Fruhvirtova Is A Headline Act Waiting To Happen

Linda Fruhvirtova (photo: MUSC Health Women’s Open/Chris Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 15, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Linda Fruhvirtova is one of a handful of teenagers who are making an impact at this week’s MUSC Health Women’s Open in Charleston, S.C., along with Denmark’s Clara Tauson, Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia and Emma Navarro from the United States. Memo to the twenty-somethings playing this week in Charleston and beyond: Beware, Fruhvirtova’s got game. She’s a headline act just waiting to happen.

The 15-year-old Fruhvirtova, from Prague, Czech Republic, made a big splash on the green clay of Althea Gibson Club Court at LTP-Daniel Island Tennis Center Tuesday night after enduring a first-round battle of attrition against No. 59 Alizé Cornet of France that lasted two hours and 45 minutes before Cornet retired due to injury. To sense that Fruhvirtova was overjoyed after it was finally over might be an understatement. Her enthusiasm would come out soon enough after she left the court to go sit for a virtual interview session with American and Czech media, most old enough to be her parents, that began at 9:30 p.m. local time.

After battling through 205 points, in which Fruhvirtova was broken while serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, then squandered a match point during the subsequent tie break at 6-5, she endured everything that the 31-year-old Cornet – who turned pro a year after Fruhvirtova was born – could hit at her. That is, until the Frenchwoman’s body broke down at 4-all in the deciding set, the victim of a right thigh injury, which had been heavily taped throughout the entire match. The Czech teenager would also require some medical attention on her left foot before securing the match. One had an inkling that the last one standing among the walking wounded would win. On this night, it was to be the teenaged Fruhvirtova.

Despite the unorthodox score line – 6-2, 6-7 (7), 4-4, retired – the 499th-ranked Fruhvirtova celebrated her first WTA main draw singles victory, which advanced her to Thursday’s second round against the American Navarro, a Charleston native who is the No. 1-ranked collegiate player in the country from the University of Virginia. Fruhvirtova was exhausted by the time she left Althea Gibson Club Court for the short walk to the interview room. She had fought the great fight of her young life – much of from the perspective of  battling back at the baseline – keeping Cornet on court as long as she could.

“I admire how Alizé can fight and never gives up – injured or not,” Fruhvirtova said after her victory. “I didn’t recognize she was injured until she retired. I wish her a speedy recovery.”

Ultimately, the match took a lot out of the Czech youngster. Still, Fruhvirtova was happy nonetheless knowing she had triumphed and advanced in the draw to the next round. The smile she beamed could have easily luminated the court she left behind.

“I feel really proud of myself, how I just, I gave it all today,” Fruhvirtova said during her virtual interview. “I fought for every point, it was hard especially at the end of the second set, to forget all the missed chances. I had one match point, I was up 4-3 and break, 5-4 and break, but I’m so glad I managed.”

Tennis TourTalk asked the tired but luminous Fruhvirtova if this was the most memorable match she’s ever played in, and also, what she would remember most about her first WTA main draw victory once it had sunk in. She thought about the double-sided question for a moment, then reflected: “I think it was one of the most memorable matches I have ever played. It was the most spectacular fight. 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 would like to thank the tournament for the wild card because without it, I wouldn’t be able to play this match. It’s really important in my career.

“I’ll remember the missed match points in the second set (laughs), the way we both fought for every point,” Fruhvirtova added. “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.”

Looking back, Fruhvirtova showed a tremendous amount of mental strength against Cornet. She was asked by a reporter if it’s something that comes naturally. “Actually, it comes naturally. I’ve never really worked specifically on mental strength, but I’ve always had a fighting attitude,” she said. “I’ll fight for every point and never give up. I think also the matches I’ve lost the past two years have helped me in my mental strength, so I could perform the way I did today.”

Prior to arriving in Charleston, Fruhvirtova lost in the first round of qualifying at the Miami Open to No. 87 Nina Stojanovic of Serbia. Before that, she won a pair of ITF W15 hard court tournaments in Monastir, Tunisia, defeating Manon Arcangioli of France for the first title and Ines Ibbou of Algeria for the second one. Fruhvirtova began her 2021 season losing in the final of a W25 hard court event in Hamburg, Germany to Zheng Qinwen of China. In all competition levels combined, she’s an impressive 14-2.

“These wins helped me with my confidence and improved my ranking,” Fruhvirtova said of her pro career, one that’s fledgling but filled with plenty of promise. “It was really important for me how I performed, to work on my confidence. I was able to transfer what I practiced into my matches.”

Following Charleston, Fruhvirtova will continue to divide her time between ITF and junior Grand Slam competitions with an eye toward improving her ranking. Keep in mind, she’s limited by the number of WTA events she can currently play because of her age. So, expect to see Fruhvirtova mixing and matching a schedule filled with ITF, juniors and WTA competition for the foreseeable future like Coco Gauff did at a similar age.

“I need to play matches. It’s good to play good junior matches, too. Also, to handle pressure of knowing these are matches I should win,” Fruhvirtova said. “It’s good to go through these matches. Playing junior Grand Slams are really nice, too. You learn the atmosphere for the future, you see the pros there, see how it all works.”

As her virtual interview session neared its conclusion, Fruhvirtova was asked what it meant for her to attain her first WTA win. “To be honest, it’s kind of a relief. It’s no longer going to be ‘when am I going to get my first WTA win?’ I knew it would come sooner or later. I’m just glad that I managed to go through today. The match was memorable. It makes it even better,” she said.

So, who would Fruvirtova like to play against now? Ashleigh Barty? Bianca Andreescu? Maybe, Naomi Osaka? Nobody special, she insisted. “Every match on the WTA tour is special for me. All of them are going to be hard. None of them will be easy. I think I’m excited to play against everyone, match by match.”

Wednesday’s MUSC Health Women’s Open results

Thursday’s MUSC Health Women’s order of play

Around the MUSC Health Women’s Open

Volvo Car Open finalist Danka Kovinic of Montenegro became the first to reach the MUSC Health Women’s Open quarterfinals with her 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 win over No. 7 seed Lauren Davis of the United States Wednesday afternoon. The two hour and eight-minute match on Althea Gibson Club Court saw the No. 65 Kovinic fire eight aces and convert five of 10 break-point opportunities. She saved eight of 12 break points she faced from the No. 79 Davis and outpointed the American 84-76. Davis is the highest-ranked opponent that Kovinic has beaten this year in her nine match victories.

“It was a tough match today,” Kovinic, who has won seven of eight matches over the two weeks she has played in Charleston, said during an on-court interview. “The first set I played with no mistakes, I would say. Then, in the second set, she got a little better and I was a little bit down. She took advantage of that moment. In the third set, I tried to stay positive and push my way through.”

• Next, Kovinic will face third seed Shelby Rogers, who took out 189th-ranked qualifier Claire Liu in an all-American mid-afternoon match, 6-2, 6-2, that was over in a nifty one hour and eight minutes. The No. 46 Rogers won 81 percent of her first-serve points, broke Liu five times in 11 opportunities and outscored her 53-34 for her 14th victory in 20 matches this season.

Unlike a week ago, Rogers has enjoyed a sense of sereness playing in Charleston this week, near where she grew up in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and has reached her sixth quarterfinal since the WTA restart last August. Both of her wins this week have been against fellow Americans, first Caty McNally and now Liu.

“I think I was due for a couple of tame matches. I’ve had a lot of mental battles the last couple of months,” Rogers told Tennis TourTalk, with a hint of laughter in her voice. “It’s been nice taking care of business in straight sets, getting out and taking it easy on the body. Today, it was a little bit tricky, a bit windy. After coming in with a little bit of momentum last week even though I didn’t get as far as I wanted, playing the No. 1 player [in Ashleigh Barty], it’s nice to stay at this facility. You’re familiar with the courts – you know exactly what’s going to happen – and I think the players are thankful for that.

“This tournament is smaller [than last week], but no match is easy. You have to take each match seriously and my preparations have been the same, scouting, watching video.”

Rogers said she’s excited to play Kovinic on Friday in the quarterfinal round. “I’m excited to play her. Every tournament you have to beat the best players to win it. That’s why we’re here. She’s definitely playing with a lot of confidence right now. It’s great to see her back on court – having a lot of success after being off for a while. It’s going to be a battle.”

• Later, No. 101 Clara Tauson of Denmark reached her second WTA tour-level quarterfinal of the year with her 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 6 seed Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia. The 18-year-old Tauson dominated with her serve, hitting eight aces and winning 54 percent of her second-serve points. She saved nine of 10 break points that she faced from the No. 77 Tomljanovic. Tauson outpointed her opponent 73-57.

“I think [my serve] was really important today,” Tauson told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference. “It was one of my main goals coming into this match. I really tried to focus on my own game and not make too many mistakes. The one time I got broken, I just put in a lot of first serves and I’m broken (laughs). So, I was really focused on my serve today. I think it really helped a lot, especially on some break points, where I hit some good serves and got some aces. It’s the shot I want to develop the most.”

Next, Tauson will face either No. 91 Christina McHale of the United States or No. 135 Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia, who play Thursday, in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

• Finally, No. 88 Nao Hibino of Japan defeated 151st-ranked wild card Francesca Di Lorenzo of the United States, 6-4, 6-3, to complete Wednesday’s play. Hibino saved 14 of 20 break points she faced while Di Lorenzo committed nine double faults. Hibino outpointed her opponent 82-62 and won on her fourth match-point opportunity. She advanced to the quarterfinals and will play the winner of Thursday’s second-round match between No. 1 seed Ons Jabeur and 313th-ranked qualifier Alycia Parks of the United States.

Its gotta be the shoes!

One couldn’t help but notice Rafael Nadal’s regal look – his latest from Nike – as he played his first match at Monte-Carlo on Wednesday. Lots of purple from head to toe, including his shoes.

Around the tennis world through social media

Cagla Buyukakcay / Losing a friend, coach, mentor

Kristina Mladenovic / A huge honor

Diego Schwartzman / Looking forward to better days