After scoring her first WTA main draw win in Washington last summer, it’s been going onwards and upwards for American teenager Louisa Chirico. Earlier this month, the 19-year old made good use of a wildcard in Charleston to reach the round of 16, upsetting Lucie Safarova along the way. This week, Chirico got through qualifying in Stuttgart without dropping a set. René Denfeld caught up with the rising American after she made the main draw at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix on Monday.
If she was nervous about the prospect of reaching the main draw in her debut appearance in Stuttgart, Louisa Chirico rarely showed it en route to upsetting top-seeded Camila Giorgi in the final round of qualifying on Monday.
“I’ve been playing pretty well and I’m definitely happy with how I started here,” Chirico said following the 6-3, 6-3 win. “I really like this tournament, it’s my first time here. I’m pretty comfortable on the courts and I like the clay in general. [I’m] really happy to be through.”
Throughout her match on Court 1, it was the American who dictated play, as she took the initiative away from Giorgi. Chirico attacked the Italian’s second serve at most opportunities in order to prevent her opponent from employing her signature high-risk game — which can turn a tennis court into a shooting range at times.
“I knew I needed to be sharp on the returns,” she said. “She’ll definitely step up and pounce if you give her anything, so I tried to kind of give her nothing as well but she’s a very tough player, great opponent and [I’m] very happy to get the win today.”
At the end of last year, Chirico began to really find her gear, as she reached her first WTA 125 final in Limoges, losing to Caroline Garcia and ended the season ranked No. 120. Her upward momentum was quickly stunted, however, when the American sprained her ankle — which her out of the Australian summer despite being close to making the main draw in Melbourne.
“It was unfortunate that it was right before Australia,” she said. “I had just finished my off-season and I was ready to go but you know it was kind of a time to sit back and…you know, I worked a lot on my mental game and I just did [as much] physical fitness as I could with the ankle. I healed pretty quickly and I was lucky that it was not that serious but I’m happy to be back.
“The first couple tournaments were a little bit up-and-down, but I think I just needed to get some matches and now that I have I’m just trying to roll with it.”
Chirico suffered a number of early losses in February and March and but as soon as the tour switched from hard courts to clay courts, the American found her footing again — and it’s not a mere coincidence considering Chirico’s fondness for the slippery surface.
“I grew up on clay most of the summers, green clay obviously; we don’t have red clay in the US but yeah, I’m pretty comfortable on it,” she explained. “I think it suits my game and I like moving on it — the sliding and everything. Like I said, it suits my game and I think that’s why I play well on it.”
While this is her first time competing in Europe during the clay court season, Chirico’s coach Jay Gooding isn’t going to join her until next week in Prague — but the pair have remained in constant exchange over the course of the week. Instead, Chirico’s dad has made the trip and accompanied her to Stuttgart.
“Jay is coming next week, [as] this is the first week of a five-week trip here in Europe…we’ve obviously been very close in touch. I’m here with my dad this week who doesn’t travel with me very much and he’s very excited to be here with me. I was like, ‘You have to come to this one!’
“Last year, I won Dothan [a $50,000 ITF event in Alabama], and I played the challenger tournaments for the French Open wildcard in the US, so I couldn’t come for any tournaments before. I’m excited to play these tournaments, I’ve heard really great things. I’m playing Prague next, and then depending on whether I get into Madrid and Rome qualies; if not, there are some challengers in France that I think I might play before — so [I’m] just trying to keep going.”
As a junior, Chirico played alongside Jamie Loeb — their two towns are located around 20 miles away from each other in Westchester County, New York — but Loeb decided to take her talents to the University of North Carolina first. Like many other players, Chirico had to make the decision between going to college and turning pro immediately — and it took her a while to make a the final call.
“Well it wasn’t really a snap decision, it was kind of gradual,” she said. “We were kind of waiting until last minute to make the decision…officially, but it was already in my head for quite a while. I knew this is what I wanted to do and I just kind of had to wait out until the very end to weigh my options I guess but I know this is what I want to be.”
So far, Chirico hasn’t regretted her choice of going pro — on the contrary, she’s relishing the traveling aspect, learning about herself and how to pace her tennis as she embarks on her first European clay court campaign.
“Well the thing with tennis is there’s always next week — which is a blessing and a curse I think, so nothing really carries over to the next week. It’s kind of important to keep that mindset when you’re going through tougher weeks. At the same time, if you had a good week, you have to kind of reboot and get ready to compete really hard in the next week [be]cause nothing really is handed to you and these players won’t give you anything — so that’s definitely one thing I’ve learned over the past 12 months.
“Also, traveling so much, I get to experience all these cool first experiences and new places and everything. It’s definitely made me a little more independent but I love it, I enjoy the travel, you know, I think you have to, otherwise it can get draining if you don’t.”
While it might be easy for her to be inspired by the success of compatriots who’ve been unseeded in Stuttgart in the past — as qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Madison Brengle reached the semifinals as qualifiers in 2013 and 2015, respectively — for both the rest of the tournament and her expectations on her favorite surface, Chirico is planning to take it one step at a time and soak it all in.
“Well, just for this tournament [I want] to keep it going and y’know, just find a rhythm and hopefully get a lot of matches and a lot of experience – I’m still learning, as you said, it’s gonna be the first time these tournaments, so it’s all a new experience for me. All my goals right now [are] pretty process oriented.”
Tomorrow, Chirico will open up play on Centre Court in Stuttgart, and get another experience in her books — as she’ll face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.