MIAMI, Fla. – Sorana Cirstea has been around so long, her bestie on Tour was … Ana Ivanovic.
Who has been retired for years and is expecting her third child.
But Cirstea, still only 32 but a veteran of 15 years at the top level of the WTA Tour, is still plugging away. And during this Indian Wells – Miami double, she has been playing some quality tennis.
The latest came Wednesday, when she defeated an admittedly sub-par Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 6-4, to reach the semifinals.
By ranking, the win over the No. 2 Sabalenka was the best of a career that peaked with a No. 21 singles ranking nearly a decade ago.
That career best came right after she made the final of the Canadian Open in Toronto, losing to Serena Williams in the final.
Along the way, she upset four top-15 players: Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na.
So the level can be there for a period, for a week. Her challenge has always been sustaining it. The flipside of those hard, flat strokes,
Despite her longevity, this was the first time she had ever faced the Australian Open champion.
Sabalenka was visibly struggling with the humidity, and said so later via some quotes shared by the WTA as she declined to come to press.
Cirstea, who is tall but cuts a slighter figure, said it’s one thing she has always handled well.
“I never had problems with the heat. I never cramp. I don’t know what it is. I never had any issues regarding that. So I think I am quite lucky. I like playing in the heat. I don’t mind at all,” she said. “So I think today, for me, it was just another day at the job. Of course I think it’s definite advantage, and throughout the years I never really paid attention to it. But lately I’m starting to realize that I’m a bit better than most of the girls with playing in the heat.”
Cirstea was firing her hard, flat groundstrokes from the get-go. Sabalenka said she just couldn’t control her own; the ball was flying on her, and she couldn’t find a solution.
A long, long, long road
Cirstea played her first professional tournament in July 2004, when she had just turned 14. It was a $10,000 ITF in Bucharest in which she parlayed a wild card into a semi-final finish.
Nearly 17 years ago (!!), Cirstea was the No. 6 junior player in the world right after turning 16. But as she described her road Wednesday, she said she was top 100 by age 17, and finished the year “300-something” when she was 18 (she was right – she ended the 2008 season ranked No. 36).
There has been a lot of living in the 15 years since then – some ups and downs, some successes and struggles.
If she can beat Kvitova and make the Miami Open final, a week before her 33rd birthday and after coming into the tournament ranked No. 74, that would be quite a feat.
Cirstea was 4-6 on the season when she arrived at Indian Wells a month ago. She’s 9-1 since then. And a ranking of No. 83 then will be just outside the top 40 even if she loses on Friday. If she wins, she’d jump into the top 30, and that means Grand Slam seedings and better draws.