Podoroska: Life Remains The Same After Roland Garros

WASHINGTON/LINZ, November 13, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Nadia Podoroska may not quite be a household tennis name like current Argentine star Diego Schwartzman is today or Gabriela Sabatini was a generation ago. However, it may just be a matter of time for the 23-year-old Podoroska, who earlier this year garnered world headlines for her remarkable, out-of-nowhere semifinal run at Roland Garros.

Podoroska was born in Rosario, Sante Fe Province, Argentina, and grew up in a middle-class family in Fisherton, a neighborhood founded by railroad workers. Her father is a watchmaker turned pharmacist and her mother is also a pharmacist. However, here’s where her family dynamics gets interesting but can be also be quite confusing. At first glance, it might seem that Podoroska is just another up-and-coming tennis product coming out of Eastern European. Except, while Podoroska is of Ukranian descent as her grandparents were Ukranian, Nadia doesn’t speak the language at all. Instead, growing up in Argentina, Spanish is her native tongue and she also speaks English.

At age 5, Podoroska became the first in her family to take up tennis and she practiced at the local athletic club in Fisherton. Her favorite Argentine male tennis player growing up was Guillermo Cañas. She was born after Sabatini became a national hero to Argentines, but she has met the legendary Hall of Famer. And, of course, Guillermo Vilas was a national hero for the ages throughout all of Argentina back in the day while Schwartzman is more her contemporary, someone whom she fondly speaks about – especially now that he’s playing in the Nitto ATP Finals next week in London.

“The truth is that I am very happy for Diego,” Podoroska told ESPNTenis.com. “He deserves it again. It is something that he has been looking for a long time and I think that for all tennis players in the country it is a great motivation, an example of work and perseverance of everything he has been doing Being able to get to that place is pure inspiration.”

Growing up, Podoroska’s family never had a lot of money and, thus, Nadia struggled to be able to compete internationally. She toiled on the ITF World Tour for several years and won 14 titles. Then, multiple injuries suffered in late 2017 threatened her career. Once Podoroska was healthy enough to play again, she went to live in Alicante, Spain, which afforded her more chances to compete regularly. It was there that she became enamored in physical training as well as mental training – a combination of Bompu zen and neuroscience – and it helped her to become a better tennis player.

This year, Podoroska’s tennis journeys have taken her all over the globe – from Malibu, California, to Mexico, Italy, the Czech Republic, France and now Austria. She began the year winning back-to-back $25K hard-court tournaments in California and France and two weeks before her breakout at Roland Garros, she won an ITF clay-court event in Saint-Malo, France.

Today, when the sixth seed Podoroska steps on court at TipsArena Linz to play against No. 4 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, she will be playing in her 50th overall singles match this season. She comes in to her quarterfinal match with a 42-7 win-loss record in all competitions. If Podoroska defeats the 33rd-ranked Alexandrova, she would advance to her fourth WTA-level semifinal of the season, which would ensure her first WTA Top 50 finish.

Before her surprising run at Roland Garros, in which she suddenly became very well known, the last time Podoroska played in the main draw of a Grand Slam was at the 2016 US Open, where she lost in the first round. Now, making her French Open debut ranked over 100 and having played her way through the qualifying draw, Podoroska won all the way through to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Iga Swiatek, 6-2, 6-1, in little over an hour. She became the first qualifier in Roland Garros history to reach the semifinals.

Ranked 131st at the time during her French fortnight, Podoroska had never beaten a Top 50 player, but somehow stunned No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinal round. Suddenly, in the later rounds her matches were being put on the show courts instead of being banished to the outer reaches of Stade Roland Garros.

“This year I learned a lot about myself, about my game,” Podoroska told Tennis TourTalk earlier this week in during one of her well-attended virtual press conferences in Linz. “It was a very good year for me. I improved many things [in my game]. That was the most important thing.”

When Podoroska was asked if she realized that not only had she become a big story in her native Argentina but also throughout the entire tennis world, she modestly brushed it all aside, saying “I’m still just trying to be focused on what I am doing every day.”

After the French Open, Podoroska returned to Alicante. “I live there, I train in Spain. I basically rested for one week, and then I started training again. So, my life didn’t change too much; I’m playing another tournament, so my life is quite the same,” she said.

This week in Upper Austria, the 48th-ranked Podoroska has defeated No. 76 Irina-Camelia Begu, who is also her doubles partner in Linz, and No. 75 Camila Giorgi. While the first-round match provided her with a straightforward 6-4, 6-4 victory, her 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-4 win over Giorgi on Thursday went the distance and lasted two and one-half hours. Off the court, she’s enjoyed learning some Upper Austrian slang and sampling Linzer Torte, a traditional Austrian pastry named after the city of Linz.

“I’m still just trying to be focused on each match, and I’m trying to learn about this tournament [which is] new to me, and try to improve my game,” Podoroska said. “The courts here are fast but the bounce feels quite slow, which I like. Playing indoors, you don’t deal with bad weather, there’s no sun, there’s no wind. So, that’s great for me. It cleans up my tennis.”

Podoroska said her victories in Linz have given her something positive to think about as the season nears an end. “They have given me a lot of confidence at this moment. I think it’s good when it comes to playing important points. Now, I know what to do,” she said.

Looking ahead to 2021, Podoroska said she feels fortunate that her Top 50 ranking will allow her to plan her winter and spring travel with more ease. “It’s good for me to [start the year inside the Top 50] and know that I will be playing in Australia, and then I will be playing in the States [at Indian Wells and Miami],” she said. “It’s good to have the calendar a little bit clearer than in ITF, and playing against the top players.”