Haddad Maia: Bueno 'inspires me every day'

 - Courtney Walsh

The world No.14 is the first Brazilian to reach a Grand-Slam quarter-final since 1968

Beatriz Haddad Maria, huitièmes de finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Beatriz Haddad Maia was under pressure on several occasions during a remarkable fourth-round match at Roland-Garros on Monday. Even so, the Brazilian is adept at searching deep within herself for inspiration.

Difficult experiences have taught the world No.14 to trust her inner-strength, and she'll no doubt need it in her quest to become the first Brazilian woman since Maria Beuno in 1968 to reach a Grand Slam semi-final.

The left-hander, who plays Ons Jabeur in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, distinguished herself again by defeating Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-5 in a thrilling encounter.

The 27-year-old overcame several testing moments on Court Suzanne-Lenglen in a match lasting 3hr 51min – the longest women’s match on the tour this year.

She featured in the previous record too, with this latest match taking 10 minutes longer than when she was beaten by Anhelina Kalinina in her quarter-final in Rome last month.

The Brazilian, who had not progressed beyond the second round in 11 previous Grand Slam appearances, closed out the match with her 48th forehand winner.

For a moment, tears welled in her eyes as she reflected on the magnitude of the moment. Haddad Maia then tapped her heart twice. Based on her wins over the past eight days, it must be a mighty one.

She said that Gustavo Kuerten, Brazil’s three-time Roland-Garros champion, passed on a pivotal lesson involving the heart when she was training at the academy of his coach Larri Passos.

“I met him a few times there. I got the energy,” she said.

“I think one of the things that he teaches everyone is to play with the heart. He’s an inspiration for me.”

Enjoying the battle

Haddad Maia rallied from a set and 0-3 deficit to defeat Sorribes Tormo, furthering her reputation as a player who refuses to concede, no matter the scoreline.

A round earlier against Ekaterina Alexandrova, the No.14 seed overcame a 1-5 deficit in the final set to prevail. She was also strongly challenged by Diana Shnaider in a stirring three-set encounter in the second round and has spent more than 10 hours on the court already this fortnight.

Haddad Maria once told Spanish magazine Clay she derives the most pleasure from playing when “fighting at 4-all in the third set”.

“I think tennis is not a 100-metres race. It's a marathon. Especially my matches,” she said on Monday.

The left-hander's determination dates back to her childhood growing up in Brazil and to the challenges she has overcome to become a grand slam contender.

Despite the success of her idol Bueno, a Roland-Garros doubles champion in 1960 and singles finalist in 1964, and who reached at least the quarter-finals in the first three Slams of the Open Era in 1968, Brazil had failed to produce another top-tier female player until Haddad Maia’s emergence.

The 27 year-old, who met Bueno at Wimbledon before her death in 2018, said she “inspires me every day” and hopes her own deeds are sparking hope in young girls in South America.

She explained that few high-level WTA tournaments in Brazil, and the long distance required to compete regularly against elite players, was a challenge for those coming up through the ranks in tennis.

Beatriz Haddad Maia, huitièmes de finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Resilience and resurgence

A girls’ doubles finalist at Roland-Garros in 2012 and 2013, Haddad Maia broke into the top 100 in 2017.

But she also spent long stints sidelined with injuries and while she was out of the game Kuerten wrote and encouraged her to keep fighting. Resilience, she said, is one of her finest qualities.

“I think everyone has [their] own way. I had injuries. I had four surgeries also,” she said.

“So it's not easy to come back, but I think that's why I'm very strong when I play [for] three, four hours.”

Haddad Maia’s inner-strength is beyond dispute and that trait, when combined with her superb shotmaking, has taken her towards the top over the last year.

The left-hander’s ability to switch the pace and alter the angles from one shot to the next was on show against Sorribes Tormo on Monday.

Haddad Maia’s big breakthrough came when claiming what an English journalist described as the “rain-cloud double” in Nottingham and Birmingham last year.

In August, she defeated the No.1 ranked Iga Swiatek on the way to reaching the final of the Canadian Open in Toronto, identifying herself as a player capable of beating the best.

Now she plays another trailblazer in Jabeur, who is the first Arab-born player to reach the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros.

“It's a dream. I think since I started to play tennis, me, my family, and everybody from my team, I was dreaming and working very hard for this moment,” Haddad-Maria said.