Bernarda Pera announced her arrival in a big way at Australian Open where, as a lucky loser, she reached the third round and earned her first Top 100 victory over Blinkova and her first top-10 win against then-No.9 seed Johanna Konta.
It became soon clear in Melbourne that the Croat-born American was going to provide a far sterner test than her ranking suggested. In the second set, as the wind swirled, she managed to recover from a break down and broke on her own four times and sealed the win at the fifth match point.
“Pera hit nearly twice as many winners as Konta, and at times she made the ninth seed's serve look lightweight,” BBC Sport tennis correspondent Russell Fuller wrote in his analysis after the match. Pera, who became the first lucky loser to reach the third round of Australian Open since Kleinova in 1997, was born in Zadar, the oldest continuously inhabited Croatian city, and moved to New Jersey at the age of 16.
Her dad used to live in the United States and the possibility to work with USTA Player Development guided her decision. Inspired to play tennis by her older sister, who later started to work as a coach, Pera was nominated for WTA’s Breakthrough Player of the Month for April, which was eventually won by Bogdan, after she reached her first tour-level quarterfinal in Charleston, where she lost to Madison Keys in three sets.
Pera saved two match points in the 12th game of the second set and came from a mini-break down to win the ensuing tiebreak, then she even moved ahead by a break in the decider. Keys struck 30 winners over the course of the match yo win 7-5 in the third ending with a positive differential to her unforced errors as she misfired 28 times.
"Overall, I think it was a good week for me. I think Madison played great. In the first set, the court seemed so small because I've never played on a stadium this big," said Pera, who broke into the top-100 thanks to that result.
"It took me a little to get used to all the people and how big the stadium is. "I'm a little relieved that I finally cracked Top 100, but I knew I was going to do it, so I have to set new goals now. Before the tournament, if somebody said, 'You'll lose to Madison in the quarters, 7-5 in the third, I'd say I'll take it.
Right now, it's just that I had my chances and I feel like I didn't do enough." That performance became a manifesto of her style that she defined in an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com earlier this year.
"I would say I play quite aggressive and fast," Pera said, assessing her style of play. "I try to take control of the point and open up the court with my forehand." She uses to drill hard and flat groundstrokes and progressed to the round-16 stage in Madrid, defeating two Top 50 players en route.
Making her debut appearance at the Mutua Madrid Open, having overcame two rounds of qualifying by defeating two higher ranked opponents (d. No.62 Hercog and No.77 Vickery), Pera defeated No.46 Sabalenka to claim her first victory at WTA Premier Mandatory-level, and her third over a Top 50 ranked player: the first win over such players came against No.41 Kristyna Pliskova at 2017 $80k ITF/Olomouc.
She then beat Konta to maintain a 3-0 perfect record in second-round matches at main draw, tour-level. On clay, she fell at first qualifying hurdle at Rome, prior to making the second round at Roland Garros (l. Gavrilova). Pera was unable to make it through the qualifying stages of Birmingham and Eastbourne and fell to win a tour-level match on grass as she fell at the first hurdle at Wimbledon.
In the US Open lead-up events, she fell at the first round in Washington DC (l. Osaka) and failed to qualify in Montréal (l. Zhuk), Cincinnati (l. Martic) and New Haven (l. Yastremska). One of a tournament-leading 23 Americans to begin this year’s event – the second consecutive year there have been this many home country players in the US Open draw –, Pera earned nearly all of her career prize money this season; in addition, from her second round effort here, she has earned a seventh of her career earnings from this week alone.
She scored her first career victory in New York over No.50 Putintseva in the first round and lost to No.14 Keys to move to 4-4 at Grand Slam events. Pera, who rose nearly 200 ranking places in 2017, ending the season at No.127 after posting 54-20 record (all levels), gained 60 further spots as she came from a set down to beat No.4 seed Aleksandra Krunic and move into the first WTA semifinal of her career at the Guangzhou Open.
“I think the match started off pretty well, I broke her in the first game. But I kind of lost my focus, lost my intensity a little bit, and lost the first set,” Pera explained after the match, as the WTA reported.
“Then I was able to step up a little bit my game, and was able to get through”. Her run finished against Putintseva. This year's campaign was just the beginning. Pera knows exactly where she's heading in 2019.
"The Top 50 is my goal now but I don't think about it too much," she said. "I just do what I do day-by-day and I'll see where it takes me."