Having never made it past the third round with a slam before this week, few would have tipped German mother of two Tatjana Maria to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
That possibility seemed even further away, as the 34-year-old, now in the twilight of her career, returned to competitive tennis less than a year ago after coming back from her second maternity leave.
But that exact scenario played out in dramatic fashion on Sunday, when she stunned Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 to continue her dream run on SW19. It was a phenomenal backlash from World No. 113 Maria – who was out of the top 250 in March – prompting Latvian 12th-placed Ostapenko to storm off the track afterwards.
“There’s always the belief that I can do it,” said Maria, who gave birth to her second daughter, Cecilia, last April. “I mean, that’s why I came back after the first. That’s why I came back after the second.
“If I don’t, if I don’t believe I can do these things, I wouldn’t be here. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter how many children you have, you just have to keep going and believe in yourself.”
Maria, a highly regarded junior who never quite lived up to her talent during her early 20s, has reshaped her career through motherhood.
She was encouraged by her husband Charles-Edouard Maria – the former French professional who is also her coach – to switch from a double-handed to a single-handed backhand after her first maternity leave. It is a step that is clearly paying off.
“He said to me when I was pregnant, I’d like to change your backhand to a one-handed backhand,” Maria said. “I said, ‘Okay, at least I have my slice in case it doesn’t work’. I trust him 100 percent. He did a great job because I feel like I’ve never played differently. It’s a good shot for me and it’s super important.”
After saving two match points in the second set at 4-5 and with the crowd firmly behind her, Maria took advantage of an error by Ostapenko to lead 6-5 in a turbulent third set before sealing the match at service to extend her stay at the All England Club, where she took advantage of Wimbledon’s highly regarded creche.
Maria is the oldest player left in a women’s draw that’s wide open, and she also revealed she’s been on the practice courts this week with her eight-year-old daughter Charlotte.
“She knows we’re playing a Grand Slam and she knows how important this tournament is,” said Maria, who has a lot of confidence for her all-German quarterfinal with Jule Niemeier†
“Maybe now I feel like, ‘Okay, I can do it, I can go for it,’ she said. “I’ve always believed that at some point I can show what I can do. I’m glad I came back today when I was down, so I’m proud of myself.”