After Historic Year, Zarazua Wants To Get Better

Renata Zarazua (photo: Abierto GNP Seguros/Facebook)

MONTERREY/WASHINGTON, March 16, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Renata Zarazua has been trailblazer in her native Mexico – and it runs in the family. Last year, following a breakthrough semifinal run in Acapulco, Zarazua became just the fourth Mexican woman in the Open Era to compete in the main draw of a Grand Slam, at the French Open, where she won a round and earned a second-round clash with No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina, which she ultimately lost 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

After qualifying for the main draw at Roland Garros, Zarazua became the first Mexican woman to win a main draw match at a major since Angélica Gavaldón reached the second round of the 2000 Australian Open. After her milestone 6-1, 6-2 triumph over France’s Elsa Jacquemot, Zarazua was quoted by the WTA website saying: “It means a lot. I think it’s not only a win, I think it means even more than that. I’m super happy. I think I’m living a dream here in Paris. So, I just want to enjoy every match and enjoy every opportunity that it’s been giving me being here this week.”

During last year’s pandemic-interrupted 2020 season, Zarazua garnered victories over Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, both whom are in the draw of the WTA 250 Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey this week, which began Monday. It’s where Tennis TourTalk caught up with the personable and proud 23-year-old, both before and after her first-round match against Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia.

At the Abierto Mexicano TelCel in Acapulco in February of 2020, just weeks before the five-month shutdown of the WTA season, Zarazua’s 6-4, 6-2 first-round win over Stephens en route to becoming the first Mexican woman to play a WTA semifinal since 1993 vaulted her into the Top 200. Then, following her Roland Garros performance, her ranking improved to No. 149. She finished the pandemic-interrupted year, in which she played on both the WTA and ITF tours, ranked 142nd with a very respectable win-loss record of 31-12.

On Monday evening, the 5-foot-3 (1.60m) Zarazua, whose playing style is reminiscent of Dominika Cibulkova, was featured on Club Sonoma’s Estadio GNP Seguros against Zidansek. In their third career head-to-head meeting (with their series tied 1-all), the 144rd-ranked Zarazua lost to the No. 93 Zidansek, 7-6 (8), 6-3, in an hour and 51 minutes after being outpointed by her more experienced opponent 77-62. Zarazua, who had difficulty with winning points on her first serve, valiantly saved five set points in the opening-set tie break before finally succumbing on the sixth set-point try by Zidansek. Then, her serve was broken three times during the second set and she never won more than four points in a row during the loss.

Afterward, when Zarazua was asked by Tennis TourTalk what she will take away from her defeat, she said: “It’s nice, of course that I played a featured match at night. Unfortunately, it was a little bit sad there was no crowd. When you’re down or need that extra energy, the crowd helps a lot.

“Last year, when I played her in Acapulco, I had all the crowd behind me and they gave a lot of energy. This year, [Tamara] played better. She played me differently than I expected. I couldn’t play my best. I knew I had to play my best to beat her – she’s a higher-ranked player. It was hard to win a point against her.

“It was nice I got to play in Mexico, but I felt a little bit of pressure, too. I’m just going to try to improve and get better.”

During a Sunday morning virtual press conference, in which she spoke fluently in both in her native Spanish and English, Tennis TourTalk asked Zarazua what it meant to her to be able to play two weeks in a row in her home country, first in Guadalajara and now in Monterrey, after receiving main draw wild cards into both tournaments. She said: “It means a lot for me. Last week, it was really tough to handle the pressure. That’s my hometown in Guadalajara, so for me – especially the first match – with a little bit of a crowd, I wasn’t used to it.”

Zarazua beat No. 128 Katarzyna Kawa of Poland, 7-6 (7), 6-0, before losing in the next round to No. 111 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.

“I mean, it’s been a year that I’ve played with no crowd,” she continued. “So, it was hard to handle the nerves. This week, I’m super excited. There’s no crowd and I’m a little bit sad about that, but I’m happy to be here – I’m enjoying my time – and it’s super nice to be here in Mexico and play.”

When Zarazua was asked what she remembered about her milestone week last year in Acapulco, where she was ranked 270th at the time, it brought a big smile to her face. “Definitely, it was a great week for me. Beating Sloane gave me a lot of confidence and also the people cheered me on every match. It was a great atmosphere,” she said. “It’s a week I’ll never forget during my career my whole life.

“Whenever I see pictures or video of it, it gets me really emotional because I felt like I was living a dream a little bit. Also, my result there helped me to have the confidence to have a great year even though there weren’t a lot of tournaments. Then, afterward, I was able to play good at the French Open and at some other tournaments the rest of the year. It was a big year for me, getting through to the semifinals [at Acapulco] and for the rest of the year.”

Regarding Zarazua’s family ties to tennis, her older brother Patricio has been one of her coaches – and, as it turns out, Zarazua’s great uncle, Vicente Zarazua, 76, a Mexican pro in the 1960s and ’70s, played in 16 Davis Cup ties for his country and also won a pair of gold medals in doubles at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games in both the demonstration and exhibition events.

The younger Zarazua said that although she never got to see her great uncle play, last year in Acapulco he came to see two of her matches. She’s fond of the memories.

“He was super happy. He told me he was even more nervous than when he used to play,” Zarazua said. “I think just having him in my life, he gave me some advice as well about his experiences and everything he went thought.

“I think just whatever he says to me is going to be in a nice way going to help me,” she continued. “Coming from him, I take it always as a positive thing. I never doubt about if he’s saying something right or wrong, or saying something just to make me happy. For me, just having him in my family is a pleasure. Sometimes, people know me because of him. It’s really funny but he was a great player.”

Indeed, in 2008, Vicente Zarazua was introduced to the Hall of Fame of Immortals by the Mexican Council for Sport and Professional Spectacles.

Looking ahead to the 2021 season as it unfolds, Zarazua’s goals are modest but meaningful: “No. 1 is to get into the Top 100. I’m not far from that – I’m close – but I need to keep working. I need to keep improving. I can’t sit and relax and hope I make it. I know I have to work on a lot of things. Another goal is I want to play the Olympics. I hope I get to represent Mexico. It would be a big thing for me.”

Indeed, becoming the second member of her family to represent Mexico in an Olympics would no doubt make her great uncle – not to mention her country – very proud.

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