Kristina Mladenovic's maiden title was a long time coming, but the 23 year old says she wouldn't change a thing. The Frenchwoman broke through to win her first WTA singles title on Sunday, beating Yulia Putintseva, 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4 to win the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
Mladenovic and Putintseva played the most dramatic, high-quality final of the young season so far, with Mladenovic firing 62 winners to 46 unforced errors, and Putintseva countering with 32 winners and 21 unforced errors. Four of Putintseva's winners came in style, as she saved four match points in the third set before Mladenovic finally prevailed.
The title capped off a fantastic week for Mladenovic, who scored wins over Australian Open finalist Venus Williams as well as defending champion Roberta Vinci. She will rise to No.31 on Monday, just four spots behind her career-high ranking of No.27.
Is this the year Kiki breaks through on the singles scene?
WTA Insider caught up with Mladenovic by phone after her heady win in St. Petersburg. Kiki discusses her need to fly solo on the court, find a close knit-community off the court, and why her all-court game can win on every surface.
Insider: So how do you feel just a few hours after winning your first WTA title?
Mladenovic: I feel just amazing. That was my first title. I lost three finals before that, always playing well but had a better opponent. It's also a Premier event, so it's even more special.
The wait was definitely worth it and if you asked me whether to change the past or something I would probably not because this tournament as a first title is absolutely insane. I'm not saying that because I won it, but I think the atmosphere, the show, the organization, it's just an amazing event. It's probably the best WTA event during the season, really. They're treating us so well and everything is super nice. So to hold this trophy here and have it as my first title, for sure it's going to stay forever in my best memories heart for my career and maybe more.
Insider: As you said, you lost three finals before. Today, Yulia played fantastic and it took your best to win. Did you feel the experience of those previous finals creep in, to help you not panic, and stay focused?
Mladenovic: I think my three finals before, two of them were three sets against Samantha Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki, and against CoCo Vandeweghe on grass when she was on fire. And still it was a tough two sets. It was tough. I was really disappointed because these three opportunities I responded really well. I was there, I was ready, I was playing great tennis, but they were just too good that day.
Today it was, again, a huge fight. I have no doubt about my fighting spirit. This is my strength. I try to hang in there, to fight until the end, and I was in a good position a couple of times. I was leading, but credit to Yulia, she's a great fighter out there. She gave me a very hard time, she showed great tennis, and she had a lot of amazing winners on my match points.
I don't know how I kept my composure, especially after losing the second set. We can say that maybe I did not have the nerves to close it out, but I think I showed even more strength to come back after losing that second set and manage to still win in three.
Insider: You came into St. Petersburg 0-2 on the season. Why do you think it all came together for you this week?
Mladenovic: I'm really a hard worker. I guess all the players are on tour. It's no secret that to achieve such a high level and get the results, you have to. I'm just very positive, working very hard every day, and having this fighting spirit it helps me to go through these tough moments.
The Australian Open was very frustrating for me because I thought iI was playing well, very well, and I had a tough opponent that day, Ana Konjuh. That day she was playing amazing and I couldn't do anything and still I thought I played well. I went home and I thought, 'I think I'm playing well but I just lost in the first round.' Just to see that the next week it's paying off, it's feeling great.
Insider: How long does it take to embrace this idea of putting those failures behind you right away and moving on to the next week?
Mladenovic: It's a forever process. I have no exact description for that. It's very difficult to deal with it, every single day, because you lose more every week than finishing as a winner. I just have it in myself. I love the battle. I love the fight.
All the hours during practice when you don't feel your legs, you're running intervals, tough tennis sessions, I put myself through all that work for that kind of moment. Today out there I was so down mentally, it was very difficult with the nerves, also physically, and I thought 'OK, this is the moment.' This is the moment we were waiting and working for, to be in that kind of position to just enjoy it. That's where I go to find my best attitude and composure and fighting spirit.
Incredible power— WTA (@WTA) February 5, 2017
She breaks and leads 4-2, second set! pic.twitter.com/ewBDVBjyaa
Insider: You're a junior Roland Garros champion. You made a final on grass court, hard court, and now won a title on indoor hard courts. Why do you think your game translates to all surfaces? Mladenovic: I just love the challenge. I have a lot of variety in my game, also it shows in doubles with all the success I have. I just like to be smart with my weapons and try to use them smartly, whatever time of the year, whether it's clay or grass or indoor.
I'm a very powerful player, I can hit the ball very hard, but I try also to use the geometry of the court, the angles, variety. Different shots you don't see that often anymore in tennis, like drop shots, slices, just variety. It's a long process to adjust, to find the right game I have to play against everybody on each surface. But I'm just enjoying the learning process.
Insider: That seems to be a very common thing about French Players - you can all do everything - and that the difference comes down to making the right decisions on the right shots. Mladenovic: The turning point for me - I'm going to be rude a little bit here - I never managed to find a good person for myself as a coach and I think that's the main reason because nobody would understand that thing that I have that is different. OK, sometimes it's not possible to make that choice on that shot but it's actually how I feel it. Sometimes in matches I save myself from incredible situations by using a shot that you would never suggest to do. I would not practice that, it's just intuition, a feeling.
Two years ago when I had my best season, reaching quarters of the US Open and reaching of No.27, I was alone the whole year with no coach. This year again, I stopped with my coach. I have no one right now and look, the results are coming back. I don't know what to say. I'm not pretending that I know the best and that I can achieve my wildest dreams alone, but right now it's going really well for me. I think I know myself the best, how I should play, and now it's just about me to work hard to try to achieve that.
Insider: Before the start of the tournament, a few of you tweeted out a photo of you all gathered together to watch the Australian Open final. I know you're good friends with a lot of the young players on tour. What's the chatter amongst that generation right now? Mladenovic: I'm extremely happy to have those girls as my friends and happy to see on tour there can be friendships like that. We're kind of a similar generation, here and there. I'm a little bit older than them - well actually I played against Daria Gavrilova in the Roland Garros junior final - Belinda Bencic is my best friend, Ana Konjuh is a very good friend, she's Croatian and I have Yugoslavian roots. I just feel extremely happy that somehow we can show a good image and it's very genuine friendship. We spend time together off the court. We have a Whatsapp group and all day long it's just a chat about everything and nothing.
I played Belinda and Ana in Australia, Belinda and Daria Kasatkina played each other here. We still show great attitude, we're fighters on the court, we want to beat each other, but at the same time we are great friends. I think it's great for sport to show that it can happen, it can exist. Of course you can't be friends with everybody. But I think it's just great values and we show that life is just way nicer.
Hear more from Mladenovic in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:
Get on the Road to Singapore to see who are amongst the top 8 in the first Leaderboard update!
This article was first seen on www.wtatennis.com.