Marta Kostyuk delivered on the immense talent and promise she has always possessed by winning her first WTA title in Austin last weekend.
The victory maintained the Ukrainian’s upward trajectory, which began in earnest in 2021.
The manner in how she goes about her career – her style of play, actions and words – is also earning her many fans.
Kostyuk is just 20 years old, somewhat staggering when you consider this is her sixth full season on the pro tour.
Australia is central to her story; it is where she won the AO girls’ singles title in 2017, and also where she broke out as 15-year-old at Australian Open 2018, qualifying for the main draw and advancing to the third round – the youngest to do so since Martina Hingis in 1996.
She next captured the ITF 60K title in Burnie, Tasmania – then the biggest title of her career – and after beginning 2018 outside the top 500, she ended it at world No.118.
But then came the fall. Six months later, she was barely inside the top 300.
“I had this pressure last year and I went too crazy about that. It's like I was the first one (of my age group) who broke through, and I was the first one who fell,” Kostyuk told WTA Insider in Madrid 2019.
“Now I realise that I need to put so much work in it. Coming back from such a big fall, you really realise … I was taking things for granted.”
She truly turned a corner in 2021, cracking the top 50, going deeper more often at WTA-level events, and beating bigger names.
The biggest of those was 12th seed Garbine Muguruza in the first round at Roland Garros, kick-starting a run to the fourth round – her best Grand Slam result so far.
MARTA KOSTYUK'S BIGGEST WINS
|2021||Roland Garros||Garbine Muguruza||13||6-1 6-4|
|2022||Eastbourne||Barbora Krejcikova||15||4-6 6-3 6-4|
|2023||Adelaide 1||Elena Rybakina||21||6-7(5) 6-2 6-3|
|2021||Wimbledon||Kiki Bertens||21||6-3 6-4|
|2021||Cluj-Napoca||Emma Raducanu||23||6-2 6-1|
Then there was her 57-minute, 6-2 6-1 thrashing of reigning US Open Emma Raducanu in late 2021 in Romania.
“It left a footprint on my brain, and was motivating me not to stop,” she said of watching Raducanu complete that extraordinary run in New York.
Kostyuk certainly hasn’t stopped in 2023, winning 15 of 21 matches and beating quality opponents such as Elena Rbyakina, Danielle Collins and Amanda Anisimova.
Kostyuk had previously reached four tour-level semifinals without advancing further.
But that changed this month in Austin, where she went all the way to her first WTA title – a result helping her crack the world’s top 40.
What to watch for
Kostyuk may no longer celebrate titles with acrobatic backflips as she did early in her career, but this athleticism still clearly shines through in her game.
The Ukrainian is an exceptional mover as well as an inventive shotmaker, a combination that makes her one of the more watchable players on tour.
Kostyuk hit every stroke imaginable en route to the Austin title, all captured in this highlight reel.
Her ability to move into the court and finish at net – both with conventional and drive volleys – points to a player with a high tennis IQ, multiple weapons, versatility and adaptability.
Finding her voice
Kostyuk is also using her growing profile and platform to oppose the war in her homeland.
She took part in the Tennis Plays for Peace exhibition ahead of AO 2023, an event raising funds for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine by UNICEF Australia and Global Giving.
Kostyuk has for months declined to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents, a policy she maintained after beating Russia’s Varvara Gracheva in the Austin final.
“I want to dedicate this title to Ukraine, and to all the people who are fighting and dying right now,” she said during the Austin trophy presentation.
"I want to dedicate this title to Ukraine. It's a very special moment 💙💛"@marta_kostyuk | #ATXOpen pic.twitter.com/RKtWoGPKdP— wta (@WTA) March 5, 2023
“I have to be honest… It was a bit rough for me to watch both of their runs. I’m trying to be the best I can be, so I obviously want to be where they are, and I’m sure it’s going to happen soon. It just didn’t feel very nice to watch them playing a final. It was very inspirational because it gave me strength and helped me realise that I can do the same thing.”
- Kostyuk, on seeing fellow teens Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez reach the 2021 US Open final.
“I want my tennis legacy to be that I used every opportunity I had in the best possible way, like, that I know that I didn’t waste any chances.”
Experts are saying...
“Her defence was crazy so I had to finish her a few times. I’m not Rafa, but my approaches are also pretty hard and she was getting everything. Big credit to her, the future is hers.”
- Iga Swiatek, after beating Kostyuk in the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2021.
“I've been following Marta a lot. I really respect her. She's a very talented player. When they ask me who can be the next star, I always say Marta. She has a lot of potential.”
- Paula Badosa, at Australian Open 2022