Dubai: Seventeen-year-old history-maker Stefania Bojica slipped out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday, but did so with her head held high, acknowledging the experience gained in what was her first WTA 1000 event had “surpassed all expectations”.
On Friday, the young amateur not only became the first UAE-born female to play in Dubai’s WTA tournament after accepting a wildcard, but then proceeded to leave her coaching team speechless by defeating World No.63 Danka Kovinic in straights sets during the first round of qualifying.
On Saturday, however, in front of a swollen, supportive Court 3 crowd at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, she fell 6-2, 6-1 to Katarina Zavatska, an aggressive 23-year-old Ukrainian who has played on Tour since 2017 and is ranked World No.277. Bojica had six game-points in the opening first seven games of her Q2 match, but cut a frustrated figure as chances invariably escaped her at the crucial moments.
“I’ve gained a lot of experience this week; really, it’s surpassed all expectations,” said Bojica, when asked what she could take away from her WTA 1000 debut. “Overall, I’m super happy with what I did yesterday and, even today, I’m happy that I tried to fight on court. I’m going to just try and keep going.”
Midway through the second set and trailing 3-0, Bojica called a physio to attend to muscular discomfort in her lower back. After playing two intense Tour matches in consecutive days for the first time in her nascent career, pain was no surprise – and neither she nor her coach Andreu Gimeno were willing to use the niggling back problem as justification for the defeat.
“I had a bit of back pain yesterday and today it got a little bit worse, but that’s all part of the game,” said Bojica, who made her WTA debut in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. “This is only the second time I am competing at this level, so I still need to work hard on my fitness and my physical strength. It is all part of the process.”
Gimeno added: “This has been an amazing experience for her and we can take a lot of positives from it. This sport is very aggressive on the body and she got a little bit of pain, but it had nothing to do with the result. The more matches like this you play, the more your body adapts, so it is a process and whether she had won or lost today, nothing changes for us. With Stefi, we have a project and will look to climb as high as possible on the WTA rankings this year so she can play better opponents more regularly.”
When Zavatksa turned up at Court 3 to find close to a full house in the stands, she did not know why. Only post-match did she learn of Bojica’s lifelong connection to the UAE. Nonetheless, she had already seen enough to conclude the young girl on the other side of the next can have a bright future if all goes to plan.
New on Tour
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about her because she is new on the Tour,” Zavatksa said. “We didn’t know what to expect. My coach watched one match on YouTube, but it was on clay, so I just tried to put my game on the court, observe, and see what was happening. She has real power in her serve and in her shots. She just needs to gain more experience from playing in tournaments and matches like this and keep this active, heavy game of hers. It is not easy to handle her shots.
“Today maybe I was the more experienced player on the court and was able to manage it better in the tight moments, but I think she has a good future in front of her if she just follows this process.”