February 9, 2018

Marta Kostyuk: Thrilling tennis phenom

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Marta Kostyuk kisses the ITF Women’s Circuit trophy on February 3 in Burnie, Australia.

Marta Kostyuk first picked up a tennis racquet at age 5 although her initial childhood years saw Kostyuk pursuing acrobatics as a first love. She won fourth place in the Ukrainian national championships as a child. Wanting to spend more time with her mother, Kostyuk gave up acrobatics to focus on tennis at age 11. Talina Beyko, a former pro tennis player and now a coach, began mentoring her daughter and Marta developed a passion for the sport. It was not uncommon for her to have training days when she spent 12 hours on the court. She hated to lose, she raged and she was a perfectionist.

Last year, Kostyuk won the 2017 Australian Open girls’ singles championship at age 14 – Grand Slam junior tournaments are open to anyone up to age 18. The victory earned her an invitation to qualifying week at this year’s main event. She proceeded to win all three of her qualifying matches, which gained her entry into the main draw. Kostyuk dispatched 25th seeded Peng Shuai of China (6-2, 6-2) in her first match, then took out Australia’s Olivia Rogowska, a wild-card entry ranked No.168 in the world, by a score of 6-3, 7-5. It is important to note Kostyuk entered the Australian Open ranked No.541. By defeating Rogowska she became the youngest player to reach the third round in Melbourne since Martina Hingis in 1996.

After winning the Australian Open girls title in 2017, Kostyuk jumped to the professional ranks. She is represented by the high-profile, former world No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic, who is currently Roger Federer’s coach. His impact on her game has been immediate.

“Ivan is always helping me when he sees me,” Kostyuk said in a chat with tennis.com. “And Roger, we speak twice. You know, really, like speak. Not like, ‘Hey, how are you.’ That was nice.”

Her success in Melbourne has brought her lots of attention – the kind that has proved difficult for other young players in the past. One of the reasons breakthroughs like Hingis’ are so rare these days is that the WTA Tour limits the number of tournaments teenagers can play. Marta is eligible for only 10 tourneys at her age of 15.

Kostyuk is not very tall and is not blessed with the muscular lower body physique of some shorter players. She does have the broad shoulders of a swimmer, which coupled with her excellent timing and pronounced weight transfer from back to front, provide her flat groundstrokes with easy power. One of her forehand winners was clocked at 94 miles per hour. Madison Keys, 22-year-old American star, is mentioned as owning the biggest forehand in women’s tennis, one which regularly reaches 80 mph. Remember that Marta is only 15 years young.

The third round had her in an all-Ukrainian match up against Elina Svitolina, the bettor’s favorite to win the Australian Open (Svitolina would lose to Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals) and arguably the most consistent top player in the women’s game over the past year. The two are not well acquainted, with the 23-year-old Svitolina spending most of her year on tour and much of her downtime in London. Kostyuk is based in Zagreb, Croatia, working with Ljubicic.

Cameron Spencer

Marta Kostyuk (top) hugs Elina Svitolina after their match during the 2018 Australian Open in Melbourne.

After torching Svitolina early, breaking her quickly in the opening game without dropping a single point, the young newcomer began experiencing the challenges of pro tennis. The brilliant 15-year-old started spraying shots, tightening up on critical points, losing her bearings on court position, muffing volleys, getting grumpy and impatient. Her play became erratic, she would double fault nine times. She lost the form she displayed in the first game by the second game, and never regained it. She wound up losing 2-6, 2-6 in under an hour, and by the time she had grabbed her racquet bag and reached the tunnel, she was seen biting hard on the towel around her neck, perhaps reacting a bit like a 15-year-old.

Asked in a post-match press conference how much she learned, Kostyuk said: “A lot. How much do you have to pay Svitolina to have a one-hour lesson? I got if for free. She’s a good player, but what I learned is that you can play against everyone. I had the chances, but because I thought she is incredible, like she’s a God, I cannot do anything against her, that’s the problem.”

The pair shared a warm hug at the net, and Svitolina had some encouraging words for Kostyuk, who revealed she was in tears after the match.

“It was a sad day, playing another Ukrainian girl,” said Svitolina. “She’s a great fighter. She has a great future – we’re going to hear a lot more about her.”

Then on February 3, Kostyuk won final 6-4, 6-3 against Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland at the ITF Women’s Circuit in Burnie, Australia. This was Kostyuk’s second professional-level title in her career, having won the ITF tournament in Dunakeszi, Hugnary, in 2017. Kostyuk advanced to 185th position in the WTA rankings.

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