ISTANBUL, April 29, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Two years ago, Petra Martic’s career had sunk to new depths. With her ranking plummeted to No. 662 in the world, thanks to a back injury which sidelined her for a period of 10 months, there was nowhere to go but up – and that’s just what she’s done. She persevered.
Hard work, determination and a can-do attitude culminated in the 36th-ranked Martic winning her first career WTA title on Sunday, on red clay at a WTA International event in Istanbul, Turkey.
“When I got injured, I really believed that my best years were still to come for me,” said Martic, during a telephone interview Sunday from Istanbul with the WTA website. “That kept me believing that I could come back, stronger than ever. I really believed that there were still so many good things on court waiting for me, and so I couldn’t wait to be back playing tournaments again.”
Through playing ITF Pro Circuit tournaments to build up her confidence and boost her ranking, the 28-year-old Martic steadily worked her way back to the WTA Tour and reached the fourth round at both the 2017 French Open and Wimbledon tournaments. (She was ranked No. 290 during her run at Roland Garros and No. 134 at Wimbledon.) Then, in 2018, Martic reached her second career final at Bucharest (losing to Anastasija Sevastova). It represented her first tournament final in six years. Last October, she posted a career-best ranking of No. 32 following a quarterfinal showing at Tianjin, which ensured a fifth Top 100 finish of her career. Martic finished with a 28-17 win-loss record.
In January, Martic reached a career-high ranking of No. 31 after winning a couple of rounds at the Australian Open. Then, after struggling during the hard court “Sunshine Swing” tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami in March, which dropped her ranking to No. 53, Martic strung together four quality wins at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, S.C., on green clay earlier this month. They included a quarterfinal victory over No. 20 Belinda Bencic before she lost in the semifinals against No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki. Her ranking was back to No. 40.
Finally, in Istanbul, the No. 6 seed Martic fought from a set down and defeated up-and-coming Czech Republic star Marketa Vondrousova, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, in the final of the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup. The victory lifted Martic to her first WTA title and improved her 2019 record to 12-6.
Petra Martic wins her first title! 💪
— WTA (@WTA) 28. April 2019
If it seems like Martic’s career has traveled a full circle, one filled with ups and downs and comebacks, it’s because it has. She’s come a long way since her first WTA main draw in 2007.
Now, after lifting her first WTA trophy Sunday, Martic said, “It was really an incredible week. I can’t believe I managed to turn this match around today. I really felt hopeless at one point, especially after the first set. She played so well, dominating, and I wasn’t sure if I could come back. I’m so happy.”
To reach the final, Martic won four straight matches. She defeating No. 67 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, No. 132 Ana Bogdan of Romania, No. 64 Kristina Mladenovic of France and No. 65 Margarita Gasparyan of Russia. The first three wins all went three sets and, against Mladenovic, she played in the longest match on the WTA Tour this year, a three hour and 17 minute thriller. Martic prevailed 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (2). Meanwhile, the 40th-ranked Vondrousova plowed her way to the final by winning each of her four matches in straight sets.
Against Vondrousova, who had reached the quarterfinals of both Indian Wells and Miami and was a finalist in Budapest earlier this year, the 19-year-old Czech left-hander jumped out to a 5-0 advantage in the first set before Martic realized what hit her. Then, the Split, Croatia native started to rebound and made a match out of the final.
“At the end of the first set, I was trying to find more of a rhythm so I could fight from the second set on,” said the 5-foot-11-inch (1.81 m) Martic, who hits right-handed with a two-fisted backhand. “In the first set, I made too many unforced errors and she basically made none. She was so steady, and it was a one way street! But from the second set, I broke her in first game and I started believing a bit more.
“I started playing longer rallies and I wasn’t afraid to stay there with her, and I think that’s what made the difference.”
Martic hit 17 winners to offset her 33 unforced errors, most which occurred in the first set. She converted six of 11 break-point opportunities. Although Vondrousova hit 26 winners, her 37 unforced errors – all but eight happened in the final two sets – were a deciding factor. Martic outpointed Vondrousova 77-73.
“I wasn’t as nervous than I’ve been in finals before,” said Martic. “I just played one point at a time and didn’t look too far ahead. I managed to control my nerves more, stay pretty disciplined on the court, and focus on my game plan. That was the biggest difference in this final.”
A contributing factor toward Martic’s new-found success has been her coach Sandra Zaniewska. “She’s a huge support to me. She believes in me like no other, even when I think I can’t win some matches,” said Martic. “She’s still there, convincing me that I can do it. If I’m struggling with my body, she’ll massage me, make a fitness plan if the physio isn’t around. She’s there, 24/7, really giving her all for my career. I’m so grateful to have her by my side.”
Throughout her phone conversation with the WTA’s David Kane, Martic seemed gushing with enthusiasm. “It’s huge. I have no words, still,” she said. “I’m full of emotions and I can’t believe I even managed to turn this match around. Winning my first title is incredible, and it’s the best day of my career. I hope it’s going to give me more confidence in the rest of the season, and maybe win another!”
Now, it’s onward for Martic, who is seeded fifth this week at Rabat in another WTA International event on red clay. No doubt, she will be carrying forth the enormous confidence gained from her “best day” in Istanbul. As she said, “When you believe and work hard, things go your way.”