Olga Danilovic is only 17, but she has already announced her arrival on the senior stage with a record-breaking run to her first WTA title in July this year.
The Serbian teenager scripted a bunch of firsts when she became the first woman born in the 2000s to win a WTA trophy, lifting the Moscow River Cup as a lucky loser – the first since 1980.
She beat fellow 17-year-old Anastasia Potapova in a three-set thriller of a final, notching several big wins en route – Kaia Kanepi, Aliaksandra Sasnovich and top seed Julia Goerges, getting her first-ever top 10 win in the process. She was also unbeaten in singles on her Fed Cup debut for Serbia.
When her breakthrough 2018 season ended with a strange, first-round loss at the L&T Mumbai Open on Wednesday, she recovered from the crushing upset and focused on the many positives from the year gone by. The fourth seed was beaten by doubles partner Danka Kovinic 4-6, 7-5, 6-0 at the CCI courts.
“I could have done better, but now it is over. I was very close but I didn’t take my chances. She started playing better, I went down, what can I say?
It’s been an amazing season, looking back... I won my first WTA titles, both singles and doubles [at Tashkent], I managed to get into top 100. I am very satisfied with how the year has gone,” Danilovic told Scroll.in after her match in Mumbai.
Satisfied may sound like an understatement, given how rapidly the left-handed Serbian has risen up the ranks. In October 2017, she was ranked 521 in the world. A year later, she entered the top 100 for the first time, has a career-high singles ranking of 96 and could play the Australian Open main draw. Indeed, despite the string of losses since her clay-court win in July, 2018 will go down as a path-breaking campaign for the teen.
“Moscow was a big boom that was like heard the whole world over, it was an amazing moment for me. There were a lot of matches where I learned a lot; in every match you learn something but there are some matches where you learn what to do and how to play the next time,” she said, reflecting on her season.
The Serb plays an attacking style of tennis but her game is still evolving, and with former ATP world No 2 Alex Corretja as her coach, she is working on fine-tuning it ahead of the coming season where many eyes will be tracking her progress.
“I play my own style of game but you have to work on it every day, I like how I play aggressive I just have to work on it and it’s gonna be okay,” the teen said.
Destined for sports in Djokovic’s Serbia
Danilovic seemed destined for a life of sport, even before she started playing tennis. Daughter of famous basketball player Predrag “Sasha” Danilovic and a mother who’s a sports journalist, she grew up around sport but wanted to play one in which she could find herself.
The teen travels with her mom who manages her career while her dad – the original athlete in the family – is the background support from who she picked up everything she knows about being a sportsperson.
“We are such a sports family, since I was little he took me to the basketball courts so I was always around sport. But I didn’t find myself in basketball. I tried couple of sports but I couldn’t find myself at it so I tried tennis and I felt it, you know. I found myself in tennis and since then I have been at it,” she added with a smile.
Even though she began playing the sport earlier, tennis in her homeland of Serbia took off after a certain Novak Djokovic won his first Grand Slam in 2008 and inspired others to dream of the biggest achievement in tennis – winning a Major.
“We have Novak, that’s the main reasons why all the kids started to play tennis. But I was always a sports child, so I always needed something to keep myself busy. I had already started playing tennis [when Djokovic won his first Grand Slam in 2008] but that is when everybody followed it. That’s the goal really.”
Her path-breaking season has made her the Serbia No 2 women’s player behind Aleksandra Krunic, and if she can add consistency to her sharp game, the 17-year-old could well take over in the coming season. Given her strong performance this year adding to her run at the junior level – she won three Junior Grand Slam doubles titles and had a combined career-high ranking of 5 – does she feel the pressure of expectations?
“We all have pressure, it is normal. The more you play, the more you learn to deal with that pressure. The transition from junior to seniors, coming through that is tough. I had a really big breakthrough this year but it is just tennis. At the end it is tennis and we all hit the ball,” the 17-year-old says with a candid articulation that many athletes take years to develop. But despite her young age, Danilovic is a mature tennis player who can only get better with time and the right guidance.
Up next, is her doubles match with her singles conqueror and when her time in Mumbai ends, it’s time to go home to Belgrade and start preparing for the next season. And if 2018 is anything to go by, Danilovic is a player to watch out for in 2019.