Knocked Down, But Tauson Gets Up Strong

Clara Tauson (photo: MUSC Health Women’s Open/Chris Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 14, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Clara Tauson lost the first two matches she played after winning her first WTA tour-level singles title at Lyon in early March. As she’s finding out, it’s all part of the learning process for this Danish rising star.

On Monday, the 18-year-old from Copenhagen, Denmark, won her first tour-level match since lifting her first champion’s trophy at Lyon. The 101st-ranked Tauson beat No. 109 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 6-3, 6-3, in the first round of the MUSC Health Women’s Open in Charleston, S.C., at the LTP-Daniel Island Tennis Center, the same complex that hosted last week’s WTA 500 Volvo Car Open. She will play No. 6 seed Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia in Wednesday’s second round.

Tauson is among a group of up-and-coming teenagers in this week’s WTA 250 event being played on green clay that also includes 19-year-old Copa Colsanitas titlist Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia; 19-year-old Emma Navarro of the United States, who has enjoyed a successful freshman year playing collegiately at the University of Virginia; and 15-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, who at No. 499 is the youngest ranked-player in the WTA Top 500.

Tauson, who opened the tournament on Althea Gibson Club Court, ended a two-match losing streak with her victory over Samsonova. It improved her 2021 win-loss record to 22-5. Tauson’s post-Lyon setbacks have included first-round losses in St. Petersburg, Russia on an indoor hard court and last week at the Copa Colsanitas in Bogatá, Colombia on red clay. She began the season playing ITF World Tennis Tour events before making her breakthrough at Lyon by garnering seven straight matches, which stretched from the qualifying draw through to winning the title match.

After capturing the Lyon title, Tauson’s ranking shot up from No. 139 to No. 96. She began play in Charleston this week ranked 101st, gaining a direct entry into the 32-player main draw after having to qualifying for the main draw at St. Petersburg and being seeded fourth in Bogotá. She realizes getting wild cards aren’t always a sure thing. “I think it benefits me at the end of the day because I’ve had to work for everything that I have,” she said. “Of course, I would still like to get wild cards to the big tournaments, but I’m from a small country. I haven’t had some of the same opportunities as some of the other young players in my age group. Maybe, it’s better this way. I know everything I’ve done I’ve worked for and I’m grateful for it.”

Tennis TourTalk asked the happy-go-lucky Tauson Monday afternoon, during a virtual press conference, how important it was to be able to not only break her losing streak but also to complete the match after bruising her left knee after stumbling on the green clay. After all, Tauson played the last five games with her knee heavily bandaged as a precaution and said afterward that her adrenaline helped her overcome any pain she was feeling from the injury mishap.

“The two matches I lost since Lyon have not been the best kind of tennis I’ve played,” admitted Tauson, whose high-risk aggressive game is nicely suited for clay. “I’m really happy about the win today. Even if I had lost, I would not have lost confidence.”

Listen to Tauson and it’s easy to realize she’s a pragmatist when it comes to dealing with the highs and lows of winning and losing.

“You know, you have to lose almost every week – and sometimes, you win the tournament. I’m pretty clear that the older I get, I know I will have to lose almost every week,” she said. “Of course, I’m happy about the win. I think I played a pretty solid match. I know [Liudmila] is a really good player who hits hard. It gives me a boost after the last two matches I played.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Tauson what she’s learned about herself after winning her first WTA title as an 18-year-old, she replied: “I learned I have that kind of level [to win]. When I look back, it was, maybe, the highest level I’ve played for a full week. When you’re in a tournament, you think, ‘this is normal; this is how I play.’ I’ve learned last week and in St. Petersburg it’s difficult to reach the kind of level [I did in Lyon]. You have maybe five weeks out of the year you hit that level. So, it’s hard work the rest of the time, but I’m prepared to do it.”

During her virtual get-together with media after Monday’s victory, Tauson admitted that it’s been difficult and challenging nurturing her pro career in the midst of a pandemic. “It’s been obviously difficult. You always have to quarantine and wait for your [COVID-19] result in the WTA tournaments,” she said. “I’m not the type of person who goes out and visits all of the cities before I’m done [playing] in the tournament. So, for me, it’s been fine. Going from the hotel to the courts [and back]. I know a lot of people miss the feeling of going out, but I’m just a very relaxed person.

“When the pandemic came, I wasn’t panicking but I was nervous about what was going to happen. I just take everything one day at a time. If you panic about something like that, it’s going to be on your mind all the time. I just go out and enjoy every match I get to play.”

Asked if there’s anyone she hasn’t played that she’s eager to compete against, Tauson broke into a big smile and exclaimed: “Oh, there’s a lot of players I haven’t played yet! I would like to play [Petra] Kvitova. She’s one of my idols. She has a great game and I’ve tried to play like her. Her serve is really aggressive and she’s a great champion. Of course, all of the Top 10 I would like to play them. I think I still have a lot of good matches left in me and [hope] that I get to play some of those players in the future.”

Tuesday’s MUSC Health Women’s Open results

Wednesday’s MUSC Health Women’s Open order of play

No. 1 seed Jabeur enjoying being on clay

No. 1 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, ranked a career-high 27th, eased into the second round of the WTA 250 MUSC Health Women’s Open with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over 127th-ranked Swiss tour-veteran Stefanie Voegele at LTP-Daniel Island Tennis Center in Charleston S.C., Tuesday afternoon.

Playing in the featured match on Althea Gibson Club Court, Jabeur needed just 64 minutes to advance and did it by serving five aces and winning 88 percent of her first-serve points. Plus, she kept Voegele off balance and guessing with her variety of drop shots and slices. Jabeur outpointed Voegele 66-43.

“It feels great to be here. I feel like it’s a different tournament, though,” Jabeur told Tennis TourTalk during a virtual interview following her win over Voegele. “It’s a different energy, but it’s always nice to stay in the same spot knowing the courts and everything. I like to be here [in Charleston]. That’s the whole point of staying here for two weeks. I’m enjoying being on clay.”

Next, Jabeur will play No. 313th-ranked qualifier Alycia Parks of the United States, who beat fellow American qualifier Grace Min, ranked No. 203, 6-1, 6-4.

The day began on the outer courts with victories by No. 165 Astra Sharma of Australia and 189th-ranked qualifier Claire Liu of the United States. Sharma beat China’s No. 120 Wang Yafan, 6-4, 6-2, while Liu bested 170th-ranked Australian qualifier Storm Sanders, 7-5, 4-6, 6-0. Then, Volvo Car Open finalist Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, ranked 65th, beat Copa Colsanitas semifinalist Viktorija Tomova of Bulgaria, ranked 125th, 6-3, 6-3, to advance to the second round against No. 7 seed Lauren Davis of the United States.

Osorio Serrano pulls off another upset

Of particular interest, the final match on Court 2 showcased 19-year-old Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia, who two days ago won her first WTA tour-level title in her home country at the Copa Colsanitas on red clay in Bogatá, Colombia. Tuesday afternoon, the 135th-ranked Osorio Serrano endured a two-hour and 16-minute tussle with No. 2 seed Magda Linette of Poland and prevailed 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, sealed with an ace on her first match-point opportunity.

In the final set, Osorio Serrano trailed 5-3, then reeled off the final four games of the match with a pair of breaks of the No. 51 Linette’s serve plus two big service holds of her own. She closed out the final game with a forehand winner and her second ace of the match. Osorio Serrano converted eight of 11 break-point opportunities and overcame seven breaks of her own serve. She outpointed Linette 97-94.

Next, Osorio Serrano will face No. 91 Christina McHale of the United States, who held off No. 112 Sara Errani of Italy, 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Tennis TourTalk asked Osorio Serrano to describe how she’s handled the past 48 hours, going from winning her first WTA title to beating the No. 2 seed Linette, whom she described as an “unreal player” in Charleston. She said: “It’s been a really crazy two days for me! I still feel shocked from winning in Bogotá. It was my first title, so I can’t describe the feeling. I arrived here and feeling a little bit tired. I told my coach, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow; I’ll try my best.’ I won today and I’m just so happy and excited I can’t believe I’m doing so well. It’s been a really great day for me today.”

Fifth time’s the charm for Di Lorenzo

Another first-round winner was No. 151 Francesca Di Lorenzo of the United States, who in her fifth career head-to-head against 122nd-ranked fellow American Kristie Ahn finally won, 7-6 (6), 6-2. The 23-year-old lefty from Pittsburgh, Pa., who played collegiately at Ohio State and won an NCAA doubles title, had just lost to Ahn in qualifying at the Miami Open, 6-1, 6-4, last month. She also lost in the first round of the Volvo Car Open in Charleston last week. So, it was a couple of big hurdles for Di Lorenzo to jump over, but she did it. Beating Ahn also represented her first WTA tour-level win on clay.

“I was a little nervous going into the match,” Di Lorenzo said during an on-court interview. “I had just played Kristie in Miami and she got me pretty good there. So, I knew it was going to be a tough one. I just tried to stay in every point, look for my opportunities to move forward and be aggressive. I got a little tentative at the end of the first set but I was able to pull through and use that momentum into the second. … [Kristie] is a really great player. I’m really happy to get the win here. I love coming to Charleston. I like to play here on these courts.”

Di Lorenzo will face  No. 88 Nao Hibino of Japan in Wednesday’s second round.

Memorable first WTA main-draw win for Fruhvirtova

Finally, the first-round ended as 15-year-old Czech wildcard Linda Fruhvirtova won her first WTA main draw match that she’s likely to remember for a long time. That’s because she and No. 4 seed Alizé Cornet of France battled for more than 200 points over the course of two hours and 45 minutes before the 59th-ranked Cornet was forced to retire due to a right thigh injury in the third set with the score tied at 4-all.

Fruhvirtova, ranked No. 499 and the youngest in the WTA Top. 500, was impressive in winning the first set 6-2, thanks to breaking Cornet’s serve three times. Then, she was broken serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. Fruhvirtova eventually squandered a match point at 6-5 during the second set tie break, which she eventually lost to Cornet 9-7. The third set started remarkably because there were eight straight breaks of serve before Cornet was unable to continue.

Between the two competitors, there were 205 points played with Fruhvirtova winning 108 points and Cornet 97. There were also 18 breaks of service. Fruhvirtova converted 10 of 20 opportunities while Cornet was successful in eight of 12 break-point chances.

Tennis TourTalk asked the tired but happy Fruhvirtova during her virtual press conference what she will remember most about her first WTA main draw victory. She said: “It was just an amazing match. I knew before the match it was going to be a great match. Both of us were not going to give up. 

“I’ll remember the missed match points in the second set (laughs), the way we both fought for every point. It was just amazing. I’m satisfied with the way I played; it was so tough mentally and physically. So, I’m just glad I got through.”

Fruhvirtova will get a day to rest before returning Thursday to face 404th-ranked wild card Emma Navarro of the United States, who advanced by retirement over No. 96 Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 3-2.