Vondrousova: next great Czech hope

Marketa Vondrousova on the cusp of a first Grand Slam final in Paris.

Marketa Vondrousova© Nicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Most should have had some idea this was coming, in hindsight. A 19-year-old with two victories over Simona Halep and five quarter-finals or better since February stands one victory from a maiden Grand Slam final in Paris.

Not that the unassuming Marketa Vondrousova is the type to demand attention for her toils.

Should her run of results continues at its current rate, there will be no shying under that sharply peaked visor for much longer.

A leftie, with extraordinary court sense and variety, Vondrousova will face Brit Johanna Konta for a place in the Roland-Garros final, after her first win in five meetings against Croat Petra Martic.

“It's not happening every day, right?,” Vondousova said upon reaching the last four for the first time.

“I'm just really happy with my game. And it was very tough match for me. I beat her for my first time in my life, so it's amazing … In semi-finals I think anything can happen. I think it's going to be very tough and great match, and I just can't wait to play.”

Here’s a few things you need to know about the next great Czech hope.

Not cut from the same mold

Given the long line of fine Czech players before her, comparisons are naturally drawn. But this one’s not so clear-cut. Take heavy-hitting top-10 stalwarts, Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova, and the lithe and crafty Barbora Strycova.

The 19-year-old’s game style sits somewhere in between. She says it is the result of aiming to emulate her coach as a young player in the far-western Czech city of Sokolov.

“I had one coach in the city when I was born, and he played this kind of stuff – drop shots and stuff – so I maybe learned it from him,” said Vondrousova, who cites Kvitova and Belgian Kim Clijsters as her idols. “I just like this game. It's very fun for me, and I'm just enjoying it.”

Pressed on what exactly “her game” was when playing well, Vondrousova offered three words before expanding.

“Play drop shots,” she smiled. “No, I'm just trying to play aggressive and maybe, like, mix the points, and I just want to serve well and move well. Yeah, I think all of this is my game.”

Tattoo offers perspective

Vondrousova made her tour debut at home in Prague in 2016 and after contesting the Roland-Garros junior event soon after she did not play again for the rest of the season due to an elbow injury.

Patience was paramount, particularly given an insatiable teenage hunger for success. When she returned in 2017, she won 20 straight matches in ITF events before clinching her maiden tour title in April in Switzerland.

A four-word tattoo above Vondrousova’s right elbow now offers perspective of her time on the sidelines. It reads: “No rain, no flowers.”

“Yeah, it’s tough when you have injuries and you have to play good and everything is not good,” Vondrousova said when asked about the tattoo. “Last year was really tough for me because I had injuries. I couldn't play my best tennis.”

Peaked visor for peak performance

With superstitions and quirks the norm among her fellow pros, Vondrousova has developed her own habit – squishing the brim of her hat.

More akin to American baseballers, the Czech explains it started early and it stuck. “I don't know. I'm doing it since I was a kid. It's my thing,” she said, before putting a kibosh on the idea of a flat-brimmed visor. “No, I don’t like it.”

Marketa Vondrousova© Pauline Ballet / FFT

Not one to create a fuss, Vondrousova admitted there was no need for panic stations should the visor become dislodged, however.

“I think it was the first time, yeah,” she said after knocking it off with her racquet during a point against Martic.

History is on the line - and she knows it

Not since a rampaging Jelena Ostapenko tore through the draw to capture Roland-Garros two years ago has an unseeded teenager progressed as far.

And the 19-year-old remembers the Latvian’s title run vividly; it was the same tournament at which Vondrousova made her Grand Slam debut.

“Yeah, she did [an] amazing thing,” she said. “She was the same age as me [now]. I mean, it's very tough to win those matches and, like, win seven matches in a row. I mean, it's like a dream now.”