Julia Glushko had been waiting all her life for an opportunity like this.
On Sunday, the Israeli tennis sensation won her second qualifying match in a row to earn a berth into the main draw of the Rogers Cup. It marked the first time in her career that she had advanced into the field of a “premier-level” WTA tournament.
There are only a handful of these elite events on the tennis calendar, with just 48 players in the draw, including all of the sport’s biggest names, such as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Glushko’s reward for qualifying was a first-round match Tuesday night against one of those tennis titans – Samantha Stosur. The Australian veteran, who won the US Open in 2011, came to Toronto ranked eleventh in the world but in top-five form after winning the tournament in California over the weekend, beating two-time defending Australian Open champion and world number three Victoria Azarenka in the final.
Never before had Glushko – who started the week ranked 137th in the world – faced such an accomplished opponent. With a night match on the Grandstand Court, this was the 23-year-old’s chance to see how she could fare against one of the best.
With most of the spectators there to watch Stosur, and expecting a quick and easy victory, Glushko stole the show in the first set. She hit a running forehand winner on set point, taking it 7-5 and sending murmurs through the crowd.
Stosur rebounded to capture the second set 6-2 with a display of powerful serving and precise returning. In the third and deciding set, the players went back and forth on equal terms, until Stosur finally snuck in a break at 3-3. She then won the last couple of games to win 6-3, closing out the match that lasted well over two hours.
Glushko may have lost but had plenty of positives to take away from the experience.
“This is what I play tennis for – to play against the big players and I played quite well and it gives me confidence that I can play on this level,” said Glushko, who was born in Donetsk, Ukraine and moved to Israel when she was eight years old. “It sucks that I lost, I mean, there is no easy way to put it. Of course, I am disappointed, but I did everything that I could and she has more experience than me and maybe next time I can win. I have a lot of good things from this match that will help me for the rest of the summer and the rest of the year and my career in general.”
By qualifying for the Rogers Cup, Glushko will gain valuable ranking points that will move her closer to making the top 100 in the world, her main goal for the year. It will also mark a changing of the guard as it’s a near-certainty that she will pass veteran Shahar Pe’er as the Israeli number one and should stay there for a long time to come. Pe’er, 26, has struggled for many months now, with her ranking plummeting from a career high of number 11 in early 2011 to this week being well outside the top 100.
“Israel is my home and of course it’s nice to be number one there,” said Glushko, who learned how to play the game at the age of three, turned professional at 14, and became one of the top 10 juniors in the world at 17. “But it’s not my goal. It’s a small country so it’s not that big a thing. And me and Shahar are very good friends. I hope we both go up and I want to be number one when I’m number 20 in the world and she’s number 21, not because she dropped.”
Next up on the schedule for Glushko is the U.S. Open – the last Grand Slam of the year. The 1.70-metre right-hander said she will train next week in Chicago with some fellow Israelis, before heading to New York the following week for qualifying.
She said her experience in Toronto means that she will arrive at the U.S. Open with an all-time high confidence level.
“I just have to go out there every match and play the way I played against Sam Stosur,” she said. “I was calm, I was concentrated, I made the right decisions. I think the experience of playing big tournaments and tough matches will improve my tennis and my competitive level.”
She added that her great performance has meant that she has heard from a lot of well-wishers back home in Israel over the last few days.
“Like everything in life, when you do well, you hear from so many people. But when you don’t do well, you don’t hear from anyone – no one cares,” she laughed.
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