Playing with freedom rather than inhibition and overcoming the fear of failure are hallmarks of modern sport stars. Listen to Marketa Vondrousova and she certainly fits the bill: the 19-year-old is clearly not scared of defeat.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you lose,” Vondrousova told itftennis.com. “Everyone will lose a lot of times and losses hurt no matter how old you are. Nobody wants to lose but if you turn the losses into motivation to get better, you will eventually succeed.”
Not that she has had to recover from setbacks too often lately: earlier this month Vondrousova reached the Roland Garros final – the first teenager to do so since Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic in 2007 – without dropping a set.
That showing – her previous best at a Grand Slam was making the fourth round at the 2018 US Open – also propelled her into the Top 20 in the women’s world rankings, where she currently occupies the No. 16 slot.
Vondrousova has of course had to contend with on-court difficulties during her fledgling career and a mere four years ago the Sokolov-born left-hander was licking her wounds after finishing eighth at the inaugural ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu.
Such a result allowed her to put her philosophy on defeat into practice, although she retains nothing but fondness of the tournament, which from this year will be known as the ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Finals following its rebrand.
“I remember it was a great competition and another opportunity to play against the top junior players,” said Vondrousova. “The round-robin format is great. It also gives players motivation to play their best the whole year with the hope of qualifying.”
The Czech’s showing at the Sichuan International Tennis Center was by no means indicative of her junior career, during which she returned an 89-25 win-loss record in singles and 77-14 in doubles and hit the summit of the junior world rankings in May 2015.
She also won Junior Grand Slam doubles titles at the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2015, was a member of Czech Republic’s victorious Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas side during the same year and added her name to the illustrious list of past JA Milan winners.
“Tennis is a long journey to get to the professional level,” added Vondrousova, who defeated Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the final at Biel, Switzerland in April 2017 to clinch her first Tour-level title.
“When you become one of the top juniors in the world, it is a lot of hard work and a lot of tears to get there. You think you have achieved something incredible and that you are very close to becoming a successful professional player.
“But then you realise that getting from juniors to Top 100 is even harder and getting to Top 20 is another level of hard work, sacrifices and learning in order to overcome obstacles. Every match and every situation taught me something and made me stronger.”
Despite succumbing in straight sets to Australia’s Ashleigh Barty on Court Philippe Chatrier, Vondrousova is now firmly established in the upper echelons of the women’s game following her run to the Roland Garros final.
Her endeavours on the clay of Paris earned the youngster a hero’s welcome on her return to Prague, which included a standing ovation at the organised press event, while her coaching team of Jan Hernych and Jiri Hrebec presented her with 100 red roses.
“The achievement of reaching the final is an incredible and overwhelming feeling,” said Vondrousova. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m still trying to process it and learn from it.
“I played a lot of tough matches against top players in Paris over the two weeks and I could feel I grew mentally stronger and improved my game with every match.
“I was so grateful to see my whole team come for the finals, especially my mum, and upon arrival in Prague I had a really nice welcome.
“It was all a mixture of feelings – happiness for achieving this big result, sadness for not winning the last match, tiredness from playing tough matches for two weeks and excitement from the congratulations and support.”
Given her attitude towards losing, Vondrousova is unsurprisingly keen to consign defeat to Barty in her maiden Grand Slam final to the pages of history and adopt a more holistic mindset.
To that end, Vondrousova, who reached the Australian Open semi-finals in the doubles alongside partner Barbora Strycova in January, is confident her exploits at Roland Garros can act as a springboard for future success.
“It is all connected and every match, win or lose, helps me to grow as a player,” she added. “This year I won against top players at big tournaments like Indian Wells, Miami and Rome, which helped me get through to the final at Roland Garros.
“Making it into the Top 20 was one of the milestones I wanted to achieve this year, but I still have a lot to improve upon and I have to work harder if I want to keep moving up and defend my results.
“The goal is to play one point at a time, one match at a time, and get to the second week of as many Grand Slams as possible.