Magda Linette: Unseeded player credits calm as her weapon at Australian Open
Fans and pundits alike expected a Polish player to compete in the semifinals this year Australian Open — but possibly not an unseeded one.
Magda Linette – and not women’s world No. 1 Iga Swiatek – finds herself as Poland’s sole remaining representative in this year’s singles tournament, taking on Aryna Sabalenka in Thursday’s semifinal after ousting former world No. 1 Karolina Plísková 6-3 7-5.
Światek was the tournament favorite after reaching the semifinals last year and winning eight titles in 2022, including two grand slams, but was knocked out by 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Sunday.
Ranked 45th, with a career high of 33rd, the right-hander Linette had never progressed past the third round of a grand slam, but became the ninth oldest woman in the Open Era to reach their first grand slam quarterfinal.
She had never before progressed past the round of 32 in 29 major starts and reached the match against Plísková by defeating three seeded players – No. 16 Anett Kontaveit, No. 19 Ekaterina Alexandrova and No. 4 Caroline Garcia – in succession.
“I will never forget this… this will stay with me for life,” said 30-year-old Linette after her quarterfinal victory over Plísková on Wednesday.
“I’m surprisingly quite calm, that helped me last time and I think that’s a good way for the next one as well,” Linette later told journalists.
Linette attributes her wins so far to staying calm and composed even in the face of adversity or an aggressive opponent.
“I had so much experience on those big courts before because almost every grand slam I ended up on a big track in some way,” she explained.
“I’ve played against so many big players – it’s nothing new to me, it’s just another match,” added Linette, the daughter of a tennis coach.
Linette started playing tennis at the age of five and represented Poland at the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. But it wasn’t until 2015 that she broke into the top 100.
She has seen success against big names, defeating top-seeded Ashleigh Barty at the 2021 French Open and reaching the doubles semifinals alongside Bernarda Pera.
Although she eventually lost to Martina Trevisan, she knocked out No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur in the opening round of last year’s French Open.
“When I started beating players like Ash Barty and then Ons, it gave me an extra kick that really showed me that I can really go far in those tournaments. I think it was more frustrating than wondering or worrying about it. I think it was just more frustration as to why I can’t,” she said, according to the WTA.
Linette’s plans to compete in the 2021 Australian Open came to a tragic halt after she noticed a knee injury a day before her flight.
“It was really the most painful experience of my life,” Linette looked back on Wednesday. “I had meniscus surgery… but because it was kind of tricky where the injury was, nobody could really see what was going on.
“Literally, a day before my flight, the pain and uncomfortable feeling I had been having came back with some extra strength,” said Linette, adding that she couldn’t even walk, let alone think about the tournament .
She added that ahead of the tournament she “listened to everyone complaining about it the insulationand I was so jealous that they had to do it because I really wanted to be there.
That injury would go undiagnosed for eleven weeks and keep her out of action for five months. But two years later, she attributes this setback to her current composure.
“Why? Because I don’t think it could really get any worse, right? I honestly haven’t played for five months, was losing my rankings and also losing points from pandemic times,” Linette said, adding that she was worried that she would fall out of the top 100.
“In a way, I kind of felt okay with the fact that I could be done soon, and I think that gave me a little bit of room to build everything from scratch.”
Her injury, coupled with “major changes” in her personal life, “certainly changed a lot for me,” she added.
“I have calmed down a bit. I’ve changed a lot in my life and made some tough decisions, and I think I’m being rewarded for it now.”
However, Linette’s poise in difficult moments hasn’t always been this way – she burst into tears during a challenging match in Tampico, Mexico, last October.
“In the first set I played against a girl and she caused me a lot of trouble. I burst into tears in the first set. My coaches were really surprised by that,” she said.
“I felt like I had thrown all that anger out of me. That was the last time I really lost it. Since then I have really better control.”
While Sabalenka has a 2-0 career record against the unseeded Pole, given her form this tournament, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Linette takes it one step further in their semi-final and qualifies for one of tennis’ biggest awards in Melbourne .