Stefanie Vögele reaching the semi-finals at the WTA tournament in Memphis certainly was a Swiss exclamation mark in the world of women’s tennis. After all, it had been two and a half years since the now retired Patty Schnyder was the last Swiss female tennis player to make it to the round of the final four in Linz. But what may come as a surprise to many: Vögele already had her breakthrough on the women’s tour about four years ago. But since then, she’s had to fight her way back again and again after injuries and illnesses and had to overcome her lack of self-confidence. Let’s take a look back.
It was in 2009 that Vögele put herself on the WTA map for the first time: The petite player from the Swiss canton of Aargau reached the quarter-finals in Tashkent and the semi-finals in Portorož. It looked like Patty Schnyder’s successor had finally been found – even more so when Schnyder announced shortly after that she would retire from professional tennis.
Vögele has already had two great appearances on the big Grand Slam stage as well: In 2009, she took on Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon – an encounter in which she made quite a good impression, although Williams defeated her in two straight sets.
One year later, she faced Venus’s sister Serena at Roland Garros, where she showed her talent on the red clay courts: The now 22-year-old Swiss player forced the 15-time Grand Slam winner into a tie-break and stunned many an impartial observer with her performance.
These accomplishments earned Vögele the best WTA ranking of her career so far (ranked 63 in March 2010). But then her career started to show a downward trend. ”2010 was already a pretty bad year, although I managed to qualify for the main field at the Grand Slams”, says Stefi, as everyone calls her. Although she was constantly injured or ill she kept playing because, as Vögele explains, ”if you qualify for the big tournaments, it’s only natural that you want to play them.“
Low Point in Lenzerheide
2011 looked like it would take a similar turn, with one slight difference: In February, Vögele decided to not play any tournaments for a few weeks and take a break from tennis. But still success didn’t come her way, for a reason that is as simple as it is obvious. Vögele: “The fact that I had slipped down in the WTA rankings was bothering me. I put myself under pressure and, consequently, I was feeling tense during the matches.”
Looking back on those months, Vögele, who’s been working with coach Ivo Werner for 6 years, says she had some really bad matches at that time. But then came a crucial moment: “I reached a true low point at a tournament in Lenzerheide, where I lost against a player who was ranked considerably lower than me. That’s when I told myself: If you really have to lose, then at least try to play your own tennis again.” She thinks that it really helped her that she was able to flip a mental switch.
Teaming up with a Mental Coach
A mental coach supported the sensitive player throughout this phase. ”A while back, every defeat gnawed at my self-confidence; today, I take everything a little more lightly”, she told me some time ago. It could very well be that she learned this characteristic by watching a distinctly more famous fellow tennis player – Roger Federer. Vögele knows without a doubt which of his qualities she would like to have herself. While others would love to have his serving abilities and his forehand, Vögele is especially impressed with “his looseness and his calmness”.
After a strong end-of-season run in 2012 – Vögele won the two ITF tournaments in Clermond-Ferrand and Toyota and made it to the semi-finals and the quarter-finals of two more ITF tournaments – the Swiss athlete has also been showing some impressive performances this season. With new self-confidence, the youngest of four sisters has been soaring to new heights and reached the semi-finals in Memphis, the first time in almost four years that she made it this far at a WTA tournament.
Great Progress – Not Only in Tennis
Vögele, who lives and practices in Biel, has been making considerable progress not only where tennis is concerned, but also regarding her personality. The once very reserved and shy athlete has become a fighter who knows exactly what she wants. To mention only one example: When a reporter asked her just after a tight Fed Cup defeat against Yanina Wickmayer in Berne how disappointed she was, Vögele replied like a shot: “Well, how disappointed would you be?” – a new quick-wittedness the Swiss player hadn’t been known for before.
The Fed Cup as such has certainly been an important element during Vögele’s development. After Schnyder had retired from professional tennis and Timea Bacsinszky had been out with a lengthy injury, Vögele was the one to take on the team leader role, which she did brilliantly. Last year, she won 3 of her 4 Fed Cup matches and contributed an important point in the encounter against Belgium.
Günthardt: Full of Praise for Vögele
Heinz Günthard, coach of the Swiss Fed Cup team, has also noticed a change in his team member. To name just one example, he cites the match against Alison van Uytvanck: “The fact that Stefi managed to get back into the match several times in the second set is a clear sign of her mental strength. I hope she’ll also be able to show this on the tour”. And that’s exactly what Vögele did in Memphis. If she continues to play like this, her performance in Memphis could very well be just one of many more highlights this season.