Meet Anna Karolina… Meet Anna…
Meet Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.
You might do well to remember her name. (All of her names.)
The newly-minted Slovak No. 2 might not have the flashy game or statement wins that many of her peers boast, but her rise through the WTA rankings has come the old-fashioned way.
One half of the WTA’s latest sister act (her 17-year-old sister Kristina reached the junior Wimbledon final last year), Schmiedlova won her first five finals on the ITF circuit and reached several career milestones courtesy of toiling away in tennis’ minor leagues. She cracked the top 100 for the first time in July of 2013 after reaching the final of the $100,000 event in Biarritz, France, while a win at the $75,000 event in Trnava, Slovakia and another runner-up showing at the $100,000 event in Prague had her knocking on the door of the world’s top 50.
Her biggest career results all had something in common: Schmiedlova’s thrived on the dirt in her young career, as her grinding, counterpunching style allows her to win even the most protracted of rallies.
Seven of her nine ITF Circuit titles were won on clay, and just a year after making the junior final at Roland Garros, the Slovak fittingly announced her presence on the pro circuit at that very venue. A qualifier into the 2013 tournament, she defeated 2009 US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-2 in the first round in her first Grand Slam main draw appearance.
A year older, a year wiser and carrying one less “Karolina,” Schmiedlova returned to the terre battue in 2014 and upset a woman who has just a few more US Open semifinals (and titles) under her belt in the second round.
Overwhelmed by the power of fellow upset artist Garbine Muguruza in the third round, Schmiedlova saw her breakthrough Grand Slam cut short, and now away from her beloved clay, the Slovakian slumped to a 1-10 record from Birmingham to Seoul. She ended the season having won consecutive matches at just one event.
Her 2015 season was a fresh start in more ways than one. While she lost marathon matches to Aleksandra Krunic (Shenzhen), Nicole Gibbs (Sydney) and Zarina Diyas (Australian Open), but she picked up her first win for Slovakia in Fed Cup against the Netherlands and reached her first career WTA final in Rio de Janiero on (what else?) clay.
Schmiedlova’s prowess as a dirtballing heroine made her run to her first WTA title in Katowice this week all the more impressive, as she might’ve not been on the short list of players who could life the trophy there; the lightning-quick indoor courts at the Spodek Arena are a world away from the slow, red clay of Europe and South America. Perhaps a bit of foreshadowing took place, however, when Schmiedlova sprung her first surprise before her campaign in Poland began.
Forced to three sets in each of her first two matches against Nigina Abduraimova and Katerina Siniakova, Schmiedlova saved her best tennis for the biggest matches in the Polish city. She rounded into form with a 6-2, 6-0 whitewash of defending champion Alizé Cornet in the quarterfinals (a nearly identical result to the 6-3, 6-0 victory Schmiedlova posted over Cornet at this very tournament in 2013 for her first WTA main draw victory), before defeating Belgian Alison Van Utyvanck to reach her second final of the year.
Standing across the net from Schmiedlova on Sunday was Camila Giorgi, who, despite standing three inches shorter than her Slovak rival, packs a much bigger punch. Giorgi upset home favorite Agnieszka Radwanska with ease in the semifinals to improve her career record against the world’s top 10 to 6-4, and seemed eager to expel the demons of the final match a year ago, where she let a match point slip away in a marathon loss to the aforementioned Cornet.
Schmiedlova had other ideas.
Having held serve just once in her first WTA final against Sara Errani, Schmiedlova got off on the wrong foot when the Italian broke her delivery in the opening game of the match. However, using her speed and precise cross-court backhand, Schmiedlova forced Giorgi into mistake after mistake, eventually building a 4-1 lead in the opener. Despite being broken when serving for the set, she weathered the Italian’s storm and claimed the opening set with her fourth service break, 6-4.
Under the watchful eye of her mother Martina, Schmiedlova again dropped serve in the opening game of the second set. While unable to immediately recover the break this time, Schmiedlova saved her best for last. Trailing 1-3, the Slovak ripped off the next five games and eventually secured her first WTA title when Giorgi’s final backhand cleared the baseline.
With a 5-0 record and first WTA title to her (re-elongated) name, Anna Karolina might be here to stay.
In related news: the clay season’s coming.
Hand: Right (two-handed backhand)
WTA Titles: 1 WTA (2015 Katowice)
Career High Rank: No. 46 (4/13/2015)
Best Slam Result: Third Round (Roland Garros 2014)
Biggest Win: Venus Williams (No. 29, Roland Garros 2014)