ‘Oh my god, I can reach my first main draw ever, and at Wimbledon!’ That’s why I started to get a little nervous and lose focus on the game. Once it got to 5-5, I told myself that I had to find my game and my focus.
“So, I did!”
As much a performer as she is a player, Potapova can run hot in form and facial expression - the latter of which rival another junior Wimbledon winner, Jelena Ostapenko. She nonetheless enjoys the cool contrast that the historic tournament’s hallowed grounds can provide.
“Wimbledon is a very special place. First of all, there’s the grass. Second of all, I like how every player has to wear white. All of the traditions are very special.
“I’m so excited. My family is so happy for me, and my team, as well. But we don’t want to get stuck on it too much; we still want to be able to look forward and keep moving, step by step.”
Potapova will need that mentality on Tuesday against Maria, a tricky veteran coming to Wimbledon having just won a 100K Challenger tournament in Southsea.
“I don’t know a lot about her. I’ve seen some of her matches, how she plays, and her style on the court. I don’t think it will be easy, but I just want to show my best tennis here and enjoy every moment.”
Closing in on the Top 250 of the WTA rankings, not even the rain delay during which Monday’s phone interview took place was enough to dampen her spirits.
“It’s not so sunny in London, but I like the city, Big Ben, even the city streets and the cafes. It’s great to be here.”