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Winner winner, chicken dinner? For Magda Linette in Paris, nothing foul about it
The 29-year-old aims to reach the fourth round of a major for the first time Saturday at Roland Garros.
Published Jun 05, 2021
FLASHBACK: When Linette won the inaugural Bronx Open in 2019
At Roland Garros this year, precautions remind players that the post-pandemic era is not yet here. Spectator attendance is limited to 5,000 fans the first week, there is a 9 P.M. curfew and competitors are allotted only one hour of leisure time away from their accommodations. At one player hotel, the 10th floor hosts a makeshift restaurant where French Open hopefuls can take in a striking view evoking Parisian normality.
Magda Linette has made it a routine of eating dinner with the Eiffel Tower each night. A team member laughs when Linette shares that chicken has regularly featured on her meals, given that poultry isn't a personal favorite. But it’s easy, and suits the comfortable vibe of the dining arrangement.
Up until now, nothing about Linette’s 2021 season has been comfortable. In December 2020, the Pole planned to play the $100K ITF World Tennis Tour event in Dubai but felt something in her right knee prior to her scheduled departure. Weeks went by without a diagnosis, and so, like many athletes, Linette pushed through the pain.
Two days before her flight to Australia, Linette’s knee ran its course.
“It just broke to pieces really. I had to get a surgery within two, three days,” she tells TENNIS.com. “I just went really hard on my rehab to come back as fast as I could. Seven, eight hours a day of the rehab to be able to come back so quick. And then it took me really couple of weeks to finally find myself a little bit on the court with my movement. Maybe not even a physical, a breakthrough that I had to go through. More mentally, I had to go through some really tough times to get my movement back.”
That drive initially paid off when Linette won in her Miami return, though positive feelings were soon supplanted by seeds of doubt. She lost her first four clay-court matches, all in three sets. Following her exit in Rome, the two-time WTA titlist returned home in hopes of evaluating her game from a different angle. The result was a personnel shakeup. Linette brought on a familiar face, Dawid Celt—Poland's Billie Jean King Cup captain, and husband of former teammate Agnieszka Radwanska.
“It was a challenging time on and off the court for me. I just felt I was pushing so hard with my rehab, with everything and put so much pressure on myself that maybe I needed a little the step back, relax and look a little bit from a bigger perspective. And that's what I did,” reflects Linette.
“Every time I was pushing and pushing and pushing and it was just not happening. And then I just decided to change some stuff, get one more week of rest and good quality practice.”
With Celt in her corner, Linette reached the semifinals in Strasbourg. It was a week that left an impression that she "found" herself on the court again, just in time for the second major of the year. After defeating wild card Chole Paquet in the first round, Linette went up against world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty. The Poznan native led, 6-1, 2-2, when the 2019 Roland Garros champion put a stop to her campaign with a left hip injury.
Knowing Barty had the intent to play when the two stepped on the court, Linette directed her energy towards the way she took initiative in favor of how the contest finished.
“The thing is, I can't really control what's happening on the other side of the net. So, I was just focusing on my performance. That was not an easy task as well, because in a way, against such a huge player, you're supposed to do things right,” says Linette.
“I'm really happy that I managed to just focus completely on myself and play my game. I know she was in pain and she was injured, but I still had to go out there and really push her to her limits. I'm sorry she had to retire, I was really surprised. But I'm just glad that mentally, finally I managed to hold up [in] a really tough situation.”
Linette’s daily schedule has kept her busy. She’s also into the third round of doubles after patiently awaiting the opportunity to reunite with left-handed American Bernarda Pera. The two won a pair of matches in Rome last September and had hoped to rekindle their easy-going energy in 2021. Linette, of course, missed the Australian swing, and so their combined rankings weren’t high enough to get in anywhere in the lead up to Paris. In a way, the two have been making up for lost time.
“I'm happy that we managed to set it up here. Her tennis really fits my game,” she says. “I need some help from the baseline. And she really gives me that, so I think our game really fulfills each other gaps in a way. And second of all, I know her really well. I speak Croatian and she also does. I just feel a really good connection with her.”
On Saturday, Linette will aim to achieve a first-time feat: reaching the fourth round of a Grand Slam event. Like Barty, her next opponent, No. 25 seed Ons Jabeur, will throw plenty of variety her way. While her four WTA finals appearances have come on hard courts, one of Linette’s best performances in defeat came at the French Open two years ago when she pushed defending champion Simona Halep to 6-4 in the third. It's efforts like that—and her first set with Barty—that remind the 29-year-old of where her game can take her.
“Last year, it was really difficult because it was really slow and rainy. But I’ve played pretty good tennis here, so I'm not necessarily surprised,” she says. “I will really need to basically do what I did Thursday. Try to dictate, try to be the one that is a little bit more solid, but still is capable of creating her own path to winning the shots and rally. The last match has showed me and proved to me that I can do this.”
In other words, Linette wants to leave the chicken for the dinner table—where there's nothing foul about it.