Interview with junior star Alina Korneeva: “Everything is different on the Tour, but mostly on the mental side”

Last year’s junior world No 1, Alina Korneeva talks about her first-round win in Mumbai, her goals for the season and her contemporary Mirra Andreeva

Alina Korneeva at the 2024 Australian Open Alina Korneeva at the 2024 Australian Open

There’s been a lot of talk about 16-year-olds in women’s tennis over the past few months. Russia’s Mirra Andreeva is already ranked 35th in the world and Czech Brenda Fruhvirtova is currently 96th. Another 16-year-old, Alina Korneeva, follows closely at No 134 in the world rankings but last year’s junior world No 1 and two-time junior Grand Slam winner is not focusing on how her contemporaries are doing.

Instead, like it should be, Korneeva’s focus in on herself as she continues her march towards what appears to be an inevitable top 100 debut in the coming months. Twelve months after Korneeva defeated Andreeva to win the Australian Open girls singles title, the 16-year-old returned to Melbourne to compete in the women’s singles draw. She won three matches in qualifying and reached the second round, before bowing out to 10th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia.

After a stop in Hua Hin for the WTA Thailand Open last week, where she once again came through the qualifying to reach the main draw (losing to Wang Yafan in the first round), Korneeva is in India this week to compete at the L&T Mumbai Open WTA 125K Series Tennis Championships, where she won her first round match over France’s Chloe Paquet in straight sets on Monday.

“I’m just really happy that I won today because it wasn’t the best match for me. I didn’t play my best game and I think she didn’t play her best game. It was a nervous game from her side and from my side, but finally I won, that is more important. But I hope next round will be better,” she said after the win.

Korneeva, who spent her off-season at the Rafa Nadal Academy, which she says will be her training base in the coming months, is quickly adapting to the pro tour, even as she learns that the difference between the pro tour and junior circuit is huge, especially on the mental side.

“It’s completely different (the pro tour vs the junior tour). Mental side, the game, everything, but mostly on the mental side. From every match now, I gain a huge experience. On every important point, the professional players play really, really smart. When I played juniors, for example, if it was deuce, the girls can miss two points in a row. But in the pros, nobody does that.”

I don’t think about her and I don’t look at her experiences and her results. I think about myself.

Alina Korneeva on Mirra Andreeva

As much success as she has had as a junior and the hype being built around her, the Russian does not expect success at the pro level to be a given.

“I try not to expect something before the tournament, just enjoy it and just try to show my game that I have practiced. For example, I did not expect to win three matches in qualifying and then the first round in Melbourne. But I’m really happy about the result that I had. Not all 16-year-olds can do it, so it’s a good result but I want to improve my game because I think I could do better,” she added.

While her game is still a work in progress and will undoubtedly mature in the coming years, Korneeva’s attitude is clearly made up of the right stuff. Asked how she felt about Mirra Andreeva’s meteoric rise up the ranks since their junior Australian Open clash last year, Korneeva said she tries to keep her focus on herself.

“I don’t think about her and I don’t look at her experiences and her results. I think about myself. Like I said earlier, I try to not expect something about myself. I do have goals for the season but I don’t want to talk about them because personally for me, one of the most important things in life is don’t talk about yourself. I just want to go step by step.”

That next step for Korneeva, who cites Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Jannik Sinner as some her favourite players, will be in Mumbai when she takes on Indian qualifier Shrivalli Bhamidipaty in the second round of the WTA Mumbai Open.

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