This time last week, Ysaline Bonaventure made a dream come true when qualified for her first career WTA main draw. The dream took on nightmarish form when the 20 year old promptly faced the biggest challenge in women’s tennis: top seed and holder of all four major titles, Serena Williams. At least, in theory.
One week later and the World No. 201 is playing a $25,000 ITF event in Darmstadt, Germany. We caught up with the Belgian to talk Serena, Sweden, and the slide between WTA and ITF events.
Through the stillness of Darmstadt’s Centre Court, a cry could be heard from below.
“No, you see? The mark is this one! This is from brushing the lines!”
Playing a first round match at the $25,000 Tennis International, Ysaline Bonaventure was knee deep in Challenger life.
No ball kids. No line judges.
“I made it tougher than it was,” Bonaventure told TTI after the match. “I was leading 5-1 and I started to make a few too many mistakes, got irritated and complained about a few things.”
“I still don’t agree with that one call, that serve, but it’s okay!”
The road to tennis stardom is hardly linear; for Bonaventure, it requires a steady bounce between two distinct steps on the ladder: the ITF Circuit represents where she has been — the WTA, where she wants to go.
“I mean, it’s tough to come back to the ITF tournaments after playing the most amazing WTA tournament,” Bonaventure admitted, but adds, showing a solid sense of perspective:
“I’m getting used to it and I know I’ve got to improve my ranking to play more higher-level tournaments.”
The “most amazing WTA tournament” in question was last week’s event in Båstad. After a narrow loss to Michelle Larcher de Brito in Wimbledon qualifying at Roehampton, Bonaventure qualified for her first WTA tournament — far from the London lawns on the clay courts in Sweden.
“I was pretty much on Cloud Nine,” the Belgian exclaimed.
The excitement increased even further when she learned of her eventual opponent. Not long after winning her final round of qualifying, Bonaventure received the surprise of her life: her main draw debut would be against none other than Serena Williams.
“It was pretty funny, I was on the massage table and my mom sent me a message: ‘Yeah — you’re playing Serena’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s not true, the draw isn’t even out!'”
But as the messages and tweets started flooding in from friends and fans — her own as well as Williams’ — the 20-year-old realized her mother was not playing a prank. She was indeed going to play against the 33-year-old American, one who is in the midst of chasing
the Grand Slam history.
Faced with daunting prospects, the Belgian admitted that she was nervous on court, but felt she held her own pretty well — considering a legend of the game was on the other side of the net.
“She’s No. 1 in the world and when you play her you realize why she’s the No. 1 — even though she didn’t play at full speed, as far as I could tell. She didn’t have to, I think, but when she had to win the point she just hits a few aces and comes up with the shots.”
Overall, Bonaventure took positives from that fateful first WTA main draw, even if Williams eventually proved to be too strong in the end.
“On one side I was pretty happy I could play against her, because no one knows how long she’ll keep playing and at least I can say that I played the No. 1 in the world. I can learn from that.
“I was pretty nervous when I went on court and was afraid I’d get a double bagel — a few people messaged me about that — but I went out to prove them wrong,” she laughed.
“I was happy to get three games and a couple of break points; it was a positive experience.”
Seeded No. 4 in Darmstadt, Bonaventure won her opening match against Anne Schaefer in straight sets — but her concentration dipped from time to time and she was made to work hard for her points. Coached by former WTA pro Noëlle van Lottum, the Belgian has made 13 ITF Tour finals in the last three years; her 2015 season has seen her rise even higher with her win her first two WTA victories in doubles (Rio De Janeiro, Katowice).
For the future though, Bonaventure wants to aim higher in singles; her Båstad experience made her hungry for more.
“It’s definitely a goal [to get into more WTA events]. I’m just going to work hard and hope to play more main draw matches in the future.”
In her next round, she’ll face the winner between German wildcard Carolin Daniels and Olga Ianchuk.
Follow Ysaline on Twitter @YsaBona!