WTA Spotlight: Top 100 debutants - Viktoria Kuzmova

Viktoria Kuzmova gained 76 spots in the world ranking and played her first two WTA semifinals in 2018

by Alessandro Mastroluca
WTA Spotlight: Top 100 debutants - Viktoria Kuzmova

Viktoria Kuzmova gained 76 spots in the world ranking in 2018. The 20-year-old Slovak moved from No.132 to No.56 in her breakthrough campaign as she made the semifinals in Budapest and 's-Hertogenbosch, then picked up three ITF titles in the Hungarian capital, in Shenzhen and Trnava.

Introduced to tennis aged four by father, Radovan, who used to run a tennis club, Kuzmova admires Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic. Despite growing up on clay, the only surface available in her hometown, Kosice, she prefers playing on hardcourts, possibly in New York where she began to nurture her dreams.

In 2016 she reached the US Open junior singles final, last year she made her main draw debut on Arthur Ashe stadium facing Venus Williams in what she defined as “the most amazing moment of my career" in an interview to Stephanie Livaudais on wtatennis.com.

Ranked No.135 at the time, Kuzmova pushed Venus to three sets before falling 6-3 3-6 6-2. Coached by former Slovakian doubles player Michal Mertinak, Kuzmova continued the transition from ITF-level to WTA main draw by winning her first tour-level match in Linz last fall.

The Slovak opened the 2018 season with a second-round run in Auckland (as a qualifier, l. eventual champion Goerges) and made her main draw debut at Australian Open (l. Mertens, as a qualifier) in the first season that saw her playing all the four majors.

She came through qualifying at St. Petersburg, but fell in the first round to Kasatkina and was instrumental for Slovakia on Fed Cup debut against Russia as she beat Potapova and Vikhlyantseva to help her squad claim a 3-1 win.

She posted her best career result in Budapest, simultaneously making tour-level quarterfinal and semifinal debut. As a qualifier, she defeated Cirstea, Lisicki, and Martic without dropping a set before losing to eventual champion Van Uytvanck, and followed this with a title run at $60k ITF tournament in Shenzhen (d.

Kalinskaya). She delivered another impressive Fed Cup performance versus Belarus in April but her victories to Sasnovich and Sabalenka didn't prevent Slovakia from losing tie 3-2. On clay, she reached the second round at Roland Garros losing to Svitolina, the highest-ranked opponent she has ever faced.

Days after her 20th birthday, she beat Cepede Royg to seal the $100k ITF title in Trnava to break into the Top-100 for the first time. She became the second homegrown player to win the tournament after Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

“It’s like the biggest tournament we have in Slovakia for women, so that was really amazing,” Kuzmova said to wtatennis.com. On grass, she reached the second WTA semifinal in 's-Hertogenbosch as she hit 27 winners in 68 minutes to dismiss German qualifier Antonia Lottner in the quarterfinals before losing to Kirsten Flipkens.

Unable to move past the first round at Mallorca (as a qualifier, l. Hercog) and Wimbledon (l. Peterson), she returned to clay after the Championships to win the $100k ITF title in Budapest. She posted her career-high ranking of No.54 on July 16, then in Cincinnati, she matched best career win-by-ranking by upsetting No.36 Sasnovich in the first-round.

Beaten in the second round in Ohio, she suffered a first-round loss at Us Open to Azarenka and revived the last part of the season with the ITF final in her last tournament in Dubai. An avid reader and photographer, the Slovakian youngster coasted to an easy semifinal win over Evgeniya Rodina of Russia.

“The plan was to try and keep the points as short as possible so that I can get some much-needed rest before tomorrow’s final,” Kuzmova told Gulf News. “I stayed aggressive and fast and tried as much as possible to keep the rallies short.

Rodina plays well from the baseline, so I tried as much as possible to draw her to the net. That upset her rhythm and I could execute my plan well. It was a tough week, however, as most of her matches went to the distance. Burdened by the lack of brilliance, she managed to win just three games in the final clash against Peng Shuai who reserved a lesson to clinch the 21st Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge.

“I think it was her experience that made the difference today,” Kuzmova told Gulf News. “I did all I could. I tried as much as I could, but in the end, she was simply better on court today. Things could have been different had I won the first game of the second set.

But then this is tennis and I have to accept that she was a better player,” Kuzmova added. Kuzmova clearly knows the path of her highway to heaven. She's fully aware that working on serve and aggressive groundstrokes are the key to climb into the top-50 and launch her career to new horizons.

Possibly, bringing her to realize another dream, make her main draw debut at the Internazionali d'Italia. As they say, all roads lead to Rome.

Viktoria Kuzmova