Sonay Kartal has been making up for lost time in rapid fashion and now the 20-year-old has a Wimbledon breakthrough in her sights.
A talented junior, the Brighton player saw her progress stalled by injury, particularly a wrist problem that stopped her picking up a racket for a year, before returning to the circuit last October.
Unranked at that stage, Kartal won six of the first nine tournaments she played, enough to earn her a call-up to Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup squad in April and now a first Wimbledon wild card.
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Kartal, who is now ranked 226, said: “Twelve months ago I think I was injured, so I was probably in the physio room or doing rehab. I definitely wasn’t on a tennis court, playing at this kind of level. Even six months ago, this wasn’t an achievable goal. It’s happening fast.
“I’ve always believed my tennis was grand slam level. It was getting to the point where I could prove it. I still believed that when I’ve recovered from whatever injury it is, I’m going to get there, I just didn’t know when.”
As impressive as Kartal’s tennis and results have been recently, she is probably still best known at the moment for a video that surfaced following Emma Raducanu’s US Open victory of the pair battling as nine-year-olds.
A long rally in which the two small girls cover every inch of the court ends with Kartal hitting a forehand winner down the line.
“I remembered that shot,” she said with a smile.
“I was actually walking my dog (when the video came out) and my phone just kept going off. I was getting tagged in all these different things and I was thinking, ‘What’s going on?’
“I looked and saw the LTA had posted it. I was going to tournaments and coaches from all over the world were saying, ‘Oh, you’re the girl that’s in the video, aren’t you?'”
Kartal’s grand slam debut will come on Tuesday against 90th-ranked Danka Kovinic, with the significant carrot of a likely second-round clash against world number one Iga Swiatek.
“If that does happen, it will be really good for me,” said Kartal. “But I’ve still got a match to get through before that’s even a possibility.”
There are 17 British singles players in the main draws this year – the most since 2001, when wild cards were handed out much more readily than they are now.
It is a sign that success at the very top of the sport is starting to be supported by strength in depth lower down, with 11 British players in the top 200 across the men’s and women’s games.
Kartal is one of four home debutants along with Ryan Peniston, Alastair Gray and Yuriko Miyazaki.
Peniston has climbed more than 200 places in the rankings in a year to a current career high of 147, marking his first forays on the ATP Tour by reaching the quarter-finals at both Queen’s Club and Eastbourne.
The left-hander will hope to continue that strong form against Swiss Henri Laaksonen in the first round while close friend and prospective housemate Gray takes on former Wimbledon junior champion Tseng Chun-hsin.
The 24-year-old Londoner, ranked 283, is following in the footsteps of Cameron Norrie having overlapped with the British number one for a year at Texas Christian University in the United States before turning professional last spring.
US college has become a very popular route for British players to take to the professional game, and 26-year-old Miyazaki spent five years studying before turning pro in 2019.
Born in Tokyo to Japanese parents, Miyazaki’s family moved to London when she was 10 and her tennis education has been in this country but she only formally decided to represent Britain in March.
With that has come valuable support from the Lawn Tennis Association and now a first Wimbledon wild card.
“I’ve grown up here and so it’s always been in the back of my mind,” said the world number 204, who is known as Lily.
“Obviously playing in Wimbledon is my biggest goal as well so I’d say that did play a role in that switch. I think ultimately it just made sense for my career and my life.”
Miyazaki has a difficult first-round match against France’s Caroline Garcia, who won a title in Germany on Saturday, but could face Raducanu in round two.