Breaking through after 30 - WTANov 04, 2020
By Val Febbo
After John Millman’s maiden ATP title in Nur-Sultan we looked through the magnificent stories of five players on the ATP Tour who had broken through on the circuit for the first time after the age of 30.
All five happened within the last 10 years with others occurring that didn’t make the list. On the WTA, it is much more difficult to find narratives like this, in fact there have only been five occasions since 2004 where someone has hoisted their first trophy in their fourth decade of life.
Here they are:
Nicole Pratt - 30 years old - 2004 Hyderabad
Formerly Australia’s No.1 ranked female, Pratt had only reached one final in her career in Shanghai back in 2001, that changed when the 30-year-old headed to India in 2004.
The fourth seed was able to account for young Indian wildcard Sania Mirza in three before multiple straight sets victories against Adriana Serra Zanetti and Jelena Kostanic before a semifinal encounter with a then 20-year-old Marion Bartoli, a future Wimbledon Champion.
Nicole Pratt (right) is still heavily involved with tennis in Australia
Pratt emerged from the clash after coming from a set down, and would take on 17-year-old Russian Maria Kirilenko in the final. After a tight opening stanza, the Queenslander ran away with the match and the championship 7-6 6-1 to finally claim that elusive trophy.
It would be the only title of Pratt’s career, but a sweet one at that.
Alberta Brianti - 31 years old - 2011 Fes
The Italian, like Pratt had only played in one career final which also happened to be in China, but just after her 31st birthday she jetted off to Fes in Morocco for a week that would change her career.
Alberta Brianti claimed the solitary title on the WTA
Unseeded, she would dispatch Laura Pous Tio and Ksenia Pervak in straight sets before being forced to overcome Melanie Oudin, running away in the final set. Brianti was due to face former World No.1 Dinara Safina in the semi, but her opponent withdrew before a ball was played, setting up a final with a then 19-year-old Simona Halep, also in her second career final.
After so many years of waiting, Brianti would finally have her day, a superb performance giving her a 6-4 6-3 victory and the sole title of her career.
Peng Shuai - 30 years old - 2016 Tianjin
Peng Shuai with her maiden WTA title trophy in 2016
It’s not often that you reach a Grand Slam semifinal before you win your maiden title, but that was the case with Peng Shuai who achieved the feat at the 2014 US Open. To make matters more frustrating for her, she had lost in six finals before her exploits in Tianjin in 2016.
She was awarded a wildcard for the event in her home nation and was given an easy path to the second round with her compatriot and seventh seed Zhang Shuai pulling out before the encounter. She would defeat Chang Kai-chen in the second round before getting another walkover with top seed Agnieszka Radwanska withdrawing.
Peng would come back from a set down against Danka Kovinic in the semifinals to give herself another chance at glory, and this time there was no denying her as she defeated American Alison Riske 7-6 6-2 to finally hoist a WTA title. She would claim another tournament in 2017 when she romped to the championship in Jianxi.
Tatjana Maria - 30 years old - 2018 Mallorca
Tatjana Maria celebrates with her team after claiming a maiden WTA title
The German had never reached a WTA final in her career and was nearing her 31st birthday, but she was about to change her life forever on the grass courts of Mallorca.
As a dangerous floater in the draw she was forced to come back from a set down against fourth seed Anett Kontaveit before breezing past compatriot Carina Witthoft in the second round. Her quarterfinal against Lucie Safarova was an epic duel, but yet again Maria would prevail.
She would again be forced to bring in her semi against 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin before a comfortable 6-4 7-5 victory over third seed Anastaija Sevastova to finally taste a WTA championship. That still remains her sole final and title.
Mihaela Buzarnescu - 30 years old - 2018 San Jose
It was a gallant effort from Buzarnescu in San Jose 2018
Buzarnescu reached her first two WTA Finals earlier in 2018, suffering deciding set losses on both occasions to Elise Mertens and Petra Kvitova respectively.
However heading to the Premier Event in San Jose, the Romanian was seeded fifth and was forced to dig through her opening two matches against Sachia Vickery and Amanda Anisimova before dispatching Ajla Tomljanovic in straight sets to move to the semifinals.
Her conquerors in the Hobart final that season Elise Mertens was waiting, but Buzarnescu was up to the task and avenged the defeat in three, setting up a championship decider against young Greek star Maria Sakkari.
It was all over quickly, with the Romanian finally hoisting a title with a 6-1 6-0 belting of Sakkari. Buzarnescu has not made another final since her triumph in California.
Val Febbo is a tennis writer and host of Break Point Podcast
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