Week commencing: 10th August 1998
Subject: Professional tournament debut and career since
On the banks of the Danube River in the South West of the Slovak Republic, the country’s largest city, Bratislava, hosted a $75,000 ITF Women’s Circuit tournament the week commencing August 10th 1998. This tournament was where one of the WTA’s top stars made her first foray into the world of professional tennis at the tender age of 15. Described as an all-rounder due to her ability to generate power on all court surfaces, almost effortlessly, from all over the court as well as producing graceful controlled volleys, the player in question is Daniela Hantuchova.
Born on April 23rd 1983 in Poprad, Slovakia, Daniela qualified for a place in a top university in Slovakia but deferred it to pursue a career as a tennis professional.
Daniela’s first experience of competing in a professional tennis tournament came when she was granted a wildcard entry into the singles qualifying event of the ITF’s $75,000 tournament in Bratislava in August 1998. The qualifying event of this clay court tournament was held over the weekend of August 8th and 9th and Daniela, or Danka as she is affectionately known in Slovakia, played her first professional match against Mira Radu from Romania. Her professional career got off to a winning start as she won through to the second qualifying round with a 64 64 victory over the Romanian.
Italy’s Maria-Paola Zavagli took the opening set against Daniela in their second qualifying round encounter but Daniela turned this deficit around to level the match by taking the second set 63. Daniela then wrapped up the match in convincing fashion by winning the deciding set 61.
Qualification for the singles main draw was assured following her success in three sets in the final round of qualifying against the Czech Republic’s Radka Pelikanova, 63 36 76.
Daniela’s first appearance in the main draw of a professional tournament saw her take on the then 23-year old WTA world number 101, Asa Carlsson from Sweden. The vastly experienced Swede, who had been competing in singles main draw events for six years coming into this tournament, defeated Daniela in straight sets. The first set ended 61 with nerves perhaps playing a factor for Daniela during this debut appearance in a singles main draw. Understandably so for a 15 year old playing one of the tours top players, but if that was true it certainly wasn’t the case in the second set as Daniela pushed Asa all the way before narrowly losing the set 75.
For the remainder of 1998, Daniela returned to the Juniors Circuit and on May 3rd 1999 she made her return to the Professional Circuit when granted a wildcard entry directly into the singles main draw for the Bratislava $75,000 tournament. Following her exit in the first round of this tournament on her professional debut the previous year, Daniela this time made it through to the semi final where she was beaten in three tight sets by the Netherlands’ Kristie Boogert. Despite coming close to reaching the final, Daniela did not have to wait long for her first appearance in a professional singles final. Just two weeks later, at the $25,000 Jackson, MS, USA tournament, Daniela, having come through the qualifying rounds, won her way through to the final with the loss of just one set. The first singles final of her professional career, coming in only her third professional tournament, saw Daniela also claim her first professional singles title when she recorded an emphatic 62 61 victory over Venezuela’s Milagros Sequera.
After this victory Daniela spent the remainder of 1999 competing on both the Professional and Junior Circuits and also made her debut in the Fed Cup. 2000 saw Daniela make the move full time to the Professional Tennis Circuit. Daniela only competed on the ITF Women’s Circuit between August 1998 and August 2000 and during this period she picked up three singles titles and one doubles title. Since then, Daniela has found most success come her way in doubles events and most notably in Grand Slam mixed doubles. Her 2005 mixed doubles title at the US Open, her second of that particular year following mixed doubles success at Roland Garros, gave Daniela a career Mixed Doubles Grand Slam (i.e. former champion at all four Grand Slams). This allowed her name to be added to a list of illustrious female players who have also achieved this amazing feat during their careers, the others being, Doris Hart, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Daniela is in fact only the second in the Open Era of tennis to have ever achieved this particular Grand Slam. She also won each of the Grand Slam mixed doubles titles with a different partner.
2002 proved to be a special year in Daniela’s career. In March she won the prestigious Indian Wells singles title by defeating a former world number 1, Martina Hingis, in the final in straight sets. Earlier in the same competition her victory over Justine Henin marked Daniela’s first win over a top 10 ranked player. In Grand Slams, Daniela finished runner-up in the Australian Open doubles event and made her first two quarter final appearances in the singles event, those coming at Wimbledon and the US Open, where on both occasions she was defeated by Serena Willams, the eventual champion of both tournaments. In October, Daniela broke into the top 10 of the WTA world rankings for the first time where she was to remain until August 2003, reaching a career high ranking of 5 in January 2003. Daniela also played her part in Slovakia’s first Fed Cup title by winning both her singles rubbers in a 3-1 victory over host nation Spain.
Following her Indian Wells triumph in 2002, big things were expected from Daniela but she was unable to fully live up to these expectations and went five years without another singles title. However, she did collect six doubles titles during this period of her career and finish as runner-up in the doubles event at Roland Garros. In 2004 Daniela helped Slovakia finish as runners-up in the Hopman cup and a year later she guided them into the final once more where this time they emerged as champions. March 2007 saw Daniela finally end her baron run of singles titles when she repeated her success of five years earlier by once again winning the title at Indian Wells. In June, Daniela made her long awaited return to the world top 10, albeit only for one week. It wasn’t until September that she made a more permanent return. Her last singles title to date came later that same year at the WTA Tier II tournament in Linz towards the end of October. This was an important victory as it enabled Daniela to qualify for the prestigious season ending WTA Tour Championships in Madrid.
2008 saw Daniela reach her first semi final in the singles event of a Grand Slam where, despite moving into a 60 20 lead, she lost to Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open. Daniela’s Indian Wells title defence in March came to an end in the quarterfinals. A stress fracture of her right foot kept Daniela out of action for quite some time causing her to miss a number of tournaments including Roland Garros. Since returning to tournament play, Daniela has appeared in just three tournaments, including Wimbledon, only reaching the second round at each.