INTERVIEW: Spotlight on Tess Sugnaux – Rafael Nadal fan and rising star

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The moment I realised that Tess Sugnaux was nailing aces down the ‘T’ was the moment I realised I had not been counting them. Please take my word for it: there were a lot of them.

Unfortunately for the 21-year-old, this was not enough to secure victory in the final of the women’s 10k ITF event in Shrewsbury. Sugnaux (pronounced ‘soon-yo’) executed some brilliant shots, but the promising power player was ultimately too inconsistent for the Czech Republic’s Petra Krejsova. The former world no. 319 – who has rounded out a comeback season from injury by winning 14 of her last 15 matches – came through 6-1 7-5, courtesy of some tremendous hustling and efficient switches from defence to offence. She may be 26 years old, but Krejsova – who has bagged two Aegon GB Pro-Series titles in as many weeks – is one to watch out for.

So, too, is Sugnaux. The Swiss player was the top seed in Shrewsbury this week, and had not dropped a set in four matches contested prior to Saturday. This featured a win over former Wimbledon semifinalist Alexandra Stevenson in the final four.

“That one was tough, for sure,” Sugnaux reflected on Saturday evening. “Also it was really tight, always like 1-1, 2-2. But I think I played one of the best matches of my career yesterday, so that was nice.”

The current world no. 446 – one ranking spot shy of her career-high – was forced to recover from a double break deficit to reach her sixth final of the year.

“I think I lost my focus a little bit,” Sugnaux mused of the second set lull during the 7-6(4) 6-4 triumph. “So I tried to focus again on simple things, and it worked. I was a little bit annoyed because she broke me two times! So then I tried to loosen up and make it better, and it was good.”

Shrewsbury’s runner-up may have finished the season with a lone title to her name, but it has been a progressive year of positives for the rising star.

“Yeah, I’m happy with it,” she confirms. “I got my best ranking now, so I am happy. I improved a lot with my game.”

SEE ALSO: Reflecting on the 2016 WTA season – Part One

As for the near future, the ITF Madrid champion is keeping her feet on the ground. “I don’t have ranking goals,” she said. “I just want to improve my game, get more experience, and I hope to win more tournaments.”

There is still time for Tess Sugnaux – a lover of music (especially hip-hop), reading and Chinese food – to become a WTA tour regular. The 21-year-old is already doing well for herself, considering that she started out in the game later than most.

“I decided I wanted to go professional late, like 14 maybe?” the Lausanne resident, who began playing the sport at the age of eight, shared. “I was enjoying it, but then I won the Swiss Championship that year, so I said: ‘Why not?!’ I was the best of my age in Switzerland, so yeah. I just kept working and that’s it.”

She added: “At the beginning, I didn’t have goals to win a Slam or become world no. 1, because I started tennis just for fun. But then when the years passed, for sure I was dreaming a little bit!”

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Tess Sugnaux during the ITF 10k Shrewsbury final. (Photo by Abigail Johnson.)

In all the years Sugnaux has been pursuing a sporting career, the fluent French speaker – who converses perfectly well in English – is yet to play a match in a WTA main draw. Nevertheless, the grind of the lower tier events has not put her off professional tennis.

“To give up, no, I never [want to],” she reported. “Sometimes there is a bad season, there are bad periods. But I really like what I do, so I never give up!”

This mindset could have been aided through the example set by her favourite player: Rafael Nadal. Sugnaux’s groundstrokes yield a fair amount of topspin themselves, but it is the mental game that the Swisswoman most admires in the 14-time Grand Slam champion.

“I don’t really model my game on his. It’s more about the fighting spirit,” Sugnaux smiled. When asked whether she’s ever queried as to why she does not support her countryman, Roger Federer, instead, the right-hander was quick to set things straight.

“For sure I support him too, because he’s Swiss and like, the best of all time!” the Shrewsbury finalist laughed. “But I like Nadal. Yeah… I don’t know how to explain!”

Another thing that Tess Sugnaux is torn between is her favourite competitive surface – which can only be a positive, in the long run.

“I don’t know. I really like clay courts, but I also like hard,” Sugnaux – who has won 41 clay-court encounters this season – mused. “It’s tough to decide!”

Something she does not need to decide upon, however, is a holiday destination. It has been a gruelling season, and the 21-year-old will catch a plane to one final destination on Sunday: Switzerland.

“I will take a few days off, and then I think I will stay home,” Sugnaux said with a smile. “I think I’ve travelled enough all year, so I’ll just stay home with family and enjoy it a bit!”

Keep an eye on this one. You might thank yourself in a few years’ time.

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