By Raúl de Kemmeter and Sebastián Capristo
Not every day do you see a young gun that can catch so many eyes at once in Argentina. Gabriela Sabatini left some big shoes to fill and the elite generational change of guard seemed far away. But that appears to have changed. It is one’s responsibility to protect a young up-and-comer from overhyping her too much. Fresh faces do come around here and there once in a while, and when someone excels, it is almost a duty to report them in the hopes of finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This is Nadia Podoroska’s case, a diamond that needs to be discovered and a story worth being told.
It all started last November, in a low level ITF tournament in Chile. A 14-year-old girl from Rosario, Santa Fe, won her first 4 WTA points flying under the radar. Months later, she hit the big scene a couple of weeks after her 15th birthday by reaching the quarterfinals at her hometown Challenger event, ousting Top 300 and fellow countrywoman Maria Irigoyen on her way, then reached another quarter-final at the next event. Podoroska played the minimum amount of professional tournaments to earn herself a ranking and quickly climbed at no 776 in the WTA charts, which is quite an accomplishment for a girl from the 1997 generation. At the moment, she stands second in her class, right behind Veronika Kudermetova, a young Russian talent also known for wearing the Maria Sharapova Nike collection.
Brimming with confidence in her game, she describes the reason behind her recent success: “I am an offensive player who looks for closing out the points at the net because my biggest strength is my forehand”. Her credentials exceed the local admiration. Ecuadorian legend and 1990 Roland Garros champion Andrés Gómez, who saw her in a South American Junior’s competition, praised her over Twitter: “The backhand. She has a glove in that hand.”
Podoroska´s game doesn’t really fit the common clay-courter archetype which is often related to her predecessors. You can tell at first sight (and on a deeper look) that her powerful style and flat, picture-taking groundstrokes will make her triumph on fast courts too. There is no secret as she acknowledges: “My favorite surface is hardcourts. I´ve got the chance to play on both hard and clay, which is key in developing an all-around game”.
A bright talent is best if led by a bright coach, and here is where Carlos Rampello steps in. Rampello is in charge of Nadia’s guidance, embracing a “step by step” attitude that has proven best for her interests.
Q: Nadia, we know Carlos played a big part in your career so far. Can you tell us about the decision to hit the pro Tour so young?
NP: I started training with Carlos almost five years ago and he always stressed out his thoughts about Juniors tournaments being far too many in terms of weeks off, which could compromise training. The Juniors stops currently involve Venezuela, Ecuador, and Chile… And he strongly encourages me to use up most of that time in training and developing my game. I went along with what Carlos decided was best for me and we decided to try some pro tournaments last year to see how it goes, and I did quite well. This year, we kept on trying and we got even better results.
Q: It’s a long road to the top…
Q: Are you planning on playing the Junior Grand Slams?
NP: I’m just getting started! Of course I want to play the Junior Grand Slams but I am trying to take a different way to the top. I don’t want to hit the Junior’s circuit and do the long trips because I want to be fully focused on the WTA pro tournaments. I’ve been discussing with Tito (Vázquez) about how to work it out so I play enough Junior tournaments to get me into the main draws of the Grand Slams.
Pro career is a dueling, open road to go even if being a good Junior, mainly because it doesn’t guarantee later success. But it certainly rang a bell when they decided to play Nationals extensively against local rivals, older in age and range. “I base my progress on these kinds of competitions. They help us all a lot because they give you the chance to play against girls who are well ranked, who have a lot of experience, and are usually bigger and stronger than you”, she says, keeping her goal in mind.
Not a very distant lane that current Argentina´s Nº1 woman, Paula Ormaechea, chose back when she started playing local tournaments to reach her status as a pro. “Paula is definitely a good example of how to do things well. We all know she is still young and is almost there in the Top 100. I saw her at the Fed Cup and I can tell you she’s got game. She is one to follow”, reaffirms Nadia, who saw her and the national Fed Cup team during the last tie in Parque Roca.
Q: How was this experience?
NP: I went there to support the girls and to get a glimpse of their level in order to understand their games a bit more. I was surprised by how well these girls play, they are pretty solid. I went back home very motivated because it is very exciting to get the chance to see that kind of players at home in such a prestigious tournament. Everything is good for me to understand more about tennis at the top level.
What’s next for Nadia is a European tour, with the help of the Asociación Argentina de Tenis (AAT). It is her first visit on the Old Continent, which includes the traditional Under 16 tournaments of Avvenire (where she lost in the second round), Citta di Crema, and Le Pont des Générations, as a wild card entrant. She then plans to continue with two other women’s circuit events using her own professional ranking.
As it stands, emerging into a world open to possibilities is never easy not only for a player, but also for her nation’s tennis itself. Despite all the obvious expectations, time and hard work will tell its fate; Nadia has a clear idea of what her path is in a special way. Her way.
Raúl de Kemmeter is a tennis journalist from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has published articles in the Buenos Aires Herald newspaper and worked as Juan Mónaco’s community manager as well as in Revista GRIP. You can read his work at Tenis Mañana, Revista Line, and Foot Fault Magazine.
Photos: Prensa AAT.