Melbourne, VIC, 4 January 2020 | Matt Trollope

In the week immediately after Wimbledon, beginning 15 July 2019, Lizette Cabrera was ranked No.272.

Less than four months later, on 11 November, she’d risen to a career-best ranking of No.127.

In an incredible second half of the season, the 22-year-old Queenslander won three ITF titles and 26 of her last 34 matches to significantly slash her ranking. 

She’s been in similar territory before, rising to world No.134 as a teenager in October 2017. Yet this time, Cabrera feels better equipped to take the next step towards the top 100.

She begun her 2020 season with a commanding win over Whitney Osuigwe in the first round of Brisbane International qualifying.

We caught up with Cabrera a month earlier, during which time she expressed her excitement about kicking off the new year strongly on home soil. It was a really good back end of the year for you in 2019, kicking off with your win at the 80K ITF tournament in Granby in late July.

Lizette Cabrera: “I had a really slow start to the year, and then heading into the grass I was in a better headspace. Came back home, trained for a little bit, and then went to Granby (Canada) and had a really good week — kind of everything just clicked, and kick-started from there. Came back and played the Aussie (Pro Tour) tournaments. I love playing at home, everything’s so easy. Had a really good few weeks. A lot of tough matches — a lot of the girls are playing really well. But yeah, really happy with the way I ended those Aussie tournaments.”

What do you think it was that clicked in Granby?

“I think I had a lot of tough matches earlier in the year, and I was doing all the right things and it just wasn’t clicking. I kind of just kept positive towards myself and kept working behind the scenes, on my mental stuff, trying to stay positive. And that’s why I think it ended up turning around. Because I was so close — I just needed to get those few matches in a row. And then once I did that, it kind of built from there.”

Lizette Cabrera wins the ITF 80K title in Granby, Canada (photo: Sarah-Jäde Champagne/Tennis Canada)

Once you had those few matches under your belt, what’s the mental shift you experienced?

“It feels nice to be like, oh, I’ve won three matches in a row now, I’m still in the tournament. And you kind of just get into a rhythm and a good flow, and sometimes you hit shots that you don’t realise that maybe you were kind of struggling with in the past, and you feel a bit more comfortable because you’ve played a certain amount of matches in a row. Once you get those few matches under your belt and you get on a roll, you just keep going until it stops again (laughter) because you can’t keep it up for the whole year sometimes.”

Was their a particularly highlight for you in 2019?

“Granby was definitely one of the biggest highlights. (Also) nearly qualifying for the US Open — I played some really good tennis and I lost to (Elena) Rybakina, who was top 100, so should have been main (draw). But had lots of chances and again lots of confidence from that. Kicking off my Aussie season in Darwin with a win in singles and doubles (was another highlight), which I’ve never done before. It was really cool, it was a fun week.”

You previously rose into the 130s in 2017, and now two years later you’re back there — and even went a little higher. What do you notice about yourself as a player in terms of how you’ve grown in that time?

“I definitely think going into 2018 I put way too much expectation on it. I said ‘I’m going to make top 100, I’ll be this, that,’ instead of being pretty proud of how I got myself to this ranking (in the first place) and this is how I’m going to keep going, but I’m not going to put too much expectation (on myself). That’s what I think I’ve done better this year — I feel like going into next year, with a smart schedule and the right tournaments and frame of mind, that I can get to where I want to be and not put too much pressure on myself. Because I obviously don’t want go back on that dip again.”

Was that a mindset you arrived at yourself? Or is that something you’ve spoken about with someone about this being a trap to try and avoid the second time around?

“Yeah, (I spoke about it) a lot with my coach Brett. I was working with a psychologist earlier in the year, and a few things that stuck with me from him helped a lot, too. Just constantly talking about it, and (also) going back to 2017 and looking at how I played. I do a lot of journaling — kind of reading back on what I was thinking at that moment. And just trying to make sure that now I’m in a good spot, just to be smart and not overdo it. Just see how it goes, and not put too much pressure on myself.”

With that in mind, what are your goals for the first few months of 2020?

“I really just want to do well at the Aussie tournaments. I think it’s a good chance to pick up points but obviously playing in front of your home crowd at your home slam, there’s a lot of good things coming out of that. So hopefully just do well there. And then build off that. Hopefully be top 100 — I don’t know when it would hit, but I’m hoping it will hit at some point next year, without wanting to put a mark on it. A good incentive to just pushing, because I’m way closer than what I was six months ago. (Considering how) I was feeling over the clay season, feeling really low, to what I am now, I would take it, if someone told me I’d be here, rather than where I was at.”