Fresh off a runner-up showing at the French Open and back to the site of her breakthrough grand slam semi-final appearance last year, Lucie Safarova is brimming with confidence ahead of her Wimbledon opening round on Monday against Alison Riske.
The 28-year-old comes to the All England Club ranked a career-high No6 following her exploits in Paris and while her compatriot Petra Kvitova may be the defending champion here and is the Czech No1, Safarova will have many eyes on her this fortnight after she came close to beating Serena Williams in the Roland Garros final three weeks ago.
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“It’s been a really long time that I’m trying to reach this huge result and when it finally came it was like a dream come true,” Safarova told Sport360 at SW19.
“It took me a few days to really realise it, and finally when I was at home with my family, just sitting and relaxing you just think ‘oh my God, this is really happening’. Since then, a lot of media, a lot of stuff to do but all positive and I’m happy to be here at Wimbledon.
“Yes the attention has been a lot more. At the end it was (overwhelming) but it’s been also nice. Everyone’s really positive. I was getting stopped on the street in Czech, people congratulating me. It’s been good.”
After Paris, Safarova went back home to celebrate and started hitting on hard courts there so she could train while still spending time with her family and friends.
She pulled out of the grass event in Birmingham citing fatigue and had just one match on the turf in her build-up to Wimbledon, losing to Dominika Cibulkova in Eastbourne last week.
“I usually don’t do really well in my first grass court matches. It takes me always a bit longer to get used to grass but now I’ve been training for over a week on it and I’m feeling good,” she assured.
Last year, Safarova made the semi-finals at Wimbledon for the first time in her grand slam career before falling to Kvitova. It was her biggest result at the time and it made people realise there was another dangerous Czech lefty on tour.
“A lot of happy memories, winning against great players and reaching the semis. First time stepping on the Centre Court is something you’ll never forget,” she recalls of her run here last year.
“Coming back a year later, it feels like I was here a week ago and the memories come back. So I really hope those happy moments will help me get through my matches.”
Seeing Kvitova win twice at Wimbledon has been inspiring to Safarova who goes back a long way with the reigning champion.
“I’ve known Petra for so many years and I remember when she was a young girl coming to Prostejov to practice so obviously to see her reach those great results makes you think like ‘she did it, and it’s possible. Just a normal girl from Czech can do it’. So of course it helps,” says Safarova.
“But you have to do it on your own, you have to go through the hard work and everything. It’s kind of each has her own path but it’s nice to see others from your country doing well.”
In doubles, Safarova could make history this fortnight with her partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The pair have won the first two doubles grand slams of the season and are going for three in a row. The last time a player captured the first three major doubles titles of the year was Martina Hingis in 1998, although her first of the season, in Melbourne, was with a different partner.
“I enjoy playing with Bethanie so much and I hope our game will suit the grass as well. Let’s take it step by step. Everyone now is telling us ‘so are you going to win the four?’And I’m like ‘it’s been a great achievement to win two and will be hard to win another one but I think we’re a great team and if everything works out, why not?” added Safarova.
Canadian coach Rob Steckley has played a big role in Safarova’s surge. They have been working together for a couple of years and the Czech believes his easygoing nature is key to their successful relationship.
“I think everything now is clicking together. I’m healthy which is the most important, my tennis has improved, Rob helped me hugely with that. We’re having fun, we are friends, he’s laid back and is a funny guy so he makes all the traveling and everything easier if you have such a good person next to you. Also I think with all the experience throughout the years, that helps too, so it’s just everything,” she says.