Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva always dreamed of playing her first Grand Slam main draw match at Wimbledon. Now, she’s one match away from fulfilling that, writes Oli Dickson Jefford at Wimbledon Qualifying.
Andorran Jimenez Kasintseva was the top seed in the junior event last year, but victories over Barbara Haas and Conny Perrin - two vastly experienced opponents - mean the 16-year-old is a win over Australia’s Astra Sharma away from a senior Grand Slam debut only 12 months on.
Last year’s experience in the Girls’ singles, where she reached the last four, is part of the reason why she would love to be in action in SW19 next week.
However, it is the opportunity to emulate some of the game’s greats that is her main motivation - along with some of her father’s support.
She commented: “I always wanted my first main draw slam to be here. My father always said I would be a really good grass player because I’m left handed, and I believe it so much that I actually think that I’m good here. It would be very special to win tomorrow but I would like to take it day by day. I’ll get prepared now for tomorrow and I’ll give my best.
“My idol was Maria Sharapova and she won her first Grand Slam here, and she was only 17. I guess just seeing all the professional tennis players winning here, it’s very special. The fact they’re all wearing white, grass, I just love it here. It’s different, and that is what makes it special.
“I just remember last year being super special. It was my first Wimbledon, it was the first time I came here and all the good vibes I felt last year, all the happiness and all the emotions, reaching the semi-finals was just amazing and I think that I’m bringing that this year so I’m very happy right now to be in the third round of qualies.
“I’m playing better than I expected. I came here last year for the juniors, so being here this year in the pros is definitely very special. I’m feeling very well and I hope to continue like this for tomorrow’s match.”
For the sport’s outsiders the teenager is unlikely to be someone people are familiar with, but a breakthrough run two years ago cemented her status in the tennis world as one to watch.
Aged just 14 and in her Grand Slam debut, a then unknown Jimenez Kasintseva won the Girls’ singles title at the Australian Open.
“When I think about it, I just can’t believe it was my first Grand Slam and I was just 14. I don’t know how, but I just arrived there 24 hours away from home, got there and just won,” she said.
“It was honestly the biggest moment of my tennis life, and when I look back I realise how amazing that was. I just don’t know how I managed to do that. I guess I just don’t fear anything. I just go on the court and give it my all, and if I win then it’s good and if I lose, I just go back home and practice and I get better for the next tournament.
“I think day-by-day I was concentrating and didn’t want to look forward until I suddenly won the tournament. That’s just how it went, I think I just fought every single point and that’s how I won.”
At any other time she would have had the opportunity to build on her historic triumph - the first Grand Slam title at any level won by an Andorran - but like with so many athletes, the pandemic put a stop to that.
“The covid stop was a bit difficult. From September to February, when I won Australia, I won so many tournaments and I climbed up to the world no.1 rankings. Right after that was my first WTA tournament, which I lost, but after that it all stopped and I think it wasn’t very easy for me.
“Coming back everybody was talking about me and I was just a 14-year-old girl. It was pretty hard on me but I think it made me a lot stronger, and I think it was good that happened to me because now honestly I’m used to it. I think that made me stronger as a person and as a tennis player.
“Juniors helped me a lot to handle the pressure, to know that this is normal and this is the tennis world, pressure will always be there.
“We move on as you move forward and I want to move forward, and to do that I should be used to having comments, having all the pressure on me, winning and all the big crowds, if I want to reach that I have to deal with pressure.”
An intriguing part of the teenager’s story is her Andorran roots; despite her age, she is already the most successful tennis player in the small state’s history.
“I’m very happy to be from a small country. I’m very proud to be from Andorra,” Jimenez Kasintseva added.
“Andorran people support me a lot and the country support me a lot, and I’m very proud to be from there. It’s a lovely country and playing for them and competing for my flag is something that encourages me to keep on going.
“Just because it’s a small country doesn’t mean it can’t have athletes getting their dreams.”
She’ll be hoping for that support - and to achieve her dream - when she walks onto court tomorrow.
For the latest action on the British summer grass court season, check out the LTA Website