Through adversity, Kostyuk continues rise

A season of travails has led the 18-year-old Ukrainian to the brink of a Paris breakthrough

Marta Kostyuk, Roland Garros 2021, second round© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

The paper doesn’t lie: Marta Kostyuk is in the midst of a fantastic 2021 season.

The 18-year-old, currently ranked 81 in the world, has reached her first two WTA semi-finals and achieved double-digit wins for the first time in her career.

This week in Paris she is into the third round at Roland-Garros for the first time, after notching up one of the tournament’s biggest upsets of round one, over 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza.

But Kostyuk, who will face Varvara Gracheva for a spot in the round of 16 on Saturday, says her 2021 season hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. 

"I believe this year is just... I think God is trying to make me stronger and stronger,” she told reporters on Monday, after toppling Muguruza.

“I've been faced with many obstacles that obviously not many people are aware of – they don't understand what I went through.”

It has been quite a journey. 

The Ukrainian’s season started with a hard quarantine in Melbourne, where she was confined to her room for two weeks before the Australian Open. Believe it or not, that was actually good news for Kostyuk, who was dealing with a shoulder injury at the time.

“This quarantine that I had was like a rest for me, and if I was not in quarantine I think I wouldn't be able to actually play in Australia,” she recalls. “So I'm kind of lucky but kind of not lucky because mentally [quarantine] was one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced.” 

The challenges didn’t stop there. After the Australian Open, Kostyuk went home to continue rehabbing her shoulder. Things would soon get more complicated for the rising star. 

Marta Kostyuk, Roland Garros 2021 second round© Amélie Laurin/FFT

“I went back home,” she said. “I treated my shoulder, skipped a lot of tournaments but it was worth it because my shoulder didn't hurt anymore. Then I got Covid…” 

Covid was tough on Kostyuk, sapping her energy for weeks. She recalls having trouble breathing and not being able to walk, let alone train, because she was so fatigued. She made a hasty return to the Tour at Miami in April, but it was too soon. 

Two months later, Kostyuk is on the cusp of a Grand Slam breakthrough, as one of two teenagers to have reached the third round at Roland-Garros.

It’s a testament to the talent of the Ukrainian, a player that reached the third round at the 2018 Australian Open as a 15-year-old, a feat she accomplished with a ranking of 521. 

It has taken some time for Kostyuk to adjust to the rigours and pressures of the Tour, but a trip to the third round at the US Open last summer confirmed that she is on the right track. 

After powering past Muguruza on Monday for her career best win by ranking, the Kiev native hinted that she’s expecting bigger things. 

"I'm trying to make this win not such a big deal because I believe there are going to be many wins like this in the future, I'm pretty positive about it,” she said. 

Kostyuk cites diversity and a complete game as the biggest reasons for her recent success.

“I'm a player who can do anything,” she says. “Serve, return, hit, slice, go to the net, and defend. I don't think there is a specific strength that I have at the moment. It's just I feel everything is good.” 

Marta Kostyuk, Roland-Garros 2021, second round© ClÈment Mahoudeau/FFT

Overcoming adversity is a skill that all tennis players must master, and Kostyuk has had a lot of training in that regard. Her season has been defined by her ability to survive and thrive on a tennis court, despite everything that has been put on her plate. 

Does that mean she believes she can be the next in a long line of first-time Grand Slam champions at Roland-Garros? She won’t rule it out.

“I think we are at times where anyone in women's tennis, anyone can win a slam, kind of. Not like anyone anyone, but a lot of girls. Let's call it that way,” she said. “It's not that I have this strong feeling inside me that I'm coming into a Grand Slam believing that I can win it, but this time I feel really good. I believe anything is possible.”