The ITF World Tennis Tour serves as a stepping stone for players who are looking to go on to compete at the highest level of the professional tennis. Players compete, earn points and move up the rungs. However, over the years, there have been players who have graced the Lagos Open as talented youngsters and gone to become global superstars.
We take a look at some of them:
Svitolina’s rise was quick. The Ukrainian triumphed at the Lagos Open in October, 2011 and less than two years later, captured her first WTA title in Baku, Azerbaijan as an 18-year-old. She would achieve tremendous success in the years that followed, adding 12 more WTA Tour-level titles to that maiden win in Baku. The year 2017 was a particularly successful year for the talented Ukrainian, in which she won 3 Premier 5-level (which is the 4th most important event in women’s tennis after the Grand Slam, WTA Finals and Premier Mandatory events) titles. The first being the Dubai Championships, which captapulted her into the world’s top 10, making her the first Ukrainian woman to crack the top-10. And in September of that year, she reached a career-high ranking of No.3 in the world.
Svitolina would clinch the biggest title of her career yet at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore, defeating Sloane Stephens in the championship match. This year, she posted her deepest run at a Grand Slam, by reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon before bowing out to eventual champion, Simona Halep, and then equalled that feat by reaching the semifinals of the US Open in last month. The 24-year-old, currently ranked 4th in the world, is now a regular face in the WTA Top-10 and she can only get better.
In 2013, Borna Coric won the boys’ singles event at the US Open against Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis in three sets. That same year, the young Croat would go on to win the Lagos Open title, claiming a comprehensive 6-4, 6-3 victory over his compatriot, Ante Pavic in the final. Just one year later under the roof at the Swiss Indoors, a 17-year-old Coric was blasting winner-after-winner beyond a biwildered Rafael Nadal, who was world No.3 then, in a stunning quarter-final win. But the Croat would find David Goffin a bit too clever in the semifinals, as he went down in three sets. His run to that semifinals launched him into the world’s top 100 for the first time (at No. 93), making him the youngest player to be ranked so since Nadal in 2003. A month later, he won won the ATP Star of Tomorrow, awarded by the ATP Awards, for being the youngest player in the top 100.
He would win his first ATP title in Marrakesh in 2017, and then go on to beat other top players, including Andy Murray and also, Roger Federer (then a world No.1) in the final of the Halle Open in 2018 to capture his second title. In July of 2018, he broke into the world’s top 20 for the first time. This year, he equalled his best run at a Grand Slam by reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open. He was ranked as high as No. 12 in the world in November, 2018.
Champion in both the 1st and 2nd legs of the Lagos Open in 2004, Sania Mirza is arguably the first true global star to pass through the tournament. Just over three months after her success in Lagos, an 18-year old Mirza was taking on the might of the great Serena Williams in the third round of the Australian Open. The Indian lost that match in straight sets, but she would capture her first WTA singles title three weeks later in Hyderabad, India, in a rapid start to her career. That unfortunately would be her sole WTA singles triumph till date. Mirza enjoyed a decent career between the mid-to-late 2000s- during which she peaked at No. 27 in the world but she couldn’t quite convert good starts to deep runs; nor deep runs into titles.
She however made up for her singles drought with an illustrious doubles career. Her glittering cabinet houses 41 WTA doubles title, which includes 3 Grand Slam doubles title (2016 Australian Open, 2015 Wimbledon, and 2015 US Open) as well as the WTA Finals in 2014 and 2015. An exceptional doubles player, Mirza peaked at No.1 in the world on the WTA doubles standings in April, 2015. Throughout her career, Mirza established herself as by far the most successful Indian (female) tennis player ever and one of the highest-paid and high-profile athletes in the country. She was named in Time magazine’s 2016 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
The 32-year-old is currently on maternity leave, but hopes to return to professional tennis in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Ivan Dodig reigned supreme in the first leg of the Lagos Open in 2006. Five years later, he claimed his first and till date only ATP Tour-level singles title in front of his home fans at the Zagreb Indoors. Dodig would reach a career-high singles ranking of No.29 in the world in October 2013. The Croatian however is making waves in the doubles discipline and achieving tremendous success there, with 15 titles currently, including the French Open doubles title in 2015 as well as reaching a career-high doubles ranking of No.4. He’s also won 3 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, which came at the 2018 and 2019 French Open as well as the 2019 Wimbledon, and is currently ranked 20th in the world.
Donna Vekic couldn’t quite get over the line at the Lagos Open, but her talents were there for all to see when she contested the final of both legs in 2011- and just over a year later, a 15-year-old Vekic was taking on Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the 2012 Australian Open. More success would come later, with the Croat winning two WTA titles: the 2014 Malaysian Open and the 2017 Nottingham Open. A steady feature in Grand Slam events, Vekic’s best performance was a quarter-final-run in this year’s US Open. Last month, she reached her career-high singles ranking of world No. 21.