Before her third-round match, Kristina Mladenovic clicked around YouTube looking for any preview of Daria Kasatkina, a young opponent and ITF regular, whom had little WTA experience.
“I was trying to stalk her out and there were three videos, two very bad and all of them on clay, so I was like ‘whatever,’” Mladenovic said with a laugh.
The lack of scouting material didn’t hamper the 22-year old from France. She rolled to a 6-2, 6-3 victory to advance to the round of 16 in a Grand Slam singles’ tournament for the first time in her career. Her new Slam benchmark is the latest achievement in two-year turnaround that has the Frenchwoman primed to make noise in New York during the US Open’s second week.
Highly touted as a junior, Mladenovic won the 2009 French Open girls’ singles title by capturing every set in six matches with a top serve as fast as 124 mph, which matched Venus Williams’ best serve in the women’s draw. While singles’ success at the WTA level didn’t come quite as easy, Mladenovic ascended in the doubles rankings, where she’s currently ranked No. 7. She captured the 2013 Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Canada’s Daniel Nestor and the duo again took the top prize at the 2014 Australian Open. With 13 career doubles titles already under her belt, Mladenovic sought to refine her singles’ game to make good on the promise she showed as a junior.
“What was difficult for me the past few years was knowing when to play that kind of game,” she said. “I play hard and strong from the baseline, but I love to play drop shots to come in to the net. Sometimes I still do the mistake and go too much for the drop shot.”
After ending the 2013 season ranked No. 56, she took a slide back in 2014, ending the year at No. 81. She spent time working on her ground strokes and figuring out how to apply the touch at the net that earned her doubles’ success to singles, which Mladenovic said helped her mature as a player. The adjustments have translated to wins. In 2015, she upset No. 28 seed Sabine Lisicki at the Australian Open, twice beat Eugenie Bouchard and notched her biggest win against No. 3-ranked Simona Halep. Mladenovic has moved up more than 40 ranking spots during the 2015 season and hit her career high of No. 35 in July.
“You never know what the key to success is,” she said. “Maybe it’s just about timing. I maybe needed some time for my game to take shape.”
In New York, where she said it feels like she’s in a movie, she’s experienced a breakout solo role on one of tennis’ biggest stages. The US Open is a fitting place to do so for Mladenovic, since she won her first Slam match, reached her first third round and now has reached her first the round of 16 all in Flushing.
“It’s a nice feeling to reach the second week in singles because I’ve been more used to it in doubles,” she said. “And thanks to YouTube for stealing a few signs.”