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Lose Yourself: Anastasia Potapova builds towards breakthrough in Miami
Coming off a professional setback and public reprimand, the 21-year-old held her nerve to reach her first fourth round at the Miami Open and edge ever closer to a Top 20 debut.
Published Mar 27, 2023
WATCH: Potapova made her Tennis Channel Live Desk debut following her big win over Coco Gauff in Miami.
MIAMI—Anastasia Potapova began the Sunshine Double poised for a breakthrough. Halfway through the swing and she was instead on the brink of breakdown, dealing with an emotional Indian Wells defeat to Jessica Pegula and the ramifications of her decision to show support for her favorite Russian football team.
A player for whom focus has sometimes been a struggle, Potapova was tasked with blocking out the professional setback and the public warning for her perceived support of a bellicose homeland.
“I think it’s about age and maturity,” the 21-year-old told me on Saturday. “I’ve spent a lot of time on tour already; it feels like forever! I think that’s what is starting to help me; I’ve been in some of these situations before and now I know how to deal with certain problems, on court and in tough matches.”
Potapova has long adapted an approach of radical candor, but questions about the Spartak t-shirt she wore to warm-up against Pegula—and subsequent reprimand from the WTA tour—were off-limits after she channeled her disappointment and frustration into a mental, 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-2 victory over Coco Gauff at the Hard Rock Stadium court. She had, after all, already addressed the controversy following a tense opening-round against Ukrainian former friend Marta Kostyuk.
“There was not any political intention in this shirt,” she insisted to The Guardian. “It’s very sad that people seeing things that isn’t actually the truth. I’m just a super fan of Spartak since I was 10 years old. My dad built part of the stadium for this team, so it’s our family thing.”
For her part, Potapova had expressed opposition to the continuing war in Ukraine last summer following an even more bizarre dust-up that involved internet speculation of whether she had asked for a Ukrainain fan to be ejected from her match in Cincinnati. The No. 27 seed was in similarly, if not equally, unfriendly territory against Gauff and a pro-American crowd. Much as she had done against Pegula, Potapova impressed with relentless firepower and an improved fitness she traces to a recommitment to tennis that began last spring.
“We decided to change everything and started to work in a way that was simple, but intense,” she explained, elaborating on how she rallied from a mid-career burnout last season. “It was more about hours; even if the quality wasn’t good, it was about the hours we’d spend training. We’ve done a lot of things in the last year, and those things have helped me a lot. I feel I’m not just a better player, but a better athlete now, too.”
Those improvements have heretofore been on display at smaller tournaments: Potapova picked up her first two WTA titles in the last 12 months, most recently on hard courts at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz in February.
“It’s been brick by brick,” sighed the former junior Wimbledon champion and contemporary of players like Amanda Anisimova and Sofia Kenin, “going from No. 50 to No. 40 to No. 30, and now maybe No. 20. Still, that means a lot because it shows me and that I’m improving every week, every month, and every tournament.”
Seeded at the BNP Paribas Open for the first time in her career, she led Pegula by a set and later 3-1 in the final set before nerves and a wayward serve conspired to lose her six of the final eight games.
Team Potapova, led by former ATP No. 18 Igor Andreev, refused to let the loss haunt her.
“My coach told me, ‘It wasn’t enough today, but you’ve shown that you can actually beat these players. It’s not easy, but the level was there.’ The match with Jessica showed me that I really can compete with Top 10 players, and maybe beat them the next time.”
Next time came quick against Gauff, who rode a wave of hometown support to rally from 2-5 down to pip Potapova in an opening-set tiebreaker. A game from defeat in the second, she pulled off a comeback of her own and showed no nerves in closing out a teenager famed for her physicality and mental strength.
“I finally got an important win,” she said of her third career Top 10 win. “And I managed to get to the fourth round of a big tournament. It’s really important for me now because that’s what I’m working for. It shows that I’m doing the right thing.”
A self-professed fan of pop and rap, Potapova picked Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” as an ideal walkout song—“That’s a classic, no?”—and looks to have embraced the 8 Mile mantra in order to push through a potential breakdown to not only get what she nearly got in the desert, but possibly set herself up for an even bigger breakthrough with a little Hard Rock.