Nadia Podoroska wasn’t a name that anybody was picking to make a deep run at Roland Garros this year—she wasn’t even originally in the main draw, having to make it through qualifying first. But she kept grinding and eventually found herself in the semifinals, becoming just the third female qualifier to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam in the Open Era, and the first to do it on the terre battue.
Her run would come to an end in the final four—she lost to another surprise semifinalist, Iga Swiatek, who went on to win the title. But Podoroska had already shown what she was really capable of. She had never even gotten past the first round at a major beforehand, and her wins over No. 27 Yulia Putintseva in the second round and No. 5 Elina Svitolina in the quarters were her first Top 50 wins.
She was also the first Argentinian woman to reach the semifinals of a major in more than 16 years.
“Well, for me it’s very special because in all South America we don’t have too many tournaments. It’s very complicated for all the South American girls playing tennis,” Podoroska explained. “For me, I think it’s good that I’m having these results, and maybe it’s going to help for all the young girls.”
The run would also propel her from No. 131 to No. 48 on the WTA rankings, her simultaneous Top 100 and Top 50 debuts. A month later, after one more quarterfinal result in her last tournament of the season in Linz, she inched up to a new career-high of No. 47 on the 2020 year-end rankings.
Last week, Podoroska was named the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year. In the past, the award has been a consistent predictor of future success for the previous 43 players who’ve received it.
Not only have 16 of the previous 43 winners of the award won a Grand Slam title, but nine of those 16 players captured their first major within two years of receiving the award:
1977: Tracy Austin (won first major at 1979 US Open)
1985: Gabriela Sabatini (won first major at 1990 US Open)
1987: Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (won first major at 1989 French Open)
1989: Conchita Martinez (won first major at 1994 Wimbledon)
1990: Jennifer Capriati (won first major at 2001 Australian Open)
1993: Iva Majoli (won first major at 1997 French Open)
1995: Martina Hingis (won first major at 1997 Australian Open)
1997: Venus Williams (won first major at 2000 Wimbledon)
1998: Serena Williams (won first major at 1999 US Open)
1999: Kim Clijsters (won first major at 2005 US Open)
2002: Svetlana Kuznetsova (won first major at 2004 US Open)
2003: Maria Sharapova (won first major at 2004 Wimbledon)
2008: Caroline Wozniacki (won first major at 2018 Australian Open)
2010: Petra Kvitova (won first major at 2011 Wimbledon)
2016: Naomi Osaka (won first major at 2018 US Open)
2019: Bianca Andreescu (won first major at 2019 US Open)
Before getting ahead of ourselves, though, there are smaller steps in the cards for Podoroska. Every single one of the 43 previous recipients of the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year award reached a career-high ranking of No. 35 or higher, so it’s likely the Argentine’s rise will continue. And 32 of the 43 previous recipients of the award would reach the Top 10 at some point in their career.
Whether or not the 23-year-old Podoroska fulfills the aforementioned trends, it’s already an incredible feat she is where she is now, given where she was a few years ago—she missed seven and a half months between July 2017 and March 2018 due to a wrist injury and didn't know if she could continue.
“I had too many injuries. My ranking dropped. I was like eight months out of the tour. Then I didn’t have money to start playing tournaments,” she said during her run at Roland Garros. “It was a very tough moment for me, because I also changed all my team—I’d been working with my old coach for 10 years, but then we broke our relationship. I was a little bit like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’”
Now with a Top 50 ranking, Podoroska will be able to play just about any tournament she wants.