BRISBANE, Australia – Twenty-year-old American qualifier Samantha Crawford scored the biggest win of her career at the Brisbane International, beating No.7 seed Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5 to advance to the her first Premier quarterfinal. In her three qualifying wins, beating top qualifying seed Tsvetana Pironkova along the way, and two main draw wins, the Atlanta, Georgia native has lost just one set in Brisbane.
“I played her in juniors at the US Open one year,” Crawford told reporters. “We had a close match then. I think I was a little nervous, but I just told myself it was okay to be nervous. Like I should be nervous. Kind of just wanted to be more excited about it than anything.”
Crawford channeled that excitement by executing her aggressive gameplan perfectly, flummoxing Bencic with her power game. The American powered down 13 aces and saved six of seven break points, while breaking Bencic three times. The fact that Crawford was familiar with Bencic from their junior days kept her nerves steady.
“I obviously remember playing her,” Crawford said. “I think maybe not as intimidating, not someone that I grew up watching on TV, which is intimidating sometimes.”
Currently ranked No.120, the win puts Crawford ever closer to finally breaking into the Top 100. A junior US Open champion, her young career was derailed in 2013 after undergoing knee surgery after her third meniscus tear.
“I think coming back from that I had really high expectations, and after you’re injured you expect to be where you were at when you left off,” she said. “It doesn’t happen, and I think that’s discouraging sometimes.”
Finally injury-free in 2015, Crawford relocated to Charleston, South Carolina to train alongside Jessica Pegula under the tutelage of Michael Joyce, Maria Sharapova’s former coach.
“He coached Sharapova for so long,” Crawford said. “That’s someone I always grew up watching and I feel like I want to play like that and try to be aggressive. So it’s really cool when he tells me stuff like, Sharapova did this or [that]. It’s just cool being able to get that input.”
The results paid off. She played an astounding 31 tournaments last season, winning her first ITF title in the fall and winning the USTA wildcard playoff to earn main draw slots at the US Open and the upcoming Australian Open, where she’ll make her Melbourne debut.
Crawford returned to Florida during the off-season as part of a USTA training camp. But she’s without a coach here in Australia. So she turned to fellow American Madison Brengle.
“She came on-court for every match except for this one because she was playing,” Crawford said, laughing. “I was like, Maybe she can shout things.”
Crawford will play Andrea Petkovic in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The German came through with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Ekaterina Makarova.
Get to know Sam Crawford:
WTA Insider: When do you get here in Australia?
Crawford: I got here last Monday and didn’t play until Friday so feel like I had enough time to get over the trip and time change and everything. Going through qualies was good. Got some good matches in and pulled out some tough matches out too.
WTA Insider: You’re from Atlanta, Georgia. Did you go to high school down there?
Crawford: I started homeschooling in fifth grade. I lived in China in fifth grade (Crawford’s mother is Chinese). Came back from China and moved to Florida after that when I was 11 or 12. And then I went back and forth between Florida and Georgia. And then last year I was in Charleston and now I’m back in Florida.
WTA Insider: Was the move to Florida for tennis?
Crawford: Yeah. I’m an only child…
WTA Insider: So it’s all about Sam’s tennis?
Crawford: Yeah. (Laughs)
WTA Insider: So how did you get into tennis?
Crawford: I started playing at when I was four and half. Someone told my parents I had good hand-eye coordination and that was the end (Laughs). I think I played my first tournament when I was six and I made the finals. By fourth grade I was already missing school for tennis but my teacher liked me and liked tennis. I think from a young age I always knew I wanted to play tennis.
WTA Insider: Why? Why tennis?
Crawford: I think I always was a very aggressive player, even when I was 12. It would either be really really good or really really bad. I never hit lobs or anything. At times it could be really frustrating. I could hit winners or I hit the fence. But I never strayed from that.
I had surgery when I was 12 on my knee. I was away from tennis during that period. All I wanted to do was to get play tennis again. It was sad for me because I had never been away from tennis for that long since I started playing. It was just something I always loved.
WTA Insider: You won the US Open as a junior in 2012. In the last six months or so we’ve been seeing and hearing more about you and your results have been steadily improving. What’s made the difference?
Crawford: I think I just have gotten to play a lot of matches and a lot of different players. I had a lot of matches where I could have lost easily but I pulled it out. I think that helps with confidence. You learn more about yourself and that you’re tough enough to stay in a match and pull it out. I think that’s helped a lot. I think it’s easy to think after you’ve lost a set that you’re not in the match. I think that’s the great thing about tennis. Anything can happen.
WTA Insider: Not many people have seen you play on the tour level. How would you describe your game?
Crawford: Aggressive. Big serve. Big forehand. I like to hit pretty hard. Go big.
WTA Insider: How about your personality?
Crawford: I would say I’m pretty easy-going. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t know, I’m always happy. I love taking naps. Food. Normal stuff.
WTA Insider: How do you find tour life? Is it lonely or do you feel like you have a community around you?
Crawford: Yeah, definitely. I always feel like I know people that are around and have a good time. I think it’s cool to travel. It’s tiring obviously. But it’s awesome that I get to play tennis and travel the world.
WTA Insider: What do you remember about your first time in Australia?
Crawford: 2012 juniors. I remember being very miserable on the flight and then being so excited to finally land. I think it was the only other Slam that I had played other than US Open juniors.
It was really exciting to be in Australia. We went to an animal sanctuary and saw some koalas. I fed a tree kangaroo and it bit my hair. I remember that. I remember being in Melbourne and being on site and thinking that this was so cool. I grew up watching this and now I’m here.
WTA Insider: What’s the most used app on your phone?
Crawford: Instagram. (Her username is @samcrawford18.)
WTA Insider: What’s the last song you listened to on your iPod?
Crawford: Shake It Off. I’m a Swiftie.
WTA Insider: What’s your favorite cuisine?
Crawford: I have a big sweet tooth. Dessert is up there. But probably Italian. I like a good margherita pizzas.
WTA Insider: What’s the worst thing about being a tennis player?
Crawford: The off-season. Pre-season training is the worst. You’re working so hard to get ready to play tournaments but you’d rather just play tournaments. But it’s worth it.
WTA Insider: What’s the best thing about being a tennis player?
Crawford: Getting to play tournaments and traveling. It’s what you work for.
WTA Insider: What are your goals for 2016?
Crawford : I’m very big on one-day at a time. I get overwhelmed if I get too far ahead. But I think breaking into the Top 100 is a big thing. And being able to play in the main draw at all the Slams would be nice.