Women's qualifying: Kostyuk survives

Teenage whiz-kid Marta Kostyuk battled errant form, a nagging cough and a game opponent before advancing.

 - Ian Chadband

Marta Kostyuk makes it sound as if it really cannot be easy being a tennis wunderkind. “Oh, I deal with the expectations on me really badly,” the remarkable 15-year-old prospect shrugged, eyes rolling, at Roland-Garros on Tuesday.

Yet she could have fooled the patrons sweltering in the sunshine on Court 16, who had just watched her handle her first taste of the French Open qualifying with considerable grit even if the perfectionist Kostyuk herself was left complaining that she had played “so bad” in a first round victory against Japan’s Eri Hozumi.

Here is a youngster who is very hard on herself, probably demanding more of her considerable ability even than those pundits who have been drooling about her being a potential superstar ever since she illuminated this year’s Australian Open by becoming the youngest woman since Martina Hingis in 1996 to make the third round.

The Ukrainian girl was suffering from a nagging cough, was down on confidence after her fairytale season had run into the buffers with three recent losses and, of course, she is still an absolute beginner at this level.

Yet even though Kostyuk also had to endure spells where the dazzling starbursts in her game disappeared fitfully and the more consistent Hozumi hung in there, waiting for an implosion that never materialised, the youngster still had the ammunition and the class to run out a 6-4 4-6 6-4 winner after an engrossing two-hour, 11-minute slog.

And her relieved smile afterwards as she received an on-court hug from her little sister Zoryana told of what an important win it was for the teenager from Kiev, who admitted that the pressure of being the ‘next big thing’ has been bearing down on her since her Melbourne exploits.

“I’d lost three matches in a row (in Madrid, Prague and Stuttgart) before this, so I felt I had to prove to myself and other people that ‘this is my life’,” Kostyuk explained.

“I had to fight really hard in that game and I did show my fighting spirit there. I was under unbelievable pressure and my confidence hasn’t been so good either so I had to prove to myself that I could win. So this is a very big step for me.

“Things have changed a lot for me since Melbourne. It’s tough to enjoy all this, and tough to compete at this level after the juniors. It’s really tough but I hope I’ll get that enjoyment - I don’t know from where, but I hope I get it!”

This was a hard slog for the girl who has rocketed 381 places to No 142 on the WTA computer in just six months. Not only was she fighting weariness, she also explained she had had to visit a doctor about the persistent cough that has been bugging her, particularly off court, for weeks.

Still, though, her positive, attacking approach which reaped 50 winners as well as dishing up 68 unforced errors ensured the match was always on her racquet, although she was wary about now predicting another march into a Slam main draw.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do in this tournament,” shrugged Kostyuk, who next meets Italian world No.185 Martina Trevisan, a 4-6 6-4 6-2 victor over Canada’s Francoise Abanda.

“I don’t want to put myself under any pressure or expectations.”