Meet (Cristina-)Andreea Mitu.
Cristina-Andreea Mitu has had a career year on the WTA Tour in several respects in 2015, but by all respects, the woman who now goes by simply ‘Andreea,’ shouldn’t even be here.
The Romanian No. 5 won her first WTA main draw match — by retirement, against a Top 30 player in Varvara Lepchenko in Charleston. She won her first complete WTA main draw match in earnest in the next round, beating Ajla Tomljanovic to reach the third round of the Family Circle Cup. She stunned Eugenie Bouchard in Fed Cup for her first Top 10 win, and she cracked the world’s Top 100 for the first time after qualifying for Madrid. She won her first Grand Slam main draw match at Roland Garros this week, and advanced to the third round on Thursday by rallying from a set and a break down against No. 12 seed Karolina Pliskova. In short, she’s ticked off all the boxes a player of her pedigree could want to this point — but with a twist.
Andreea Mitu is also a player who had her heart set on quitting the sport 12 months ago.
A stunning 20 of Mitu’s 21 finals on the ITF Circuit have come on the red stuff — making her success thus far at Roland Garros logical — but her first taste of top-tier tennis came far away from her beloved (in results only, apparently — she says her favorite surface is hard but that she loves grass, too) clay courts. Having played just a total of six matches across singles and doubles on grass in her career, the then-No. 213 ranked Romanian put in the hard yards to qualify for Wimbledon in 2014.
Long before she started her journey at Roehampton, however, she told herself that she wanted to enjoy her second-ever Wimbledon…because it was going to be her last.
After shoulder tendonitis had her out of tennis for seven months at the start of last season, Mitu — struggling with her game, her mind and her finances — decided that she would retire from professional tennis at the end of the year shortly before last year’s French Open.
“I said I would finish out the year and that would be it for my tennis career,” the 23-year-old said, in a profile by the Romanian Tennis Federation last year. “Right after Roland Garros, I played in a 25k in Germany. I lost the first match in less than 50 minutes. I packed my bags and went home even though I was still scheduled for doubles. That’s how I felt: that I didn’t want to stay and I had to come home. And home I went.” (full translation via Tennis Forum)
At 22, Mitu had just two ITF titles with purses bigger than $10,000 to her name, and was fighting to stay inside the world’s Top 200. With her mind made up, and thinking about her future post-tennis, she decided to honor her commitment to a German club team and the contract she had signed at the start of the year; she was then set to earn her paycheck, and was ready to fly to London, take home her small purse from the first round of qualifying and move on.
She moved on…to the main draw. Mitu defeated Sachia Vickery, Luksika Kumkhum and Irina Falconi — rallying from 1-6 down in the second set tiebreak vs. Vickery; coming from a set and a break down in the final set vs. Kumkhum; and beating Falconi, 6-2, 6-7(0), 6-2 — to advance to the main draw of a Grand Slam for the very first time. While she was overmatched against Agnieszka Radwanska in the opening round, just getting to the main draw of Wimbledon was a victory for the Romanian — especially considering she had only practiced for an hour on the grass when she arrived on the day before the qualifying tournament began.
After her Grand Slam debut, Mitu returned to the ITF Circuit and went on a tear — winning five more ITF titles on clay to bring her season’s haul to six, and earning inclusion on TTI’s own “Diamonds in the Rough” list to watch for 2015. She ended 2014 not by retiring from the sport, but by reaching a career-high ranking.
Although Mitu didn’t achieve her year-end goal of making the Australian Open main draw, bigger and better things were on the horizon for her just a few short months later. A last-minute substitute for the injured Irina-Camelia Begu, Mitu made her Fed Cup debut in Canada against Bouchard — rallying from a set down to claim a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 scalp in just her second career match against a Top 10 player.
Sitting at exactly No. 100 heading into Roland Garros, Mitu’s 6-3, 6-2 first round win over wildcard Alizé Lim set her up for a second round date with Pliskova. After being out-powered by the Czech in the opening set and falling behind a break in the second, the Romanian rallied to take the second set in a tiebreak and build a *5-2 lead in the decider. Unable to serve out the match on her first chance, she cracked a forehand winner to seal it on her second try — winning 2-6, 7-5(5), 6-4.
She’ll take on Francesca Schiavone in the third round, but whatever the result, Mitu will have pocketed approximately $95,000 — more than double her year-to-date prize money and nearly 40 percent of her current career earnings — and will rise to No. 85 in the rankings. She might have been ready to give it all up one year ago, but 12 months on, her perseverance has been rewarded.
Hand: Right (two-handed backhand)
WTA Titles: None (14 ITF)
Career High Rank: No. 99 (05/18/2015)
Best Slam Result: 3R (Roland Garros 2015)
Biggest Win: Eugenie Bouchard (No. 7, Fed Cup 2015)