the inspiring stories behind the ladies of the wta finals singapore: daria kasatkina the russian wall, kiki bertens’ self-reclamation, + elina svitolina queen of the wta for 2018

yasmin stefanie us open wta missguided pretty little thing red lace body skirt

body – missguided // skirt – pretty little thing

It’s official, the 2018 WTA season has officially drawn to a close. I mean, sort of. Isn’t there still Zhuhai? It’s rly weird how they do it.

Anyway, instead of doing a classic roundup of the tournament or even of the whole entire season, I’m taking a different route. One that’s more hashtag relatable x for my followers that don’t know anything about tennis, which is like 90%. Side note: I feel rly pretentious saying ‘my followers’? Like, who tf do I think I am?

I’m classing this as part of my points to defend series because I created the series to literally just discuss anything in tennis that I have something to say about. There’s been a lot of recent happenings in the WTA world that have caught my attention and have got me thinking and talking, and these have been centred around three of the ladies who made it to Singapore for the year-end WTA Finals. I mean, kind of. DashKa made it there as first alternate but her presence around the tournament was still very much felt so we can obvs include her.

I wanted to use these three players and these lil stories about them as case studies of sorts. They’ve all done something or been involved in something that, when you put it into a wider context and look at it from a broader perspective, can actually really motivate and inspire you. I’ve taken something from all three of them recently so I wanted to share their stories, or at least my perception of them, for you to take something from them too.

elina svitolina wta finals

via @elinasvitolina twitter

let’s start with elina svitolina, who i’m now dubbing queen of the wta 2018 for winning the wta finals earlier today

My view on Elina is more to do with her as a tennis player, so I wanted to start with her because it’s more of a comment on her win, what she’s accomplished this week and how I think that will help her in the future than it is a personal thing.

First of all, I want to gush about Elina for a moment. When I started watching WTA tennis a couple years ago I was drawn to her straight away, she was an instant fave of mine alongside the obvious choices of Serena and Venus. There was something about her as a player – the way she played and her feisty, determined character – so I always kept an eye on her matches and always rooted for her. On an unrelated note, I always thought she was so super pretty. You know sometimes you see a gal on insta or on the street and you’re like omg let me look like you. I’ve always had that with Elina. I hate saying it because I don’t want to determine her worth by her looks and sound like the thing I’m noticing about a female tennis player is how pretty she is rather than how well she plays, but I’m sure you know that’s not the case with how I view any gal. This year she had the ultimate fitness transformation, she suddenly had this unreal body that became my ultimate goal.

Elina was always a favourite of mine, but in terms of ~inspo~ it didn’t go much further than me using her body transformation as my motivator to do the same – without seeing her as an example I doubt I’d have the resolve to be nearly five months strong on my training and meal plan. As much as I admire her game, I can’t take anything from it because I’m not a tennis player so I don’t need to be out here trying to copy her forehand or something. But after this week in Singapore that’s all changed.

Elina had a pretty poor second half of the season in comparison to the first half, and in comparison to last year. She was losing matches she should’ve won on paper. People started doubting her rather than believing in her. She barely even made it to Singapore, and only qualified about a week before the tournament started, if that. This week, she’s gone undefeated. She won three out of three round robin group matches, then won her semi-final and today’s final to take the title. In my eyes, it all came down to her character. And now there’s a whole new thing about Elina that inspires me. I don’t just want to have her body anymore, I want to have her mental strength and determination.

For the first half of today’s match, it looked like Sloane would breeze her way to the title. I was worried af because 1. Elina is my fave and I want her to win, and 2. I planned this blog post a few days ago and started writing it last night already naming her the winner of the WTA finals so I was kinda fucked if she lost. She had a shaky start, losing the first set 6-3 and fighting to even keep the score that close. And then, it was all on her racquet. Something switched in her head, she knew she wanted to win so she went for it, chased down every ball, didn’t give up on any point until it was over, and she won the whole damn tournament. I know it was also pretty obvious that Elina won the physical battle of the match too, not least because her sort of coach Andy Bettles (who she should absolutely make her proper, full-time coach after this week) told her to turn it into a physical battle because she’d win that, but her mental toughness can’t be discounted. If there’s anything to take from her win today, it’s that even if it looks like you’re down and out, or at your lowest point, you can turn it around. After the first set, Elina was down and Sloane was up. She was being written off because it looked like Sloane was on a roll, but because she was down, the only way from there was upwards, and Elina fought her way back into the match and managed to win it. I’m reading Elina’s win as the proof that even when it looks like it’s over for you and you’re about to lose, you can always, always turn it around if you want it bad enough.

A note on the more practical, tennis side of her win though. Elina has always struggled in Grand Slams, she has some sort of roadblock when it comes to them, and it’s something I’ve written about before. She’s never made it past the quarter finals of a Slam, and she had some losses at the four majors this year that she likely wouldn’t have had if they were on the normal WTA tour at a smaller event. The WTA Finals might not be a Grand Slam, but it’s the closest tournament to them. It’s the highest tournament you can get on the WTA tour itself, and it’s one small step down from winning a Slam. Last year, Caroline Wozniacki won the WTA Finals for the first time, marking the biggest win in her career. A matter of months later at the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of 2018 only a few weeks into the new season, she won her first ever Grand Slam. Can today’s win push Elina to do the same and help her get over this roadblock she has at the majors? It looks like it, and I bloody well hope so. Nobody deserves a Grand Slam more than her. There is no other woman on the WTA tour who has yet to win a major that deserves their first one more than Elina does, and the strong mental resolve she’s shown this week seems like one that will stick around for 2019.

kiki bertens wta finals

via @kikibertens instagram

kiki bertens nearly quit tennis a year ago because she was struggling so much mentally. a year later she made the semi-finals of the biggest tournament in the wta calendar

If Elina barely made it to Singapore, Kiki basically didn’t at all. She was in the first alternate spot in the race before world number one Simona Halep pulled out with a back injury, making room for Kiki to enter the tournament as the eighth and final player.

Kiki Bertens had already had her breakout year without making it to Singapore, but getting to the year-end finals and then making it all the way to the semi-final was the icing on the cake. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know too much about her. I’ve seen her name in draws and seen some of her matches but, in all honesty, she was initially only memorable to me because her surname is Bertens and there’s another player on the WTA tour called Mertens so I’d get them mixed up. I started paying attention to her after the super tight final she played in Madrid against Petra Kvitova which she lost, but I had no idea about her backstory or what she’d been through until after she won the Premier 5 level tournament in Cincinnati this Summer. I was listening to the Tennis Podcast when they started talking about how huge that title was for Bertens after everything she went through last year and was like you what? because I’d had absolutely no idea how close she came to quitting the sport only a few months before.

Here’s the TL;DR. She wasn’t enjoying tennis, whenever she lost a match it would hit her hard and she’d be unable to pick herself up and move her focus to the next tournament. She was never happy on court, so both her and her coach thought that she should stop playing tennis if it was making her feel so low. At the end of 2017 she was close to retiring from the sport, she’d basically done all but actually announce it. Before she made up her mind for sure, she went on holiday herself, thought about it, and then came back from the holiday fully refreshed with a new mindset and a list she’d made of things she wanted to change and improve. And the rest is history.

The woman went from stress eating after her match losses all the way to the semi-finals in Singapore. She changed the way she approached tennis, she stopped being so hard on herself after she lost a match and instead channeled her energy into preparing for the next match at the next tournament so she could do better there. She went through a process of reclaiming herself and who she was as a player, and decided that she didn’t want to feel negative after a loss anymore.

You all know what I’ve been going through recently, and there came a point earlier this week when I was watching one of Kiki’s matches that I remembered her story from a year ago. She had been struggling with her mental health, she was in a place where it seemed like everything was going wrong so she may as well quit. And it seems so easy to just give up when things are tough but she didn’t, something inside of her told her to keep going and change her approach to tennis, and less than a year later she was competing at the biggest tournament in the WTA calendar, and making the semi-finals there. And you know what Kiki Bertens’ redemption story made me realise? If she can turn it around, we can too.

yasmin stefanie daria dasha kasatkina wta eastbourne

you don’t need a ted talk to help you, you need daria kasatkina’s coach philippe dehaes, his russian wall analogy, and his ninety second pep talks

This might just be the one I was most excited to talk about. Forget everything you know about TED talks. Stop watching them. Do you really need to hear someone drone on for at least half an hour when you can get your burst of motivation in ninety seconds?

Last week was the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, a tournament that confirmed the final spots in the WTA Finals Singapore based on everyone’s results the week before. The tournament obviously meant a lot to everyone who played it, but it meant more to Russian player Daria Kasatkina, who lost in the final a year before, and had never won a title on home soil. She came to Moscow to win and she was refusing to leave without the trophy in her hands.

During her second round match against Alize Cornet, Dasha was a set and a break down and it looked like she was on her way out of the tournament. She called on her coach Philippe DeHaes for a now famous pep-talk (which I’ve inserted above), and she ended up winning the match. Philippe told Dasha to become the Russian Wall, a phrase he’d never used before but one that’s now become Dasha’s nickname. I’m not joking when I tell you I’ve watch that video at least ten times in the last week when I’ve been feeling low or like I couldn’t do something and needed a kick up the arse.

It then happened again in the final. Dasha was 2-6 1-4 down to qualifier Ons Jabeur and called Philippe out for an on-court coaching session (which I’ve inserted below lol cite ur sources n all that x). It was just as good as the one during her match against Cornet, if not better. People remember the Cornet match peptalk a lot more because it was the one that used the Russian Wall analogy, but this is the one I found more helpful and uplifting. I remember watching the final in my room last week, being pure buzzin for it because I love Dasha so much, I’d been watching every match of hers that week, and I was so emotionally invested in her quest to win the title, and then she went a set and a break down. And then that coaching happened, and I took so much from it. It might’ve been used to help Kasatkina turn the match around, but watching as Philippe told her that the match wasn’t over yet, that she could still win it if that was what she really wanted, that it wasn’t impossible to turn it around even at 2-6 1-4 was the (indirect) talking-to I needed. When things have been a lil tough it can be difficult to remember that you can turn them around, especially when you’ve been trying so hard to do just that and it hasn’t been working and you wonder what the point is of trying, but my god did Philippe snap me out of that. I keep coming back to these talks and watching them because they truly are helpful.

I don’t want to make it look like Dasha’s win, as a woman, was only down to the help she received from her coach, a man. It’s not a phrase I’ve ever used before and it’s one I think is rlllyyy cringy but when I think of Dasha I think she’s a tough cookie. Literally never said that in my life, but it just comes into my head when I think of her because that’s exactly what she is. Obviously we’ll never know if she would’ve won those matches without the on-court coaching but I don’t think it would’ve been too much of a challenge for her to face on her own.

There’s been a lot of talk about coaching in tennis lately, especially since the US Open women’s final. It’s insanely inconsistent – not allowed at the Slams or at ATP World Tour tournaments, but allowed at WTA Tour events on-court once per set and allowed at the Next Gen ATP Finals via a headset (once per set too? I don’t remember but we’ll see again next week). There’s something going on with coaching from the box at some junior events somewhere too. I’m not going to start jumping in the debate but I will say that I really enjoy coaching in its form on the WTA Tour – on the court and once per set. I know there are so many issues with it like what if a lower ranked player can’t afford a good coach, what happens with language barriers for broadcast etc etc but with all of that aside, there’s one reason I really enjoy WTA on-court coaching and one key argument I have regarding it, one that I’ve seen nobody else in the tennis world use as an argument for it. And that’s that it can actually really help the viewer as much as the player. It can be as motivating for a viewer as it is for a player, if you just take their advice and apply it to any difficult situation you might be facing at the moment. We can’t afford a professional coach to come and help us out when we’re going through something tricky, so seeing a ninety second pep talk during a televised match could be the thing we needed but wouldn’t have been able to hear otherwise.

 

With everything that’s been going on in my life atm, the messages I’ve taken from these three women and their achievements have really helped me out. This is just the way I’ve read their stories and what I’ve taken from them but I rly help you can take something useful from them too that can help you out when you need it.

Yasmin

 

 

 

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