ATM: Olivia’s new highs
One career high has followed another for Olivia Rogowska this season, and a strong showing at the Australian Open Play-off would cap it perfectly.
It’s been a seasons of firsts for Olivia Rogowska: a first Australian Open main draw victory set up her first appearance on Rod Laver Arena and a first match up against a top 10 opponent in Li Na. It was valuable experience as she contested her first WTA quarterfinal in Kuala Lumpur, followed by her first rubber as a member of Australia’s Fed Cup team. By year’s end there would be another milestone first as Rogowska achieved a career-high world No. 108 ranking.
“It’s been a lot of hard work and it’s paying off, which is good,” Rogowska told Australian Tennis Magazine. “I’ve played a lot of tournaments and had some pretty good results so that’s really helped my ranking. My goal was to get top 100 by the end of the year and I’m pretty close to that.”
If not for a handful of rankings points, there would have been another first for Rogowska – guaranteed direct entry into the main draw of Australian Open 2013. Currently ranked No.112, Rogowska is less than 10 places from the cut-off point and if there is frustration in not quite achieving that milestone, there is also a reassuring awareness that the Australian Open Play-off may provide another opportunity.
“I really enjoy playing the play-off,” said Rogowska, a finalist at the Australian Open Play-off for the past three years. “It’s really good preparation for summer because they try and make it as close to possible to the Australian Open, such as using new balls and playing at the courts and having full umpires and ball kids. It’s great.”
It’s no surprise that Rogowska loves any opportunity to play at Melbourne Park, which is just a short drive from her home and is also her training base in the months she’s not playing tournaments abroad.
Any time at home also brings back fond memories of the years she spent developing her game after her father, Slavek (a tennis coach), introduced her to tennis at age five.
There’d be no gentle progression via junior events for Rogowska, however, who contested her first ITF Pro Circuit events at age 13. “From the beginning my family could only afford for me to travel straight to the senior events,” she explained early in her career. “I thought that I learned much more playing against the senior girls than playing against girls my age.”
That certainly proved true when Rogowska – who grew up idolising 22-time major champion Steffi Graf and set a goal to contest every Grand Slam in her own career – achieved early milestones, such as an upset of world No.51 Maria Kirilenko in the first round of the 2009 French Open despite being ranked outside the top 250 at the time.
Rogowska navigated inevitable challenges as she forged her way into the upper echelons of the WTA Tour – including some injuries and form slumps following that French Open breakthrough – but at the same time there have always been strong markers for her success.
Thriving on Australia’s Pro Tour has been particularly rewarding and 2012 victories in Burnie, Rockhampton and Esperance provided Rogowska with critical steps in achieving a career-high ranking.
“Getting through those first couple of matches at the start of the year has given me confidence for the rest of the year, knowing that I can match it up with the girls in the top 100,” Rogowska explained.
Calling up some powerful memories will be incentive in itself for Rogowska, who described her Australian Open 2012 experience as a highlight of her season, and one she can’t wait to replicate in 2013.
“It’s definitely the best time of the year for me,” she said. “I get to stay home, so there’s definitely a home advantage. I train at Melbourne Park all the time, so I know the place inside out so that helps me too.
“It’s always special when my family gets to come out and watch, and having the home crowd behind me is always such a huge thing. It’s the best time of the year.”
Equally rewarding is the opportunity to represent Australia in Fed Cup, which Rogowska did for the first time in 2012, when the team defeated Germany to return to the elite World Group.
Asked whether she was feeling more pressure or excitement as she eyed direct entry into the Australian Open, Rogowska showed her balanced approach to future success. “I try not to think about it but you can’t help but count how many points and what round you have to make,” she admitted. “But that’s what I think I’ve improved a lot in this year. I’ve just been going out and playing and playing as well as I can.”
On the cusp of achieving her goal of a top-100 ranking, you can’t help thinking that having achieved so many firsts throughout 2012, Rogowska will be celebrating even bigger maiden milestones in the year ahead.
You can read this feature and more in the January issue of Australian Tennis Magazine, available later this month in all good newsagents. Visit www.tennismag.com.au to subscribe.