Pro Tour Experience for Anna in Heraklion

It was 2 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon the 6th April. BETA Academy player, Anna Popescu and I would shortly be leaving to Greece for 2 10K Pro tour events in Heraklion.

However, news broke that the whole of Greece had decided to have a full scale 24 hour industrial strike on Thursday stopping all air traffic; the day we were due to land in Crete. Not the ideal start for Anna’s first European trip for pro tour events! Nevertheless, we were placed on the later flight that arrived at 2am local Crete time and finally ended up in a different hotel than scheduled at 4am. You always have to be ready for plans to change on the tour circuit at a moments notice.

Week One Preparation

After a lie in on Friday morning and some lunchtime mobility, we headed to the tournament office for Anna to sign in for the singles qualifying – the ITF set a period of between 4 and 6pm to sign in. If you miss that deadline, you are not accepted. We completed an on-court session of hitting, so that Anna could start adjusting to the courts, environment, weather and the feeling of being at an international pro tour event. The day before match day is predominately a light hitting and mobility day – a typical ‘feel good’ day. This is to ensure that players are feeling comfortable going into the match the next day. After the hit, Anna proceeded to complete a post-practice stretching routine, of which Anna is one of the most disciplined at this tournament. While Anna completed her stretching routine, I waited for the draw to come out and to make sure  Anna had been accepted, as she was previously an alternate (not given a guaranteed place in advance). Once it had been confirmed that Anna was in the qualifying, it was now the wait to see when she would be playing and then finally the rush to get times for practice set up. Honestly, it is no different to a pack of 100 lions hunting down the final antelope in the field. After the hustle and bustle, we set up a morning practice for Anna. As she was 3rd on, not before 11:30, we organised a light warm-up for 11am and also got ahead of the game by booking another court at 6pm for a post match session so Anna could continue adjusting to the conditions in Crete and possibly work on any particulars that arose during the match – irrespective of the outcome.

Pro Tour Event One

The morning of the first round qualifying match was upon us – after diving into a hefty all inclusive breakfast, Anna and I completed a mobility warm-up and had a loosening hit before relaxing and watching the matches on her designated court. Keeping an eye on how the previous matches on her court were going will help us to determine when she should complete her final preparations before heading off into battle.

After a slow start and losing the first set, Anna started the comeback, but unfortunately she just ran out of time going down 6-0 6-3 to American, Elyse Lavender. This was a great first experience for Anna in her first European pro tour match. She would now have a greater understanding of what it takes to perform at this level. This knowledge could then be put into practice over the coming week.

Week Two Preparation

This now provided us with the chance to take away both the positive areas of Anna’s game and the areas that could be fine tuned for the next match in a weeks time. We were joined by fellow coach and LTA coordinator, Natalia Ilkow, Anna now had two coaches court side – oh the privileges! With Natalia in Greece we were able to bounce ideas off the 3 of us and see what more we could do to improve in the coming days. Natalia was able to hit with Anna in the morning training sessions whilst I was able to observe and speak to Anna during the sessions from a different perspective. We kept the morning sessions very similar with some hitting against Natalia and some drills specific to Anna’s development and how she was feeling at the time. The afternoon/evening practice sessions consisted of practice sets against a variety of other girls competing at the event. It can be very difficult approaching other players and asking them for hits, however, the likelihood is, the other girls are all in the same situation and looking for practice partners as well. You just have to get out there and ask players.

As the week progressed, we slowly tapered off the training so Anna could feel as fresh as possible for her next match in qualifying. After a similar rush of looking at the draw as last week, we saw Anna had been drawn against a British registered player, Katarzyna Pitak. She is a player that Anna is familiar with from past occasions in the UK. We also had the chance to watch her practice on Friday evening, which gave us a little more insight into what areas she was focusing on and how she was looking physically and mentally. We took these secrets to the grave with us in preparation for Anna’s match – Anna was 3rd match on, not before 11:30am. A timing we were familiar with as this was the same as the week before.

Pro Tour Event Two

Match day had arrived and we were up at the crack of dawn to work our mobility, dominate some Greek yogurt and scrambled eggs for breakfast before heading down to the club for a light hit before the match. Shortly after midday, Anna was on and pumped. Little would I know, I was about to witness over 380 points played, with only 6 points separating the the two girls at the conclusion of the match. The first set, was very even and went right down to 6-5, with breaks galore, 1.5 hours later, Pitak was able to steal the first set 7-5. A toilet break followed for both girls, before Anna quickly found herself 5-2, 30-0 down in the second set. Even the referee thought the match was over as he called the players for the next match on that court. What a mistake the referee made there. I wonder if Anna heard that call and had different ideas. A storming comeback from Anna saw her take the second set on a tiebreak 7-2. Three hours later, we were heading into a 3rd set. None of this lottery championship tiebreak nonsense, it was the real deal.

Unfortunately it didn’t start well for Anna and she found herself 4-0 and then 5-1 down in a flash with some strong aggressive play from her opponent. Yet again, Anna had different ideas and proceeded with another outrageous comeback saving copious match points along the way. Anna crawled her way back into the set, and at the second time of asking, Anna took out the match 5-7 7-6 7-5 in 4 hours 26 minutes. A great result for Anna. Well done.

Unfortunately we could not celebrate with too much Ouzo, as match day number 2 of this tournament was soon upon us. Anna had unfortunately been drawn and scheduled to play at 9am the day following her first round epic – there is no rest at the top. An early night was in need for us both before an early rise and to go at it again in the second round. We had a short hit at 8am the next morning so Anna could fire on all cylinders early on. This proved to be a tough task, as Anna was not able to get a strong enough foothold in the match going down 6-1 6-4.

Overall this was a great 10 days for Anna playing at a new level, experiencing a new culture and embracing the feeling of being at pro tour tournaments. Well done Anna and congratulations on your first mammoth victory.



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