From good to great!
The Volvo Car Open brings in tennis players from all around the world with one thing in common: they’re at the top of their game. Some are known champions and some are rising stars, but every athlete is a strong contender in any tournament. But, what makes these women not just good players, but great players? What was the motivator that kept them moving on to a professional tennis career?
Danish athlete and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has a well-known story. Winning the WTA Tour title in 2008, at the age of 18, was a precursor to her ranking and many championships. “I always thought of myself as a great player,” Wozniacki laughed when asked what took her from good to great. “I think you can look back and be like ‘I wasn’t really that great of a player back then.’ I think the confidence really helps you, also. If you believe you can do it.”
Wozniacki adds that her method to success is to set smaller goals for herself. “I don’t really know when I was good and when I was great,” she added. “Looking back, as a seven year old, I was a great player for a seven year old. Was I a great player for a 20 year old? Probably not.”
Latvia native Anastasija Sevastova said that she doesn’t believe there is one spot where she went from good to great. “There’s not a moment; you’re evolving,” she said. “It’s basically years to get better. You try always to improve. It’s not a lot of time to improve in the off season, but still I try to make adjustments.”
This mentality has served Sevastova well over the years as a professional. She took a break from the sport in 2013 because of injuries and illness, but left retirement to return in 2015.
Top seeded player Sloane Stephens had a simple answer, finding that practice took her from good to great. “[It was] probably just playing a lot of tennis,” she stated.
Practice got Stephens far in the past. At the age of 19, she became the youngest player in the WTA top 50 in 2012.
Stephens’ parents were also a big motivator that kept her going in the sport. “My mom secretly wanted me to be a tennis player,” she said. “She had already decided I was going to be a tennis player.”
For Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka, the good to great moment is elusive. “We’re all very good players, but to be the great ones, you need to be really strong,” she commented. “Strong in your mind, and don’t have an expectation for yourself, and just go out and bring everything you have on the court.”
Sabalenka added that learning to not psych herself out is a key tactic. The awards that she has won, like 2018’s WTA Newcomer of the Year, have surely built her confidence.
Popular Dutch tennis pro Kiki Bertens is known for a positive attitude, and it shows. When asked what took her from good to great, she said that she keeps moving. “Keep on working hard, keep on improving every day,” she offered. “That’s what I try to do and also the experience— I think that helps you a lot to win more matches.”
Bertens won her first WTA title in 2012, three years after she turned pro. In 2018, Bertens made new strides in her career by reaching top-10 status. She was named the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year that same year.
Florida native Madison Keys gained plenty of attention in 2009, when she turned pro at the age of 14. Experiencing plenty of ups and downs in the last 10 years, Keys has gone through injuries and cracked the WTA top 20.
Growing up with the game of tennis, Keys believes that getting to know herself has turned her into a great athlete. “I’ve been able to verbalize what I’m feeling and communicate,” she said. “That’s probably been the biggest thing for me— being able to handle the highs and lows of the sport.”
University of Virginia graduate Danielle Collins said that she could fill a book with moments that helped her go from good to great. “I don’t know how I could narrow that down to just one,” she contemplated. “Transferring from University of Florida to Virginia, because I wasn’t playing in the lineup. My talent was clearly misevaluated by a lot.”
In addition to a “great team” and “awesome coaches that were pushing me,” Collins said that having a smooth transition to her tennis career out of college helped her tremendously. She stated that this was all thanks to the grant she received from Oracle Tennis. “Really from the beginning, I was able to treat my career like a real professional and I wish it was that way for everybody,” she said.