Photo: Tommy HindleyKristina Mladenovic (FRA)
In January 2011, 17-year old Kristina Mladenovic made her debut for France at a professional level at the Hopman Cup in Australia and February saw her collect her first singles titles on the ITF Pro Circuit.
The teenager, ranked as high as 171 in the WTA rankings less than a year ago, competed in two $25,000 European indoor hard court tournaments which began with a visit to Sutton, England. This south London borough was staging a $25,000 level tournament on the ITF Pro Circuit for the fifth consecutive year having also held two tournaments in 2001 and 2002. Mladenovic was unseeded for this event and opened with a crushing 61 60 win over British Wild Card entrant Eleanor Dean.
The second round saw her drop the second set in a three set win over another British hope in No. 3 seed Katie O’Brien and in her quarterfinal match she had to come from behind to secure victory. Marta Domachowska from Poland was her semifinal opponent, a player who had already dismissed the top seed in the first round. Both players were evenly matched throughout but with a close 75 76(4) win it was the Frenchwoman who went through to the final where she faced No. 4 seed Mona Barthel.
Barthel, from Germany, was looking for a second title of 2011 and had come into this tournament at a new career high WTA ranking of 170 and it looked as though she was on her way to claiming the title when she levelled the match with a 61 second set win after Mladenovic had drawn first blood by taking the opening set 63.
With the pendulum seemingly having swung in favour of the German player many watching expected her to triumph in the deciding set but Mladenovic recovered from the loss of the second set to dominate the third, conceding just two games. This match, and tournament, will be long remembered by the teenager as the 63 16 62 final win gave her what is certain to be the first of many singles titles.
Following her success in England, Mladenovic headed to mainland Europe for a tournament in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. As in England, Mladenovic was unseeded and began with a straight sets win over a Wild Card entrant from the host nation. Another straight sets win followed in the second round to take her into a quarterfinal with Poland’s Katarzyna Piter. Mladenovic took the first set 63 before her Polish opponent levelled the contest, taking the second set by the same score line to take the match into a third set.
Both players fought hard for the victory and it took a tie break to separate them which finished 7-3 in favour of Mladenovic. Her path into a second successive final was now blocked by a German player, Annika Beck, who had come into the main draw via the qualifying event. It could have been assumed that Mladenovic would be a sure thing to go on to reach the final given her current form this month but Beck having already defeated the No. 1 seed in round two was not going to make it easy.
This certainly was the case in the first set as Beck raced through it without loss of a game. Mladenovic though composed herself and fought her way back into the match and pulled off a remarkable win given the way things were looking after that first set.
A second career singles title on the ITF Pro Circuit was now within her grasp, facing her across the net looking to win her first title since 2009 was Russian No. 2 seed Arantxa Rus, a player who is very close to breaking into the WTA Top 100. This final was decided in two close sets and the 63 64 score saw Mladenovic crowned the champion to add to her title won the previous week in London, England.
2011 has so far been a great year for the young French star. She has made a professional debut for France and won the first two ITF Pro Circuit singles titles of her career. We can now only wait and see what the remaining ten months of the year have in store for her but based on the evidence seen so far, it should all be positive and this could well be a player worth keeping an eye out for.