While much of the global tennis press (appropriately) gathers in Madrid for the big Premier Mandatory-Masters 1000 combo show in The Magic Box, this week of the tennis season offers smaller-scale curiosities and delights.
Last year, this week on the calendar featured Petra Kvitova and Alexander Zverev winning trophies and gathering momentum which led to championships in Madrid. Yet, the biggest feel-good story provided by this week on the tennis calendar in 2018 came from Portugal. Joao Sousa became the first Portuguese tennis player to win an ATP title on home soil when he won the Estoril Open, defeating Frances Tiafoe in the final. Kvitova winning in Prague certainly meant a lot to her and the people of the Czech Republic, but Sousa did something unprecedented in Portuguese tennis. That was an especially electric moment for a whole nation.
This year, the week of Prague, Estoril, Munich and Rabat has not yet run its course, but it seems relatively safe to say that the biggest feel-good story comes from the first of those four tour stops.
Karolina Muchova, ranked No. 106, will play No. 146 Jil Teichmann in the Prague WTA final on Saturday. The final no one expected will involve two first-time finalists on the WTA Tour. You can put two and two together and arrive at the obvious realization that we are guaranteed a first-time champion on tour, mere days after Petra Martic won HER first WTA Tour title in Istanbul.
We who cover tennis are constantly wondering if this breakthrough here will lead to future success over there, and if this moment of inspiration and success will unlock a tidal wave of confidence, enabling it to burst forth.
Sure, we will all wonder if this week in Prague will be a catapult for both players, especially the first-time champion who emerges from Saturday’s final. Yet, while the tendency to look ahead is as natural as pure spring water, let’s also realize that in the present moment, two players are preparing for what is — to date — the most important match of their lives.
Two players get to take a court at a WTA Tour stop knowing they are the only competitors left in the singles draw. Two players get to experience, for the first time in their lives, a main-tour final and all the butterflies and nerves that moment creates.
Considerations of a catapult to greater heights are not inappropriate at all; that act of consideration is part of what pundits and observers do. Yet, before the catapult, pause for a moment and appreciate the sense of catharsis Karolina Muchova and Jil Teichmann must feel.
Prague, standing in the shadows of the high-voltage tournament in Madrid, might be small on a global scale, but it is a very big deal for two women who will try to generate their own electricity and forge a towering feat in the Czech Republic.