www.wtatour.com caught up with Maria Vento-Kabchi in the idyllic surrounds of the Grand Hyatt Bali during last week’s Wismilak International.
Maria, congratulations on your great results this year. At 29 years old, has this resurgence come as a surprise to you? What do you put it down to?
Well, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career. I’ve been playing for a long time now—over 10 years—but the past few years have been pretty tough. At the end of last year I decided that if I really wanted to do better I needed to get into really good physical shape. I knew the strokes were still there, but in the time I’ve been playing, tennis has become a lot more physical. We can all hit the ball pretty well, so the difference is in mental and physical fitness.
So, how did you go about working on your fitness?
I started working with Pat in late November last year. I definitely owe a lot of my recent good results to him. He brought back the motivation and determination in me to try really hard and to be my best. You know how Justine said Pat worked her so hard that sometimes she cried, well, that was the same for me! I trained really hard in December, too, getting ready for Australia, and as I said, I think the results are now showing.
But the results didn’t necessarily come straight away—you had a pretty lean start to the year. Was it hard not to be discouraged when you didn’t see immediate results?
It was, for sure, but Pat told me not to expect the results to suddenly improve. He told me the hard work would definitely pay off, but that it wasn’t going to change everything overnight. Even though I wasn’t winning a lot of matches at the start of the year—and it was hard not to be discouraged—I kept telling myself it would change eventually.
When did you feel you ’turned the corner’ with your results?
I suppose in Birmingham, when I got to the quarterfinals—that was a turning point for me. Even before that, when I was playing Sarasota qualies, I lost but I felt it was definitely coming back. Of course, Stanford was a great week for me.
Beating Petrova and Dokic at Stanford was a great achievement. Even though your form was improving, were you at all surprised at how well you did there?
I was a little surprised, but by then I had a really positive attitude and when I went into those matches, I knew I had a chance to win.
You’re 29 years old—one would say entering ‘veteran stage’ on the Tour! Was that a factor in you deciding to really work hard—thinking this may be your last chance?
I’ve never wanted to set a time when I am going to finish playing on the Tour, but for sure, I felt like I was hitting my head against a wall by not doing what I needed. So, that’s when I sat down and was really honest with myself, and I realised the things I needed to do.
At any time in this process, did you set goals for yourself, whether they were ranking-related or otherwise?
I did. The problem was that I’ve managed to reach them very soon. When I started this, I was aiming to get into the Top 100 by the end of the year. I did that a lot earlier than I expected. So, I’ve changed (my goals) a little bit. I think if I made it back into the Top 50, that would be a great achievement. I’m certainly going to be trying very hard for that.