Steady riser: Argentina’s Podoroska clicks into high gear

 - Chris Oddo

A year’s worth of success at the lower levels of tennis is fueling the confidence of Podoroska at Roland-Garros.

Nadia Podoroska, Roland Garros 2020, second round© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska has been steadily climbing the WTA rankings for well over a year now.

All that was lacking was a tour-level breakthrough to confirm the fact that she’s a vastly-improved tennis player with a bright future ahead of her.

That wait has ended. 

A qualifier in this year’s Roland-Garros main draw, the Rosario, Argentina native has smashed through to the third round after defeating No.23 seed Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 on Wednesday.

Currently ranked 131, Podoroska has made the most of an abbreviated season by climbing over 100 ranking spots from her 2019 year-end ranking of 255 in nine months’ time.

She has won 38 of 44 matches across all levels, and her self-belief was on full display in the second round as she dismantled Putintseva, a two-time Roland-Garros quarter-finalist, in two hours and two minutes. 

“I think I have a lot of confidence now,” she said in her post-match press conference. “The best thing I'm doing is trusting in my game, in all that I have been training. I'm very - not relaxed - but calm on court. That's the best thing I'm doing, I think.” 

Podoroska is making her second career Grand Slam main draw appearance, and first in over four years.  

She says she’s a different player these days. 

“When I was in the US Open in 2016, I think I was very young,” she said. “I didn't know what I could do. Now I'm older, and I'm with more confidence.”

Nadia Podoroska, Roland Garros 2020, qualifying final round© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Podoroska is already the first Argentinian woman to reach the third round at Roland-Garros since 2014. If she can get past Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the third round she would become the first woman from her country to reach the second week in Paris since Gisela Dulko in 2011. 

“I never played against her, but I think it's going to be a very tough match,” she said of the upcoming clash with the world No.161. “She plays really good, but I will try to do my best tennis.”

After the match Podoroska received a celebratory message on Twitter from five-time Roland-Garros semi-finalist Gabriela Sabatini. Podoroska says she keeps in touch with the legend and adds that the Hall of Famer is always there to lend support to the women who play for Argentina.

“When I was a child I saw the legends in Argentina, we had too many players when I was growing up, and we always had Gabriela Sabatini, she was like a hero for me and for all female tennis,” she said. “She's always in contact with all the female players in Argentina, even with the Fed Cup team; she's always giving her support.”

Peel back the layers and it’s clear that Podoroska has made a lot of progress far from the WTA spotlight in recent years.

She won the prestigious gold medal at the 2019 Pan American games in Peru last August, and that victory helped with her confidence, while also making it possible for her to receive more financial support from Argentina’s National Body of High Sports Performance. 

Podoroska, meanwhile, is just soaking in her new reality. She has won two Challenger titles in 2020 and recently reached the semi-finals in Prague, at a 125K WTA event. But her performance this week marks a significant step forward. 

It’s one that Podoroska hopes will be the beginning of something even bigger. 

“I knew that I was playing really good, but for sure this experience is all new for me,” she said. “You never know how you are going to react. But I'm happy with what I'm doing.”