By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The intense pressure of the professional circuit can be taxing for a 17-year-old but Anastasia Potapova of Russia is banking on “youth power” as she aims to make an impression in her Australian Open debut in Melbourne.
Former junior number one and Wimbledon junior champion Potapova had a strong 2018 in her second year on the WTA circuit when she reached two finals which secured her a season-end finish in the top 100.
Her climb up the ranking ladder, after starting 2018 ranked 242 and dropping to a low of 260, guaranteed her a first-ever direct entry into a Grand Slam at the ongoing Australian Open.
In her Australian Open debut on Tuesday she played her first round match against Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier, who is 32 and had turned professional a year before Potapova was born.
“I don’t feel the pressure at all,” Potapova told Reuters in an interview after her 6-4 7-6(5) victory. “I am just feeling the power. This power of youth is really helpful for me.
“Especially when you are playing women of over 30 years of age, you just know that you are more fresh.
“I am 17 and I can run five sets and go and practise after that for two hours. I know my opponent will get tired sooner.”
Potapova credited her focus on fitness for the success in 2018, her second year on the professional circuit.
“I changed my fitness coach before the pre-season and we really worked hard. I was preparing myself physically and mentally as well,” she said.
“My tennis is not perfect yet obviously but sometimes you have to improve things besides the shots or the technique. You have to also focus on your physic, your mental side.”
Potapova received a wildcard in the qualifying draw at Wimbledon in 2017 and made it to her first Grand Slam main draw. But she was forced to retire after a fall during her opening round match against German Tatjana Maria.
Comparing her two Grand Slam appearances, the Russian teenager, who will play 17th-seeded American Madison Keys in the second round on Thursday, said she felt more ready and more confident coming to Melbourne.
“Junior level and professional level are so much different, I can’t even compare it. Playing as a junior in a Grand Slam, the first two-three matches I can play on one leg and still be okay. I will win,” she said of her journey since turning pro.
“From the quarter-finals you have to push yourself but not so much. Here everyone is so professional. Doesn’t matter who you play, when you play, you have to push yourself to the limits from the first second of the match.”
Potapova said her target was to moved up the rankings and that the balance between tennis and spending time as a teenaged girl was going to be the key.
“I am not sitting at home thinking about only tennis. I like having fun with my friends, going out sometimes. I am doing it and it’s just normal,” she said with a big smile.
“If you will be too much into tennis you will get over it in two years. I also want to be just a girl who can have some fun and enjoy life. I am enjoying tennis and I also enjoying the life besides it.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)