WTA Spotlight: Top 100 debutants - Dalila Jakupovic

The first Slovenian in a major main draw since 2014 reached the first career WTA semifinal in Bogotà. She completed the season at a career-high rank No.69

by Alessandro Mastroluca
WTA Spotlight: Top 100 debutants - Dalila Jakupovic

Persistence and gradual progress guided Dalila Jakupovic's whole career. The strategy paid its dividends in 2018 when Jakupovic became, at Roland Garros, the first Slovenian to debut in a Grand Slam since Tadeja Majeric at the 2014 Australian Open, and reached her maiden WTA semifinal in Bogota.

With her father Senad, who became her main coach since May 2017, she learned the basics of the game in Ankara near Koper in Slovenia. At age 16, she revealed in a long, detailed article on Al Jazeera Balkans, she joined the academy Nikola Pilic, the Jugoslavian player who won the Davis Cup as the German captain, had opened in Munich where she met Ernests Gulbis and Novak Djokovic among others.

Jakupovic and her family moved to the Swiss town of Altstetten, near St. Gallen, in 2010. Playing tennis, she turned her passion into her profession. The young Slovenian contested WTA qualifying for the first time at 2011 Copenhagen and made her tour-level debut at 2014 Monterrey: as a qualifier, she lost to Luksika Kumkhum, the Thai who famously beat Petra Kvitova at Australian Open and likes to play the ukulele.

Part of the Slovenian Fed Cup team in 2014 and 2017, last year she finished 2017 season ranked No.239 for her fourth non-consecutive Top 300 season, and No.89 in doubles for career first Top 100 doubles season. In 2017, she reached three WTA doubles finals, lifting her career first WTA doubles trophy at Istanbul (with Kichenok, d.

Melichar/Mertens) and finishing as runner-up at Monterrey (with Kichenok, l. Hibino/Rosolska) and Tianjin (with Stojanovic, l. Begu/Errani). In singles, the season was highlighted by her runner-up finish at WTA $125k Series event in Mumbai (l.

Sabalenka). In 2018, she backed up that result claiming her biggest title to date at the ITF $60,000 event in Canberra in March. In the final, the Slovenian fifth seed defeated Destanee Aiava, who had beaten her in a third set tiebreak in their only previous meeting, 6-4 6-4.

The match was twice interrupted due to rain and the conditions became harder and harder. “I I think that makes you even more happy to win because it was very tough to play today,” she said. “I had a good week.

I really like it here; the courts are great,” she added. “I hadn’t played on clay for some time and I love to be back on it again”. Jakupovic also partnered Queenslander Priscilla Hon to take out the doubles title beating Miyu Kato and Makato Nanomiya.

After her first ITF title, Jakupovic reached her career first tour-level semifinal in Bogota. In a rain-plagued week, she survived a two-and-a-half-hour battle against No.2 seed Magda Linette, prevailing 6-3 3-6 6-1 in the quarterfinals but she had to come back on-court again in the same day.

However, she didn’t seem to have enough left in the tank against the 2012 champion and No.5 seed Arruabarrena and easily fell 6-1 6-2 after just 50 minutes. Partnering Khromacheva, Jakupovic obtained a consolation prize as she won the second career second WTA doubles title defeating Duque-Mariño/Podoroska in the final.

At Roland Garros, she failed to seal a win in her final qualifying round against Mariana Duque-Mariño despite she led 5-2 and missed a set point on 5-4 on her own serve in the decider. However, Timea Bacsinszky withdrew from the main draw and she received a second chance as a lucky loser.

It turned into a half-missed chance as she lost in the first round against the emerging Spaniard Georgina Garcia Perez. But the Roland Garros launched Jakupovic towards the biggest result of the season. In Birmingham, she saved four match points to notch her career first top-20 win in her first attempt over No.17 Mertens in the first round.

She followed it with a second top-20 victory in a row as Naomi Osaka was forced to retire due to injury while Jakupovic led 6-3. "It’s never nice to win when somebody’s injured," Jakupovic said during her on-court, post-match interview as the WTA reported after the match.

"I was trying to focus on my play, and I didn’t really look on her side". Jakupovic contested her first quarterfinal at Premier level and lost in straight sets to the former champion Magdalena Rybarikova. Those results were a testament to her brilliant technique and improved mental approach.

She's fast and resilient enough to withstand long matches, her father Senad said to Al Jazeera Balkans. Until the end of the season, she completed a couple of further relevant results as she moved to the quarterfinals in Tashkent and finished the season with a semifinal showing in Mumbai in the last tournament of her 2018 campaign.

"There is no technical difference in tennis if you are the first or 500,” said in the same interview Jakupovic who finished the season at No.69, her career-high rank. “Mental side made the difference”.

Dalila Jakupovic