WTA Spotlight: Top 100 debutants - Sachia Vickery

In 2018, she beat Muguruza in Indian Wells, reached her first WTA semifinals in Auckland and Monterrey and improved her career-high rank at No.73

by Alessandro Mastroluca
WTA Spotlight: Top 100 debutants - Sachia Vickery

“I just started to believe in myself a lot more especially once I broke into the top 100 for the first time in my career, that was a huge step forward for me,” said Sachia Vickery, as Stacey Tisdale reported on Psychology Today.

“I would tell people facing any challenge to just keep working hard…even on the days when things are difficult and don’t feel great, just keep going.” She and her mother, the omnipresent and ever supporting Paula Liverpool, started from absolutely nothing.

Liverpool, close to Le Bron James' family, worked two jobs and as a graduate in Guyana ended to spend most nights bartending in a disreputable club in a very dangerous neighbourhood to get her daughter where she needed to be.

That was the only way she could pay for her lessons and save a couple hundred dollars a month. Vickery made her major debut as a wildcard in 2013 US Open, reaching the second round where she fell to Glushko, and later equalled that result, her joint best Grand Slam performance, in New York in 2017 (as a qualifier, l.

Kenin) and at 2018 Wimbledon (l. Mertens). The American completed her set of Grand Slam main draw appearances by qualifying for 2016 Roland Garros (l. Sevastova in the first round). The American finished last season at No.116, but something immediately began to change in 2018.

Vickery opened the season by reaching her first WTA semifinal ever at Auckland. As a qualifier, she posted at the time her best win rankings-wise of her career stunning 6-2 6-2 No.28 Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals (bettering win over No.39 Ostapenko at 2016 Miami qualifying).

Vickery gave Wozniacki a stern test, although she lost 6-4 6-4, and was in the contest for the entire second set, before being broken at the end as Wozniacki sealed the tight win. "I started off really well, I served well, I played aggressively and kept the ball away from her.

But then I stepped back - maybe half a step behind the baseline and all of a sudden she was getting to a lot of balls. She was counter punching very well and we had some crazy rallies there. I thought I had won this [rally] three times and it was still coming back and all of a sudden I was on defence.

But I had to keep grinding out there and try to run her down," Wozniacki said. During the Sunshine Double, she definitely led the sunshine in Indian Wells, where she reached the third round as a qualifier, completing her best-ranking and career-defining victory over No.3 Muguruza, as she recovered from a set and a break down: it was one of the three comebacks wins of her whole season.

“I think actually me losing those matches where I have been up, I don't know, maybe 4-1 in the third set or 4-1 and 30-Love, that's actually helped me,” she said in the insightful post-match press conference. “I just keep telling myself, just hit the ball, go for it.

Don't play tentative. Because if I would have let up, she would have -- you know, I would have brought her back into the match. I think that was the most important”.
Gradually, she managed to play an admirable free-flowing game, to show a rock and roll heart drilling a streak of unstoppable down the line winners and began to naturally read the Spaniard's wide serve from the deuce side.

Undoubtedly, Vickery showed to be able to raise her level of play as the stage gets bigger and confirmed her desire to work on being more aggressive. “My game for years has kind of been built around defence and, you know, not really taking on my shots,” she admitted after that win.

“I think a lot of players that defend well, they can be aggressive. But I guess just after years and years of doing the same thing it's easy to get stuck in that kind of mentality, which was what happened to me. You know, it's really taken a lot of work with my coach, you know, going after first serves and starting the point on the front foot so I'm not just running every single point.

Obviously, as I play these better opponents, you know, you can't just run for two hours. You know, it's just not going to work out that way. I think it's something you just really have to work on, which I have been doing”.

She needed time to realize she had effectively won, but immediately she celebrated that victory adding her name to the long list of Wakanda tributes. The movie Black Panther made the gesture of crossing the arms with both fists touching the shoulders ubiquitous.

Director Ryan Coogler revealed that the “Wakanda Forever!” salute came from two different sources: Egyptian pharaohs and sculptures from West Africa, as well as the words “love” and “hug” in American Sign Language (ASL).

As Slate pointed out, Hillary Weaver noted on Vanity Fair, “athletes may be the most visible Wakanda super-fans, as black athletes around the world have been flashing the “Wakanda Forever” hand signal as flawlessly as Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o did on the screen”.

The symbol had already made its way to the soccer world when Jesse Lingard of Manchester United used it against Chelsea a month earlier. Pride and self-belief brought Vickery to add a second semifinal this season in Monterrey.

Then, she had not won back-to-back matches until she moved to the last 4 in the WTA 125K tournament in Chicago where she beat Ons Jabeur and Alexandra Kiick and had little trouble against Anna Blinkova, the conqueror of top seed Danielle Collins, but she had to give a walkover to eventual runner-up Mona Barthel.

Vickery, who reached her new career-high ranking at No.73 on July 30, completed the season at No.96 owning a 27-24 overall win-loss record. The American ended on a 23-6 mark at all levels after winning the first set and served six bagels, losing two sets with that score.

Mentally, she showed undeniable improvements, as the 4-1 record in tiebreaks testified, but she has a long and winding road ahead of her: winning four out of sixteen deciding sets is meant to become a heavy burden on the way of fulfilling her potential.

She also looked quite consistent on the second serve, winning more than 50% of points in 16 of her 28 tour-level matches. “It's something I kind of developed over the years,” she said after beating Muguruza. “Obviously I'm pretty short, so it's difficult for me when the ball gets up too high.

So I just opt to take it a little bit earlier just so I'm not behind in the point. It actually helps my timing a little better. That's something I have developed confidence over the years. I never used to do that. I used to sit back and wait for it”. Now, it's time to pursue her happiness.

Sachia Vickery Indian Wells