Yanina Wickmayer: A Bolt from the Blue

Goutham ChakravarthiCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2009

NEW HAVEN, CT - AUGUST 26:  Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium serves to Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia during the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale on August 26, 2009 in New Haven, Connecticut.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Young talent is always exciting. Young sportspersons are like double-edged swords: On the one hand they know no fear, on the other you don’t know how they will react to instant stardom. 

Super-talented cricketers freeze when put into action in front of 100,000 people. The best hoop shooters miss a regulation free throw when the championship is riding on it. The best soccer players miss a regulation penalty kick in a shoot out. The occasion gets to them. 

Then a brash, confident youngster shows up with little or no fear. They don’t have careers riding on their performance. Instead, they see it as an opportunity that might not come again and want to make the best use of what might be their only opportunity. Agreed, some get overwhelmed, but it doesn’t stop them from swinging from the hip and showing what they have got.

"His forehand is just crazy...sometimes I just hit it there just to see it," said Devin Britton after his first round defeat at the hands of Roger Federer.

Call it the ignorance or the innocence of youth; you have got to love it. They run like the wind, try the impossible angle, miss the easy overhead, hit a Becker-style dive volley winner and feed their opponent their favorite shot just to see them play it once more!

The free spirit and fearlessness of youth, they make you cringe for two week Slams amidst all the Masters tournaments. They make you say, “If only...” That’s why we all love sport.

On Monday, another youngster made a splash at the Open. Not Oudin, but a young 18-year-old Belgian, Yanina Wickmayer.

Belgie ecstatic as Wickmayer joins Clijsters in quarters” screamed Reuters’ headline. Like the bright-orange uniformed soccer team and its immensely popular and challenging Formula One track Spa-Francorchamps, Wickmayer stepped onto the court and let it rip against the Czech Petra Kvitova. She showed up dressed in eye-catching blue top and shorts.

And she played eye-popping tennis.

It was the 18-year-old Wickmayer against Kvitova, only seven months older. It was two Davids battling the Goliath—a quarterfinal berth. Two people traded bullets from the back of the court. They hit balls for the sheer fun and chased down definite winners against players that didn’t run like the wind. 

Finally, deep into the third set, Kvotova froze giving Wickmayer the set 7-5 and sent Belgium into ecstasy. 

Wickmayer lost her mother to cancer when she was nine. She decided to get away from Belgium as a result.

"The decision was completely mine," Wickmayer said. "I still don't know how I did it, at nine, but I guess I was older than I thought."

Her father, Marc, a builder, gave in to the decision of his nine year old daughter and they moved to Florida, where they lived for the next three years. He said that he moved not because the it would prove beneficial to Yanina’s tennis, who, by that time had been playing the game for one-and-half years, but just to help her get over the death of her mother.

They left Belgium, and Yanina joined the famous tennis academy in Saddlebrook. Understandably, she holds her Dad in high regard.

She says, “I have to admire him for giving up everything he had. He gave up his job. He gave up his friends, he gave up the house, his cars, and we just left. He gave up everything just to make his little girl happy, not to make her a tennis champion. He's a great guy."

In 2006, she won her first ITF tournament back home in Belgium as a 15-year-old. From then on it has been a strong climb upwards and judging by her performances at the Open this year it promises better things for Yanina in the future. 

She takes on Kateryna Bondarenko next. It promises to be a cracker. I wonder if she is already thinking of a potential semifinal against Melanie Oudin. That will be some match to look forward to.

Yanina Wickmayer has arrived just like her 110 mph first serve. Let it rip, Yanina; you have made watching this year’s Open special for many of us.