Caroline Garcia may be the WTA's most intriguing player

by: Tom Perrotta | January 21, 2018

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During her encouraging two-title run in 2017, Garcia beat Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina (twice), Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. (AP)

At the 2011 French Open, Andy Murray made a bold prediction. As a 17-year-old hit big against Maria Sharapova, Murray tweeted that the future was clear: this teenager—barely known by anyone outside of France—would be No. 1 in the world one day.

“U heard it here first,” Murray wrote.

Perhaps you remember that match. Caroline Garcia, somehow excellent without being flashy, led Sharapova 6–3, 4–1 in the second round, and her fans were feeling it. But like most attempts at an upset, this was the sign—maybe—of the future, not the present. Garcia was too young and too nervous. She lost the match and, for a long while, seemed like she would fail Murray’s words.

But if you look at Garcia now—age 24, bigger, stronger and more assertive—you would probably agree that Murray may soon be proven right. After years of struggle and nerves, Garcia is playing a lot like a future No. 1. She has newfound conviction and confidence, and last year she finished strong, winning back-to-back titles at big tournaments in Beijing and Wuhan while beating fi ve Top 10 players. She also reached the semifinals of the WTA Finals, including a win against eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki.

Garcia is not satisfied. She wants more—more wins, higher rankings and her first Grand Slam singles title. Unlike years past, winning is her chief goal—and she believes she can do it.

“That’s what drives me every single day,” Garcia said after her career-best season ended.

Garcia started playing at age five or six, she says, and advanced quickly. Her parents, Louis and Marylene, trained her in her youth and then, as a young pro, she had another coach. But unlike most pros, Garcia has since gone back to her parents for full-time training.

“We are always traveling together and we have a very strong connection,” Garcia says. “Our project is a family project and that’s the best adventure I could ask for.”

Her relationship with her parents has been criticized in France. So was her public split with doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic. The scars from those relationships seem to have solidifi ed her view of tennis in the spotlight, and the emotional problems it can cause.

“It’s a competition, you know?” Garcia says. “So you can be very nice and say hello to everyone, think about everything, but you know, it’s at the end always competition.”

Maybe her approach could have been cleaner, but in terms of wisdom, Garcia is spot on. It has showed not only in her attitude, but her results. By the end of 2017, Garcia seemed a contender at every tournament she played.

“It’s great to see a player live up to her potential,” says former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, now an analyst for Tennis Channel. “She always had the talent but it seemed like sometimes the pressure would get to her.”

Garcia’s No. 8 ranking will bring higher expectations this year. But she seems more confident than ever, and more important than that, she doesn’t think she has come close to her peak. She wants to work on her serve, her strokes and her strategy. Her return of serve, she believes, needs improvement too. She has been eager to do all this, and last year was motivated by the play of Roger Federer, the man she considers the best tennis player ever.

“I was always inspired by Federer but I think the comeback this year is unbelievable,” Garcia says. “So you can see that there’s no limit to tennis and you can keep improving forever.”

As far as the Murray prediction, Garcia says she doesn’t feel the pressure. If anything, she’s minimizing her demands to a classic tennis mantra: one match at a time. Each one, win or lose, she believes, helps her to improve. It’s a philosophy Murray would be proud of—and one that, in all likelihood, would still have him believe in her potential.

“I’m a member of the Top 10 now but I feel I can still improve my game so much,” Garcia says. “There is no limit to my improvement.”

Read Joel Drucker and Nina Pantic on as they report from the Australian Open, and watch them each day on The Daily Mix:


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