Buzarnescu: San Jose champ on the rise

Published by Matt Trollope

Mihaela Buzarnescu poses with her trophy after winning the WTA Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose; Getty Images
Mihaela Buzarnescu wins the WTA Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, California for her first career title. She cracks the top 20 after being ranked ranked 139th a year ago.

Mihaela Buzarnescu completed a dream week in San Jose, beating Greece’s Maria Sakkari on Sunday to claim her first WTA title.

The Romanian, 30 years of age, trounced Sakkari 6-1 6-0 in a lopsided final at the Californian hard-court event.

Buzarnescu was the fifth seed at the Premier-level tournament with a draw also featuring Grand Slam champions Serena and Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Victoria Azarenka.

Yet top seed Muguruza – as well as No.2 seed Madison Keys – withdrew with injury, while Azarenka retired injured when trailing in her quarterfinal. Serena was thumped in the first round by Johanna Konta in the heaviest loss of her professional career, while Venus faded against Sakkari in the last eight.

“I’m sorry that there was no American in the final but, well, I’m really happy to be on the poster next year so that’s really amazing for me,” Buzarnescu said.

The final, completed in 73 minutes, was the easiest match Buzarnescu played all week. She was stretched to three sets in wins over Sachia Vickery, Amanda Anisimova and Elise Mertens en route to the final.

Having pocketed the winners’ cheque of US$136,695, the Romanian will also improve four places to world No.20. Twelve months ago, she was ranked No.139. At the beginning of 2017, she was outside the top 500, before a purple patch on the ITF circuit helped boost her ranking.

“I started to believe that I could play good when I qualified for the US Open last year,” she told wtatennis.com.

“Everything’s (been) better and better for me. I’ll just try to focus for each tournament and each game as I did before. Maybe people will look differently at me now, but I don’t want to change anything … just think of the good moments, and play.”

For a player who struggled for years with injuries and who turned to academics – even completing a PhD in sports science in 2016 – while on the sidelines, her rapid rise has been simply extraordinary.

We chart her last year on tour.

Mihaela Buzarnescu: a timeline

August 2017: At age 29, makes her Grand Slam debut at the US Open as a 133rd-ranked qualifier. Draws No.5 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the first round, falling 6-1 7-5.

October 2017: Wins three matches to qualify for the tournament in Linz, Austria, her WTA main-draw debut. Then beats Anett Kontaveit, Ajla Tomljanovic and Belinda Bencic to extend her winning streak to six, eventually falling to Barbora Strycova in the semifinals. Cracks the top 100 as a result.

December 2017: Closes season with a 16-2 run on the ITF circuit, winning titles in Poitiers, France and Toyota, Japan. Ends the year at world No.56 (25 December).

January 2018: Reaches first WTA final in Hobart, falling to Elise Mertens in three sets. Improves ranking to No.44.

February 2018: Beats world No.6 Jelena Ostapenko on her way to the last 16 in Doha, piercing the top 40 the following week.

May 2018: Advances to second WTA final of the year in Prague, pushing Petra Kvitova to three sets in an absorbing final.

June 2018: At Roland Garros, upsets Rome champion and fifth seed Elina Svitolina, one of the title favourites, in straight sets in the third round. Her appearance in the last 16 marks her best-ever Grand Slam result.

July 2018: Wins nine of 13 matches on grass – her best result a trip to the semifinals in Birmingham – to improve her ranking to No.25. Led seventh seed Karolina Pliskova by a set and 4-1 before falling in the third round at the All England Club, narrowly missing a shot at a second straight appearance in the last 16 of a major.

August 2018: Captures first WTA title in San Jose, taking her season win-loss record to 38-20.

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