‘Bia’ Haddad, the phoenix of Brazilian tennis

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São Paulo (AFP) – Injuries, a controversial suspension for doping and the covid-19 pandemic put tennis player Beatriz Haddad Maia’s career on the ropes, but the Brazilian recomposed herself by force of resilience until she starred in a meteoric rise in world tennis.

Known as ‘Bia’, the lanky 26-year-old, 1.85m tall blonde broke into the top-30 of the women’s rankings for the first time on Monday by winning the Nottingham and Birmingham tournaments this month, her first WTA trophies.

Those conquests on grass on the tour prior to Wimbledon (Grand Slam), where she will be the twenty-third head of the key, were the letter of introduction of a prodigious left-hander who has managed to recover from adversity.

Before the triumphs in British territory, she had only played one final of a WTA tournament, the one she lost in September 2017 on the hard court in Seoul.

“Nobody knows how much we worked the last two years. I had a lot of strength and determination. I’m very happy to be here. Everything I went through in my life gave me strength,” she said after beating China’s Zhang Shuai (54) in Birmingham on Sunday. , a victory that made her climb to twenty-ninth position in the world rankings.

That location equals the Brazilian women’s record established by the legendary Maria Esther Bueno, triple winner at Wimbledon, in 1976.

The WTA ranking did not exist when the considered best Latin American tennis player in history was number one (1959, 1960, 1964 and 1966).

Losing streak

Daughter of a tennis teacher and a former basketball player, ‘Bia’ began her love affair with sports as a child practicing on the courts of the traditional Esporte Clube Sírio, in her native Sao Paulo.

“Since she was little, everyone saw her as a possible great player,” Sheila Vieira, a journalist specializing in tennis, tells AFP.

But painful events interrupted his idyll with rackets.

In 2013 his physical problems began, with a dislocated shoulder whose effects took their toll until two years later, at the Pan American Games in Toronto. In parallel, three spinal hernias threatened premature removal.

At the end of 2016 she returned to the top-200 and was invited to the following year’s Australia Open, but missed after fracturing three vertebrae in a domestic accident. She recovered quickly and later became number 59 in the world.

But then the “worst moment” would come: in July 2019 they detected a prohibited substance in an anti-doping control, a violation of the regulations penalized with up to four years of suspension.

Although he spent ten months without competing, his defense proved that it was a “human error” of the pharmacy that manipulated his vitamins.

“I was always very serious, I showed a lot of grit and tried to improve myself every day. Life is a roller coaster that is not under our control,” he told the podcast The Voice of Tennis.

In the footsteps of Bueno and Guga

The pandemic postponed her return to the courts and she was left without chances of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, but in September 2020 she returned to the courts as number 1,342 in the ranking. And from there there was only progress.

“Now she is finally living a period where she is not dealing with injuries or suspensions. In Brazil we always knew that she was going to explode when she had a long sequence of games,” adds Vieira.

Since then she has beaten strong cards on the circuit such as the Czechs Karolína Plíšková and Petra Kvitova, the Greek Maria Sakkari and the Romanian Simona Halep.

And on Tuesday, by defeating Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi at Eastbourne, she became the first woman to win 11 consecutive matches on grass since Serena Williams did it between Wimbledon 2015 and 2018.

“The ceiling of ‘Bia’ is not this top-30. I think it will evolve more. It has already beaten higher-ranked players, it is surprising,” Renan Nabeshima, editor of The Voice of Tennis, explains to AFP.

A finalist in the women’s doubles at the Australian Open in January, Haddad is not only the highest-placed Brazilian on the men’s and women’s ranks, she has perfected herself.

He has improved his return and mobility, characteristics that add to his weapons of yesteryear: powerful serves and shots and good performance on all three surfaces, adds Vieira.

Without major tennis players since the retirement of Gustavo Kuerten in 2008 and under the shadow of Bueno, Brazil is entrusted to the left-hander of ‘Bia’ to savor a Grand Slam again.

“She is a dangerous player in any tournament (…) she is a point outside the curve of Brazilian tennis,” concludes Nabeshima.