The story of Mihaela Buzarnescu: From the Brink of Retirement to the World’s Top 30

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The rise of Mihaela Buzarnescu has been one of the most inspirational stories in professional tennis. It was not too long ago when the Romanian was questioning whether she could continue with her professional tennis career and whether she could really reach her potential after such a successful juniors career where she was standing side by side against some of the world’s best of today–like Caroline Wozniacki, among many.

The 2016 season was a very difficult phase in the life and in the career of Buzarnescu. Persistently struggling with niggling shoulder problems and also being hampered by a left knee injury that required two big surgeries, Buzarnescu was starting to wonder whether she could really have a good run at a string of tennis tournaments and there were moments where she contemplated ever continuing and giving it another go.

The shackles were firmly off in the 2017. She started slowly, working her way back into tennis life, but the turning point came in a 60k ITF event in Hodmezovasarhely, Hungary. During that week, Buzarnescu went all the way to the title and beat the likes of former Australian Open juniors champion Vera Lapko, Danka Kovinic, and Patty Schnyder during that week. The rest was history at that point as she really grabbed hold of the momentum and ran with it, and to this day, she has not really looked back at all. The Romanian not only became a bit of a winning machine at ITF level, but she started to transfer that success to the bigger leagues on the WTA, and that took place in the International event in Linz, Austria, where she rallied her way to a first WTA semifinal in her first ever WTA main draw. That was the biggest moment to date for the Romanian, just a month after competing in a first Slam main draw at the US Open. Now Buzarnescu was starting to show the talent that many had seen at the beginning of her career as she fought against the odds to really put the work in and to really prove people wrong, who thought that she had no hope of turning things around and achieving what she wanted to achieve.

Buzarnescu finished the 2017 season with 65 wins and just 19 losses. The Romanian had officially arrived, winning seven titles during that season, winning 5 titles at 60k, a big title at 100k level in Poitiers, which is marginally a step down from WTA events and also claimed a small title at a 25k event in Getxo. Buzarnescu showed glimmers of brilliance at WTA events in 2017, but the start of the 2018 season was something truly special for her. Making a first WTA final in Hobart on the hard courts, then repeating the same feat on a clay court in Prague, which emphasises how her game can really adapt to many surfaces because of the nature of her game. Buzarnescu revealed her versatility on different surfaces after her match win in Birmingham yesterday.

“I just I adjust not too bad with the surface changing. I think my game is okay on any surface. I’m happy it’s like that and I can play okay. Of course I have my own moments before, like few years ago, it wasn’t that easy. I only played last year two matches on grass and two years ago, one more time. I just try to adapt and get lower on my feet, use my serve, my left-handed serve, trying to go inside the court a little bit more.”

During this year, which has catapulted her to a peak ranking of World No.30, Buzarnescu has beaten three Top-10 players (Svitolina twice and Ostapenko once) and it feels like she is playing with a certain sense of reckless abandon, which is great for her but dangerous for the rest of the field she comes up against.

The transition from being a good ITF player or even a great ITF player to playing at WTA level is extremely high. There’s a different feeling around the tournaments that you play. There is a different level of prestige and there is also a certain degree of feeling more welcomed, which makes a huge difference to the player in question. Buzarnescu talked through her personal experiences of playing ITF events and she revealed her determination to keep her ranking high enough to consistently play WTA main draws from this moment onward.

“Yeah, it’s a big difference. Playing ITFs and playing WTAs, it’s, let’s say, from Number 2 to Number 8 or 9. Because in ITFs, the organization is much more different and the facilities are lower. The way you’re treated, it’s worse than in the WTAs, which is not so good, because we are all players, we all try the same thing. But unfortunately in the ITFs, you struggle so much more. So for me that I was able last year to win tournaments, the ITFs tournaments and get my ranking higher, just it let me play this level here. I really hope I can stay healthy and play on this level as much as possible from now on.”

“I knew last year when I came back and started to win tournaments, I knew that this year you would need to defend all the points you did last year. But I really tried my best not to think of this which was working until now. I really will not think about it. Whatever it will be, it will be. If I’m healthy and I’m playing good then, I’m defending the points and I can stay on these ranking. Of course my goal would be to reach Top 10 and stay there, but I would be happy to play Top 20 and play all major tournaments again. Life will see what it will give me. I just want to enjoy every moment as much as possible because I’m not 20 years old, I’m 30. Let’s say I don’t know how many years I can still play tennis. I’m playing almost every week. But I’m fit and that’s what is really making me happy, that I can like almost play every week and enjoy because I had so many years that I didn’t play.”

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