In most vocations, a 29-year-old is still in the early stages of a long career. Med school residents. Law firm associates. Tenure track professors.

Now take a 29-year-old world class tennis player. That’s someone who’s been a professional in practice for 20 years. The career starts in childhood, heads into adolescence, on through to adult life. Behaviors become ingrained, an individual sport like tennis a particularly fertile environment for self-reliance and idiosyncrasy. It’s no wonder tennis players are exceptionally stubborn about changing everything from equipment to rituals to tactics.

But in recent weeks, 29-year-old Camila Giorgi has turned the tables on tennis’ lifecycle. On Sunday, she won the National Bank Open, a WTA 1000 event in Montreal, beating world No. 6 Karolina Pliskova in the final, 6-3, 7-5. It was by far the biggest win of Giorgi’s career. “I really think I was very emotional inside,” said Giorgi. “Of course, I'm not the one that shows a lot. Of course, it's just amazing. I'm very happy for what I did this week.” Ranked 71 in the world at the start of Montreal, Giorgi has now cracked the top 35.

Giorgi’s Montreal title run demonstrated that change is both beneficial and even possible – a staggering development given how limited her tactical array has been for so long. Dare we even call it an array? More like a narrow set of salvos, Giorgi so often attempting to blast her way through one situation after another. Over the last decade, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pro who made so many low-percentage decisions, be it with drives on the run, massive second serves or overhit service returns. It made her matches a form of tennis purgatory, all parties uncertain of the eventual destination.


Today’s final magnificently showcased the improved Giorgi, most notably during the kind of early stage where previously she might have shriveled. Serving at 2-3, 30-40, Giorgi ran down two laser-like Pliskova backhands, then scampered forward to cover a short crosscourt backhand slice to elicit an error. Two points later, Giorgi held for 3-all. Pliskova subsequently went up 40-15. But over the course of a five-deuce game, Giorgi the longstanding shot-maker was absent, replaced, as has been the case all week, by a rough combination: Giorgi the newfound grinder who hits hard. The result was an eventual service break that snapped open the set. Holding comfortably for 5-3, Giorgi broke a dispirited Pliskova once again to close out the set and soon went up 3-1 in the second set.

Never mind that Pliskova had won 16 WTA singles titles compared to just two for Giorgi. Never mind that only last month, Pliskova reached the finals at Wimbledon and extended world number one Ash Barty to three sets.Better instead to note that Giorgi had won their last two matches, in June on grass at Eastbourne and last month at the Tokyo Olympics. So now in Montreal came a chance to earn a third straight victory on a third continent.

Time after time throughout this match, Giorgi wisely opted to drive the ball deep, hard and only mildly crosscourt, a contrast to her old manner of aiming as close to the sidelines as possible. Though it’s often wise to make Pliskova run, in this case, the sustained depth and pace from Giorgi proved extremely effective at drawing errors and attackable balls.

Soon after tossing her racquet and going down a break in the second set, Pliskova regained her focus and, as so often happens, Giorgi’s quality of play slipped enough to surrender the break, including a pair of double-faults when serving at 3-1.

But having caught up with Giorgi, Pliskova was unable to do enough to further grab hold of the match. Serving at 5-6, 15-15 from the sunny north side of the court, Pliskova double-faulted and a 15-30 was pinned by another exemplary Giorgi return to go down 15-40. Though she fought off the first match point when a nervous Giorgi netted a forehand return, another deep return extracted a Pliskova forehand error.

“I think she also played, like, super solid all week actually, not playing crazy like she can play sometimes,” said Pliskova. “I think she played really well, serving well important moments. Yeah, just a bit better today.”

Said Giorgi, “I think this comes with all the work I been doing with my father. Of course, he's my coach. So I think all the work we've been putting together through all these years. I think one day I was sure and he was sure that can come in many period because I was playing very good actually. I was playing very high level already few months ago.” Though her father Sergio wasn’t in Montreal, she said they “talk a hundred times per day even FaceTime or calls.”


For Pliskova, it was a frustrating result. This was the third time she’d lost a significant final this year, Rome and Wimbledon the other two. Said Pliskova, “I think I'm doing quite well now. Since actually the first final in Rome, I think my game really improved and I'm playing some good matches. Of course, it's normal to lose sometimes. Of course, I would love to win all of my finals. It's not like that it's only in my hands. There is also somebody else. I'm playing really good players in the final.”

Yet forceful as Pliskova can be off the ground and with her serve, she rarely conveys an overt sense of urgency: the heightened awareness that certain stages of the match are determined less by who hits the ball better and more on who can summon and display that much more energy. But perhaps this can change. After all, Pliskova is still just 29 years old.