One of the highlights for me in Cincy this year was developing a new fave in Varvara Flink. It’s really random how it all happened. It all started on the first day of the tournament. I went to Court 9 to watch Anett Kontaveit play Alize Cornet. I’ve never seen Kontaveit play in person before. She’s a player I like so I wanted to see her play live. They only open the gates on changeovers on the court she was playing. When it was time for a changeover, they opened the gates, and Tsonga and Simon went right in. Everyone was kind of looking at them and each other in amazement. I was watching them too. I went in and sat in the top row, safely away from anyone else. They were sitting to my left and further down. About a section or two over. While I was seeing what they were doing, I glanced to my left and saw another player about a section over in the same row as me. I thought she was really cute, but hadn’t a clue who she was. I hemmed and hawed if I should tweet the following, but finally decided I would.
There’s a really cute tennis player here and I’ve no idea who she is 😳
— Casey Bray • (@NoleLisickiFam) August 13, 2016
At the next changeover, I decided to switch my seats to be able to more casually get a picture of her to ask Twitter who she was.
It ended up raining, so the match got suspended. After the rain delay, I went back for the end of the match. Then I remembered that Daria Kasatkina was supposed to be practicing on Court 16 from 5-6, so I left the match to go there. Daria had become one of my faves in the past year, so I was really looking forward to seeing her for the first time. It was towards 6 when I walked to Court 16. I got there and you wouldn’t believe who was there.
*walks to the other end of the grounds to see Daria*
*Sees that cute tennis player from earlier practicing there and not Daria*
— Casey Bray • (@NoleLisickiFam) August 13, 2016
It was so funny when I saw her. I just kept running into her.
Right now all of the following are playing/practicing: Kontaveit, Aga, Petko, Cirstea, and that cute one. I’m so torn.
— Casey Bray • (@NoleLisickiFam) August 13, 2016
Okay who is she? 😏🙈 pic.twitter.com/Pg8W0jK6Vq
— Casey Bray • (@NoleLisickiFam) August 13, 2016
Cuteness always wins.
After I posted that, people tweeted me saying it was Varvara Flink. That’s what it said on the practice schedule, but when it rains, the practice schedule gets screwed up, so you never really know. Before learning it was actually her, I thought it might’ve been Lesia Tsurenko. But with that double confirmation of it being Flink, I knew for sure it was her.
Here’s what happened when I got the picture. I obviously decided I’d try to get a picture with her over the other things that were going on at the time, so I stayed for the end of her practice. When she came out, she was on her phone. Texting or something. I asked for a picture, but her coach/boyfriend thought I asked him to take the picture. I was just gonna take it myself, like I usually do for pictures with players, but it’s always better if someone else takes the picture, so I said “sure you can take it.” I handed him my phone and I kind of bumped into Flink. I was a bit mortified. But I got the picture, so I was happy. The only thing was I wished I wasn’t wearing my Sabine shirt when I got it. Kinda awkward when you get a picture with a different player.
Flink was supposed to play that night against Cagla Buyukakcay. I was excited to be able to watch her play. I was gonna head over to watch it after finishing watching the end of the second set between Pegula and Doi, but then it rained, so play was cancelled for the evening. Flink and Buyukakcay only got their warmup in.
It rained early the next day as well, which got Sabine’s match moved to second on after the Pegula-Doi match. Flink was first on Court 6, after the rain changed the schedule. I really needed Pegula to force a third set, so I could watch Flink, which she did by winning the tiebreak 11-9. I was so happy and settled in to watch Flink.
It started well. Flink broke immediately! Early on I found out she had a great backhand. She seemed to really go after it and her footwork to prepare to hit her backhand was superb. She served for the first set and had two set points, but got broken. She served for the set for a second time, got to her third set point, and it started to rain. They took a short break waiting on court. Finally they started back up again and Flink was able to win the set on her fourth set point. At that point I had to leave for Sabine’s match, but I found out later that Flink won the match!
Flink takes the opening set! pic.twitter.com/2NJUYHjjrk
— Casey Bray • (@NoleLisickiFam) August 14, 2016
Because the rain cancelled her match the previous day, Flink would have to play a second match that day. She played Misaki Doi on Court 10. I was sure to go over to watch it. I sat in the stands behind the court. I was the only one who applauded when her name was called in warmups. It started off really poorly. Flink won one point the first three games. She ended up getting bagelled. It was bad. Doi was hitting winners and opening the court up so well. Completely outplaying Flink. The difference in ranking was showing itself on the court.
The second set started much better. Flink got up 2-0, but Doi came back and went on another run. She got up 3-2 and I went to Court 4 to get an autograph from Annika Beck. I came back just in time to see Flink go down 2-5. I decided not to go back in the stands behind the court, but to watch from the side of the court. I went to the side she was on. She held comfortably for 3-5. Then broke for 4-5. Another hold got it to 5-5. At 5-6, Flink faced a match point, but saved it, and forced a tiebreak. She won the first four points, but then lost the next five. She would win the final three points to force a deciding set. By the end of the set, I could feel more cheers for her, which I was happy about.
From 2-5 to the end of the set, I switched ends with her. Whatever side she was playing on, I was on that side too. I’d like to think I helped her get back into that set. I mean, she must’ve noticed when she went for her towel that I was right there on each side. Also, cheering (clapping) her on too must’ve helped. I knew I had to keep this up for the third set too since she won the second set.
The third started well too. Flink got out to a 3-1 lead, but then lost three games to go down 3-4. The 3-3 game was a long one. 7 deuces before she was broken. Time to go back to reality. We had our fun, but now Doi would go back to what she did at the beginning of the match. Only that’s not what happened. Flink would win the final three games to win the match. I was so ecstatic. It was such an amazing match. Probably one of the best I’ve witnessed in person.
She did it! Flink wins! 😱😍😭 pic.twitter.com/EEJs4W0fHu
— Casey Bray • (@NoleLisickiFam) August 15, 2016
As the match went on, I tried to think of what I should have her sign if she were to win the match. I didn’t know how big her signature was, so I decided against having her sign my ticket. I had a white cardboardish thing in my picture books, so I had her sign that. She kinda looked at it weird, but did end up signing it. I told her “great fight today” in the shakiest of voices. I was so nervous. She said “thank you.” Many people were going for autographs and saying similar things. I felt she won many fans that night, after only starting with just me. As she walked back to the locker room, I saw her and her coach/boyfriend with their arms around each other and just seeming really happy. That was quite a moment. I was thrilled for her to win a match like that and have that moment. I was smiling ear to ear as I headed towards the last match on Center. For a player ranked 360 to beat a player like Doi in the fashion she did was huge. I’m sure it gave her a lot of belief. She may even say it’s the best win of her life.
It’s so unbelievable to have seen this girl the previous day in the most random of fashions, and become a fan of her, to then watch her go and win a match like that the very next day. It’s so crazy. I mean that stuff just doesn’t happen.
I saw her record this year was 45-16 coming into Cincy, so I’m sure winning has become a habit for her. That might explain the fight she gave Doi with her back against the wall down 0-6, 2-5. Flink just didn’t give in. She made Doi have to earn it from that point and Doi couldn’t do it. That’s why I told her “great fight” after the match.
So Flink was into the main draw. Luckily, she had Monday off after the two matches on Sunday. She’d play a fellow qualifier, Alison Riske, in the first round. Winnable match, right? I mean, Riske was the lowest ranked player Flink would face up to that point. They’d play on Court 4. First match on. Unfortunately, Daria Kasatkina was scheduled to play at the same time. That’s never happened to me before where two faves have been scheduled at the same time when I was at a tournament. I’d been looking forward to seeing Kasatkina for the first time, but decided I’d go with Flink. I realized when connections are made with a player, you have to go through with them until the end (unless it interferes with a top fave like Lisicki or Djokovic). Who knows how Flink will progress in her young career. It may be a while before I see her again. Kasatkina was also in doubles, so I knew I’d have another chance to see her anyway. Turns out I made the right decision because Kasatkina got crushed 1 & 1 by Pironkova.
Not only was their match at the same time, but they also practiced at the same time too. I watched Kasatkina for a few minutes, but then I went to see Flink. Again realizing how special the connection I made with her was and the importance of choosing her this time. Flink was sharing a court with the Kichenok sisters. I got a picture with Nadiya the previous day. I enjoyed seeing them both on the same court right next to each other for a few minutes even if it was through the fence of Court 14. One noteworthy thing that happened in the practice was Flink’s boyfriend hit a ball over the fence. I went to get it and threw it back to Flink. The previous day I tagged her on Instagram of the photo I got with her and she liked it. I figured she must’ve recognized me, but I was pretty shy, so I tried to keep my distance.
As for the match against Riske, it kind of sucked that she was playing an American. The crowd was pretty full. I didn’t get there that early, as I was watching Kerber’s practice, so I didn’t get the best seat. Flink ended up losing the first set. She got off to a great start, but lost the last four games to lose the set. At that point, I had to leave to try to complete my German Fed Cup photo by getting Petkovic to sign it. As I walked over, I got a ticket for Kerber’s autograph session at the W & S Booth, so I went to that after Petkovic’s practice, then it started raining. I went back for Flink’s match when the rain stopped. The match got suspended at 5-4, 30-30. I really thought Flink was gonna break to win the set. Against Doi I saw the fight and figured this would be the same.
Again, I didn’t get the best seat following the rain delay. A guy decided to sit literally right in front of me when there were other seats available. I was pissed about it. He asked me to put my foot down too. Anyway, Flink didn’t break immediately. The rain seemed to come at the worst time for Flink. Right when she was getting into her fight. In the tiebreak, Flink raced out to a 5-0 lead. It seemed like it was going three, but Flink lost the next five points. At 5-5, Riske had an easy volley that she put into the net. Flink had a set point, but couldn’t convert. She lost the tiebreak 6-8. Her Cincy run was over.
After the match I stood by the players exit for a while because I knew that’d be the last time I saw her. She called someone after the match and didn’t go through the exit. A fan told her “good playing” and she thanked them. A family member (maybe) came over and gave her a hug. It was obviously a tough loss with that lead in the tiebreak. I left after a little while and found an empty court to sit down for a while AWAY FROM PEOPLE. It was tough to see her lose like that and being around all those people made me need some space for a few minutes.
I thought I’d share what I picked up about Flink’s game. I’m sure I didn’t see everything about her game, since I only watched about 5 sets, and I had rooting interest, but here’s what I saw. As I said earlier, she’s got a great backhand. She really goes after it when given the chance. On the forehand side, she plays a bit more defensive. Footwork not as good on that side. She usually plays a few steps behind the baseline. I think she’s more of a defensive player overall. Perhaps with some counter puncher in her. She’s definitely not an aggressive player going for winners like Lisicki, Kvitova, or Keys, that’s for sure. She seems to be a fighter and has heart. She won’t give up. One thing I like most about her is her on court demeanor. She won’t get too high or low. She stays pretty steady the whole match. She’s respectful and won’t give a huge argument if a call doesn’t go her way. She’ll give a fist pump or a “come on” when she hits a winner or wins a big point.
It seems I brought her to the attention of many others on Twitter as well. A few of my friends that attend Cincy brought her up in conversation when we met up. Also, I got quite a few messages from other people on Twitter about her. I didn’t immediately realize I made the kind of impact I did. It was kind of startling. It was great to inform people about her and possibly have more people become fans of her as well. Of course, the win against Doi got her even more attention, which led to more inquiries of her. It seemed to work out perfectly that way.
I’m not really sure how she even got into Cincy qualifying with a wildcard. Her ranking is much too low to get her into qualifying at such an event. The original cutoff was inside the top 100, for perspective. Not being an American makes it even more surprising. Usually if a player is from the home country, a tournament will give them a wildcard, regardless of ranking. I saw she got a wildcard for Washington DC as well, so there must be some reason for it. I believe she’s based in Miami, Florida, so perhaps that has something to do with it.
I thought it must be because she’s a top prospect or something, but upon further inspection, it doesn’t seem she is. Most of her bio is empty. The top prospects usually have everything filled out. Her playing activity is a bit strange. She was out more than a year from the mid 2014 to the end of 2015. I saw a picture of her in a hospital bed, so she must’ve got injured or sick, but I’ve no idea exactly what happened.
It doesn’t seem she plays all that much either. She’s gone to some ITF’s a few different times this year that run tournaments many weeks in a row. There’s some breaks in her schedule though. She’s only played one ITF match the last couple months. Perhaps that has to do with her shoulder, as she had it taped in Cincy. It’s kind of worrisome that her boyfriend was the only one with her in Cincy. At her age, if he’s her main coach, that’s a concern for her development. Usually you’d want someone older with a lot of experience to coach an up and coming player. I wonder if money is a concern and that’s why she can’t travel to more tournaments or hire a coach. She seems to be on a good track though, as she’s up to a career high ranking of 305 this week. The money she earned in Cincy was nice and will probably go a long way for her (if she’s turned pro).
It’s amazing how you can go to a tournament and how quickly things can change in your plans. I had no idea who Varvara Flink was when I entered the grounds the opening day of the tournament. Hours later I was a fan of her and planning to go to her match. Things like this don’t happen every time you go to a tournament. It’s a special moment when you do become a fan of a new player or your fandom of a player reaches a new level when you go to a tournament. I feel very lucky to have met her and experienced that great win she had against Doi. I look forward to following her career from now on. Flink made me a fan for life in Cincy. She made Cincy special for me this year. I certainly never thought I’d have said that when I entered the grounds on the first day of the tournament.