Seed-slaying run fuels Vondrousova hopes of Paris repeat

 - Dan Imhoff

Former finalist adds new Czech to her team in bid to build on promising early start to 2021

Marketa Vondrousova, Roland-Garros 2021 first round©️ Philippe Montigny/FFT

Marketa Vondrousova knows well the feeling – setting the world ablaze as an unheralded outsider, free to throw caution to the wind and let her racquet do the talking.

For the Czech it came on a remarkable run to the Roland-Garros final two years ago as a 19-year-old.

Seeds Carla Suarez Navarro, Anastasija Sevastova, Petra Martic and Johanna Konta all fell victim in succession without the loss of a set before Ashleigh Barty had her measure.

Then came the setback. Following a first-round departure at Wimbledon, Vondrousova had left wrist surgery, which ruled her out for the remainder of 2019.

Sixteen months on from her Roland-Garros breakthrough, in a pandemic-reduced season, the then 15th seed became one of the seeded victims herself in another 19-year-old’s dream run.

Squaring off against gifted Pole, Iga Swiatek, in the first round, Vondrousova salvaged just three games last September.

Little did she realise her opponent was about to emulate her run to the final without the loss of a set – only to go one better and capture her maiden Grand Slam title.

“I don't really know what I would do better,” Vondrousova said after that match. “I think she was so good today, she didn't give me much chances, so I think she was just better.”

In 2021 the now 21-year-old has returned as the 20th seed and opened her account against dangerous Slam slayer Kaia Kanepi 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

While yet to repeat that deep second-week stay at a major, there have been promising signs early in 2021.

Vondrousova advanced to the semi-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne before she reached the Australian Open fourth round a week later.

A defeat of 11th seed Belinda Bencic sent her into another round of 16 on hard courts, this time in Miami, but the switch to clay has not been as fruitful.

The Czech lefty had lost three of her four clashes on the surface before she saw off Kanepi in Paris.

Unseeded French wildcard Harmony Tan is next and the Czech sees no reason why she cannot make another deep dive into the Roland-Garros draw.

A first-round defeat to the eventual champion never looks so bad in hindsight.

“I mean it was a tough first match here last year, she played amazing,” Vondrousova told of Swiatek. “I don't think I played that bad this year because I made fourth round in Australia, I also played semi-finals there and I played fourth round in Miami so I don't think I'm playing that bad.

“I think I struggled two tournaments on clay. I just need to try to find my game and also my rhythm, but I don't think overall I'm having such a bad year because I've had some good matches so I'm kind of positive.”

There has been another change in the coaching department since her Australian Open campaign, too.

Having worked with Czech pair Jiri Hrebec and Jan Hernych, Vondrousova had switched to another of her compatriots, Libor Salaba.

“I changed to another Czech guy, Jan Mertl,” she said. “He's helping me a lot, we did like the week before Roland-Garros, we practised hard in Prague so I'm happy that I won this match.

“I know him, he's from my club in Prague and we used to talk a lot and now I think it's kind of the right way.”