Aleksandra Krunic, the twenty-two year old Russian-born, Serbian tennis player may be the “new kid on the block,” but she has seriously come to play. Remarkably, Serbia has produced three number one players in the last decade; Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic both attained the number one ranking in 2008 and Novak Djokovic, firmly entrenched at the top of the ATP World rankings, first reached this summit in the summer of 2011.
While Ana Ivanovic has quietly but steadily moved back up the WTA rankings, currently at number six, Jelena Jankovic’s ranking has continued to slip and is now ranked twenty-one in the world.
Aleksandra Krunic made her Grand Slam main draw debut at the 2013 US Open after winning three rounds of qualifying but lost 6-4, 7-6 in the first round to the American Coco Vandeweghe. At the 2014 US Open, the twenty-one year old Krunic once again qualified for the main draw and was poised to make some noise in the Big Apple and did not disappoint.
In the second round Aleksandra faced 27th ranked and rising American star Madison Keyes whom she defeated in three tight sets. Aleksandra drew the reigning Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova in the following round. Krunic competed brilliantly and maintained her composure when serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. She would defeat the two-time Wimbledon champion 6-4, 6-4 in efficient yet mesmerizing fashion. The Open crowd, like me watching at home, were stunned; a petite, 21 year old qualifier played fearlessly, like a seasoned professional who under enormous pressure, managed to remain calm and focused.
Up next for the charismatic young Serb was the two-time US Open finalist and number 16 seed, Victoria Azarenka. Inarguably, this was a winnable match for Krunic. Impressively, she once again exhibited grace and poise under pressure and forced Azarenka to a third set.
Though she would lose 6-4 in the third, Krunic dazzled the packed stadium crowd with her penetrating ground strokes and incredible court coverage. Martina Navratilova, the 18 time Grand Slam champion was equally impressed proclaiming, “what a find she is, what an athlete.” This enthralling and memorable fourth round loss to Azarenka was one of ten matches nominated for Grand Slam match of the year.
At just 5 ft. 4 inches, Aleksandra Krunic possesses qualities that defined two former tour players and multiple grand slam winners. Like the fiercely competitive Belgian Justine Henin, Krunic generates enormous pace off both wings while effortlessly gliding around the court. Like the wily and discerning Swiss Hall of Famer Martina Hingis, Krunic is strategic with her shot selection and often plays doubles so as to improve her movement and volley technique.
The 2015 Australian Open marked the first time Krunic did not have to qualify for main draw play. Though she lost in the first round, Aleksandra Krunic has achieved a career high ranking of seventy-five in the world. At the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Krunic lost in the first round 6-2, 6-1 to the Romanian, Monica Niculescu who in the following round, challenged Serena Williams with her wicked spins but eventually succumbed to the 19 time Grand Slam champion.
Spring and clay court tennis will soon be upon us and like the season’s flowers, Aleksandra Krunic will only continue to grow and blossom and that will be something to marvel.