February 27, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

After two years away, Sevastova returns in Andorra

As of next week, you can add Anastasija Sevastova to the list of new moms returning to the WTA Tour.

The 33-year-old Latvian, who has had a ride during her long career, went on indefinite hiatus after losing in the first round of the 2022 Australian Open to Magda Linette.

She wouldn’t have been pregnant then. But by December, she and longtime boyfriend and coach Ronny Schmidt were the parents of beautiful Alexandra.

Fast forward less than a year, and Sevastova returns next week, as a wild card into the final WTA 125 tournament of the year in Andorra.

The third act of Sevastova’s career

Sevastova started on tour at a pretty young age. She played just … four tournaments as a junior: a couple at age 14 and two more at 15. None of them were above the (then) entry-level Grade 5, and only one was outside Latvia.

But from the week of her 16th birthday, she was basically out on the ITF Tour, grinding. Week after week after week. When you look at her tournaments list it was as though she almost never got a break.

It looks pretty cruel, to be frank. But Sevastova was coming from basically nowhere, raised by her schoolteacher single mom in a town in Latvia where the only tennis club happened to be close to her home, pretty much playing on slick indoor gym floors until she was 14, and finally finding herself at the famous Niki Pilic Academy in Germany.

But by 2013, just 23 (but still looking about 14) and with a shoulder issue that was becoming chronic, she cut the cord. After hitting No. 44 in at age 20 in the fall of 2010, she had been well outside the top 100 for a couple of years. And after losing in the first round of qualifying in Miami to Jana Cepelova, she was out.

A year later, giving tennis lessons in Austria to finance a college degree, she met Schmidt, a fellow coach. And by the start of 2015, she was ready to complete unfinished business, and so the two teamed up for her second act.

She didn’t swoop back in on tournament wild cards and protected rankings, as is the custom these days.

From nowhere to top 100 in a flash

She got a wild card into a low-level $10,000 ITF in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt – one of those “Futures factories” places where those just starting out, those who will never make it and those (unfortunately) who play to fix matches all combine for a unlikely tennis buffet.

She won the tournament. A couple of weeks later, she won another $10,000 in Slovakia. By July, she was back in the top 200. Barely a year after her comeback she was back in the top 100.

By 2016, she was a US Open quarterfinalist. By 2017, she was back in the top 20 and a US Open quarterfinalist again. A year later she was a semifinalist, after knocking off No. 7 Elina Svitolina and No. 3 Sloane Stephens (the defending champion) on the way to a loss to Serena Williams. And a few weeks after that, she reached her career high ranking of No. 11, at a very seasoned 28.

It was always surprising that Sevastova’s best results came on a hard court; she has made the second week of a major only three other times – two of them in Australia.

But her game is made for the natural surfaces.

Her slice and her drop shot and all of the fabulousness of her clay-court game were rather an outlier during both her first and second acts.

But it’s back in vogue again.

Sevastova at Roland Garros in 2010, when she had just turned 20. If her game was a throwback at the time, so was the racquet – a Kneissl!

Shoulder again? Another break

The break in 2022 appeared to be a call made in part because that shoulder began acting up again. And probably other body parts.

At a certain point, having played SO much tennis at such a young age, the cumulaative wear and tear is a big challenge to manage.

But the break also produced a blessing. And in a world of coach-player relationships that most often don’t work out and can sometimes cause lasting damage, Sevastova and Schmidt have been a tight unit for nearly a decade now.

This time, assuming the Latvian likes what she sees in her first tournament back (there is a $100K ITF in Dubai to play, if she wants to and can get in), perhaps we’ll see her during the Australian summer.

This time, she should come in with a protected ranking around No. 65-70, which means she shouldn’t have to head back to the Futures factory to kickstart her career again.

And she’ll be in good mom company in Melbourne, as both Caroline Wozniacki (three months younger and the mother of two) and Angelique Kerber (two years older) are also expected to return to the Australian Open.

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