Dubai: The Australian Open’s youngest champion wants to now flaunt her game and be an ambassador of the sport for her country and Asia on the global stage.
Sixteen-year-old Priska Madelyn Nugroho of Indonesia was crowned the junior girls champion with her Filipina partner Alexandra Eala on their biggest tennis stage ever barely two months ago at Melbourne Park. Nugroho and Eala eased their way to beat Ziva Falkner and Matilda Mutavdzic 6-1, 6-2 for the girls’ doubles crown.
“Everyone keeps asking me about how life is different following my win in Australia,” the teenager breaks into a wide smile while recollecting the memories at the end of January.
“In the final it was not too difficult, but our true test came in the semi-finals,” she said.
The semi-final two days earlier had been a real tough one with Priska and Eala fighting back from a set down to beat Kamilla Barstone of Latvia and the Czech Republic’s Linda Fruhvirtova 1-6, 7-5, 10-8.
Priska’s triumph brought to mind a similar feat recorded 18 years back by her highly talented countrywoman Angelique Widjaja had partnered Gisela Dulko of Argentina to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Matea Mezak 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.
Born in Jakarta on May 29, 2003, Priska took to tennis more by chance than by choice. Four years her senior, her brother used to frequent the tennis court and Priska was only too happy to accompany him from the time she was four years old. Their parents, both accountants, were quite happy to see their two children growing up with tennis to keep them busy.
“At first, I was just the assistant to my brother. I used to go to the court and help pick up tennis balls. I enjoyed this part of my life and then at around seven years I entered a tournament at the academy and won it. Today, when I look back I feel that was the actual start of my love for tennis. There is nothing more sweet than winning,” Priska said.
“After that win I started practicing once a week, and then increased this to twice and three times a week. My parents had no background of tennis, but they encouraged me I whatever way they could. Slowly, I started increasing my time on a tennis court and at the moment I spend six to seven hours a day doing all the drill and the hard work for six days a week.”
By the time Priska turned 11, her coaches insisted that she start travelling a bit for ATF Junior Circuit events and two years later, she was already quite successful on the ITF Juniors Tour while breaking into the top-50 on the ITF Junior Rankings. She won the WTA Future Stars held in Singapore in 2017 and also picked up the bronze medal at the SEA Games two years later.
That’s when the youngster also got picked up as one of the beneficiaries for the Grand Slam Development Fund (GSDF) that gave her a pathway to attend training camps in other countries, especially prime academies in Europe besides the opportunity to play in major competitions. Last year, she made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open, and during the course of 2019, played in the remaining three majors as well — her best being the quarter-finals at the Wimbledon.
“The experience of being a champion is great. I can feel people recognise me more now, but I continue this life because I have chosen this life. And if at all there is something, then it is the desire to work and practice even harder and be ready at every moment of life later on,” Priska admitted.
Slowly, her parents have started getting involved a bit more in Priska’s tennis, travelling at times with her on tournaments, meeting other parents and coaches and speaking to them about the best way forward for their daughter. “When I started tennis, I didn’t believe I could be here as a Grand Slam winner. When I started it was just fun, but today when I recollect that I have won the Australian Open, I just think that I merely tried my best on court,” she said.
“My highest goal at the moment is to be a professional tennis player, and I want to be in the top-100. That’s going to be the immediate goal. Yes, I do need a lot of confidence and along with it even more hard work, and I am ready for this life. I give myself another four to five years to achieve this.”