Anna Blinkova completed her first top 100 season at No.96 to celebrate a campaign marked by her joint-best Grand Slam result, at Wimbledon, and her best performance at WTA level, in Doha. The 20-year-old Russian claimed 42 victories to 27 defeats in 2018, owning an 11-10 record in deciding sets.
She went to the extremes ten times as she won six sets 6-0 and suffered four bagels, but looked effective also when she had to grind her way towards victory as the 8-5 record in tiebreaks testify. The 2015 Wimbledon junior runner-.up Blinkova, who completed a 27-11 record against a higher-ranked opponent and an 11-16 mark facing higher-ranked players, defined herself as an aggressive player.
“I like to play fast, I like fast surfaces," WTATennis.com's Alex McPherson quoted her to say in 2017. "It's very important because it's a very good practice for many shots," Blinkova states.
"The volleys, the serves. I also like to play doubles because you communicate with your partner and you are not alone - and it also gives me experience in tactics." She needs to cover some hole in her game to exploit her clear talent.
“The serve is still a huge problem,” wrote last October Jake Davies for Last Word on Tennis. “Blinkova has a tendency to serve double-figure double faults in her matches, [so] the starting point has to be making sure the serve breaks down a lot less than it does at present.
The top players in the world find a weakness and they go for it ruthlessly”. As a solid hitter from the baseline, she evidently needs to learn how to perfect the shot selection in big moments. Blinkova did not win a single game in her first match as a junior but she reached as high as No.3 in junior singles rankings, winning the ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu in April 2016 as she defeated Swann in the final.
That year, she completed a stunning transition to pro tournaments as she clinched her first two ITF Circuit titles, at $10K event in Stuttgart and $25K tournament in Westende. She finished the year at No.206, up from 826 in 2015, and posted her maiden WTA main draw win in Moscow, a dramatic 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(10) triumph over Anastasija Sevastova.
An avid reader, Blinkova likes Jack London and Erich Maria Remarque, Russian literature and sports autobiographies (Andre Agassi, Usain Bolt, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray). In 2017, she made her Grand Slam main draw debut at Australian Open, coming through qualifying to reach the second round.
She managed to beat Monica Niculescu on a hot day after more than two hours. "It was a very tough match, it was 35 degrees!" she said. "I had an advantage because I played three rounds of qualifying and I was already adjusted.
I didn't think too much - I just played my game, I did my best and this helped me win”. Blinkova, who lost to Karolina Pliskova, ended 2017 at No.136, sealing the first year-end Top 200 finish of her career. After the Australian Open, she also reached the second round in Budapest as a qualifier (losing to eventual champion Babos).
She also fell at the first round at Rabat (l. Errani), Wimbledon (l. Vesnina), Bastad (l. Sevastova), US Open (l. Vesnina) and Tashkent (l. Ka.Bondarenko). She finished runner-up at $25K ITF tournament in Grenoble and moved to the quarter-finals at WTA 125K event in Limoges where she used her power to dismiss Alize Cornet in straight sets.
In 2018, Blinkova the third and biggest ITF title of her young career, at $60k event at Croissy-Beaubourg, came as a good sign. She won through qualifying before falling at the first hurdle at both Shenzhen (l. S.Zhang) and Australian Open (l.
Pera). After another first-round exit in Taipei, Blinkova posted the best result of career with a third-round run at a Premier-5 level in Doha where she came through qualifying and completed her first Top 30 wins over No.23 Vesnina and No.13 Mladenovic before falling to No.7 Garcia.
She made the second round in Bogota (l. Bogdan) and Wimbledon (l. Bertens), and benefitted from Muguruza's withdrawal to debut directly in the second round in San Jose, losing to Azarenka. Beaten by Zvonareva in the Us Open debut match, the Russian scored a second-round upset at the Oracle Challenger Chicago when she beat top seed Danielle Collins to set up a quarterfinal clash with Sachia Vickery, who won in straight sets.
In Luxembourg, she earned sweet revenge in the first round against Tatjana Maria. One week earlier, in Linz, Blinkova led by a set and a break against the German but was unable to clinch the victory. This time, Blinkova didn’t let the match slip through her fingers, recovering from a break down in the second set to seal the ninth WTA main draw win of her career.
Her run stopped against Julia Goerges in the second round. Blinkova, said the German, “is a tough player, she’s very aggressive, especially indoors: there’s no wind, so she can hit some really good shots".
Blinkova finished the season in Limoges, losing in the quarter-final to her compatriot Margarita Gasparyan. But this is only the beginning of her success story.