MIAMI, Florida—Once considered the biggest young star since Maria Sharapova, Nicole Vaidisova managed to live up to the expectations—for a while.
Three years after bursting into the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s Top 10, Vaidisova is now struggling to win more than two matches in a row.
Her career has followed the path of many a young starlet. Sudden success is rapidly followed by newfound fame. Fame is often accompanied by not only fortune, but an intense pressure to avoid failure.
Vaidisova’s resume for her breakthrough 2006 season is one that many players far older than seventeen years-old dream of duplicating. Her highlight reel for the year reads like an encyclopedia of spectacular results and achievements. She was the sixth-youngest player in the Open Era to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros, became the 12th-youngest to crack the Top 10, and surpassed $1 million in career prize money earnings–the fifth youngest of all time.
For the moment, it appeared that Vaidisova had it all.
Her form continued into 2007, but toward the end of the year warning signs began to appear. She missed three tournaments during the European clay season at Berlin, Rome and Strasbourg because of a wrist injury. A few months later, she was forced to withdraw from three more tournaments in the summer at San Diego, Los Angeles and Toronto with a viral illness.
By the end of 2008, her career had turned into a seesaw.
She reached the fourth round at the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, yet dropped eleven of her opening round matches. Her inconsistency was reflected on the rankings. After starting the year just outside the Top 10, Vaidisova ended the season out of the Top 40.
Now four months into the 2009 season, Vaidisova is struggling to put it all back together. At Indian Wells earlier this month, Nicole snapped a four-match losing streak and won two matches in the desert. Despite losing to No. 102 Jill Craybas in the third round, she took it as a sign that her game was starting to improve.
Adjusting to the different courts and conditions at Indian Wells is not easy, but so far Vaidisova has had little trouble. “I’m fine with it,” Vaidisova said on Friday after winning her second round match against twenty-eighth seed Alona Bondarenko 6-1, 6-0. “I like playing here.”
Consecutive third round appearances may not seem much to others, but for Vaidisova it is a small step in the right direction.
Her ranking, now a dismal No. 71, is of little concern as she knows that it will rise as her results continue to improve. “I try not to put myself out ranking wise,” Vaidisova said.
She credits her return to form partly to her renewed relationship with her coach and stepfather Alex Kodat. “I started working with my step-dad a few weeks ago,” Vaidisova said. The pair split in 2008 while Vaidisova worked briefly with David Felgate. She is based at the IMG Academy, the home of coaching legend Nick Bollettieri.
Bollettieri thinks that Vaidisova can make a successful return.
“She seems comfortable. She’s back with her dad,” Bollettieri said when asked about Vaidisova’s training at the Academy. “She’s still young, she’s just going to be twenty years old.”
Bollettieri believes that for Nicole to succeed she must put a premium on her fitness.
“She has to stay in shape physically because movement is very important,” Bollettieri added. “When you hit big groundstrokes, you have to be able to get to those defensive balls.”
Vaidisova’s fitness will be put to the test on Sunday when she faces eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, one of the best movers on the Tour. Kuznetsova is trying to pull herself out of a slump of her own, a fact that might swing the momentum into Vaidisova’s favor.
Three weeks on the American hard court surface has shown Vaidisova that she can summon the courage to again succeed on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
For Vaidisova, that is a giant step in the right direction.