Yanina Wickmayer celebrates match point against Heather Watson in the Stanford second round.
© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
STANFORD, Calif. -- Yanina Wickmayer was once where Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki were – a player loaded with potential who looked like a sure-fire, top-five player-to-be.
But the 22-year-old Belgian had the same degree of success as the aforementioned four, partly due to injury and partly due to the fact that her game has yet to fully mature.
The fifth seed at the Bank of the West Classic, she feels she is making progress mentally, which showed in her 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory over the rising Heather Watson of Britain in the second round.
Standing 6-feet-tall with huge groundstrokes, Wickmayer came out of nowhere at the 2009 US Open to take out Virginie Razzano, Sara Errani, Kvitova and others before falling to Wozniacki in the semifinals.
Just like she did back then, Wickmayer still has the desire to be a super-elite player, but she is no longer the carefree teenager who doesn’t know what hard losses on tour feel like.
"We had a really tough generation," said Wickmayer, who faced the likes of Wozniacki, Kvitova, Alize Cornet, Ksenia Pervak and Urszula Radwanska before she went pro. "When I played juniors, like all of our top 10 are now in the top 100. It was really strong. All those players are great players, and it’s nice to see a new generation coming up and playing well. I was two places from the top 10 in 2010, and I think if I play my best, I can win some good matches."
Wickmayer did start 2010 quickly and added to her reputation as someone to watch when she battled her countrywoman Justine Henin tooth and nail in the fourth round of the Australian Open before falling in a dramatic three-setter. She then reached the quarters of Miami and rose to No. 12.
But she stalled there and eventually began to slip backwards. She did reach the semis of 2011 Indian Wells and the fourth round of Wimbledon, but a serious back injury derailed the second half of her season, and she was unable to play in the fall.
"It’s not easy coming back. It’s been a bit of a struggle to find my rhythm," she said. "In the important weeks, I’ve felt big pressure because I had all my points to defend in the first five months and I was coming back from a long injury. I only started practicing a week before the season began, and it was tough to start in Australia. I had to start all over again, as the feeling was gone."
While Wickmayer says she was largely missing confidence, she did manage to reach the semis of the Paris Indoors and the quarters of Doha, and by the time she got to Miami, her level had picked up, as she upset her countrywoman, three-time US Open champion Kim Clijsters, before going down to Wozniacki again. She had a forgettable clay-court season for the most part but did manage to reach the final of Bad Gastein the week after Roland Garros.
But at Wimbledon, she began to find the lines again, upsetting 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova before losing 7-5 in the third set to eventual quarterfinalist Tamira Paszek in a contest that the Belgian served for. She was less than thrilled when she came off court, but now she has put the loss in a more favorable light.
"I was really disappointed with that match but also satisfied because I knew this was the level to play quarters or semis at Wimbledon, and it gave me a lot of confidence," she said. "I just have to stay positive, and everyone has those years when the big injuries come and you have to make a comeback."
Wickmayer will likely face 2011 Bank of the West finalist and world No. 9 Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals, just the type of victory she could use. She’s only defending 172 points through the US Open, and if she plays to her ability, she could be a factor in the Emirates Airline US Open Series.
She’s an intense and serious young woman, but she’s trying to lighten up a bit.
"Winning those matches [like against Watson] will help build up ranking and confidence," she said. "Now I have nothing to defend the rest of the year, so the pressure will fall a little. You know, it’s just a game, and I look at it more that way than before the injury. I enjoy it a lot more."