SAN JOSE, Calif. — It didn’t take long for Elizabeth Mandlik to learn that her mother, four-time Major Champion Hana Mandlikova, was a pretty big deal. After all, not many players on the Hologic WTA Tour can claim to know the insides of the Wimbledon daycare center.
“She took me everywhere,” Mandlik told WTA Insider at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic. “So I would go, if she played Legends she would take me. At the Grand Slams there was a daycare and I was with other kids and they were all like, ‘Oh, so who’s your mom?’ I remember it.”
Ranked 240th at Monday night’s Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, Mandlik defeated Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-3, 6-3 in the first round. The 21-year-old Floridian arrived in San Jose unsure if she would even qualify. Ten minutes before the draw, she learned that she had received a qualifying wildcard. Winner of three ITF 25K events this season, Mandlik notched victories over Madrid semifinalist Jil Teichmann and Fernanda Contreras Gomez to secure her place in the draw.
It’s been a wild week for Mandlik. She was just inside the top 500 earlier in the year and had never scored with a top 100 player up to this week.
“I’ve never really had the opportunity to play with these high-quality players and just be around them,” Mandlik said. “To know that you can be there and actually beat them, you create such a high belief in yourself and that you belong here.
“The belief was always there, but of course it’s questionable because I’ve never had the opportunity to practice with them. Now I actually play a match and beat them.”
Mandlik spoke to WTA Insider after her tour debut to shed some light on her journey to the pros and what it’s like chasing after her mother’s shadow.
WTA Insider: How did you get into playing tennis?
Mandlik: I started when I was 7 or 8 years old. My mother didn’t want to bring me to tennis too early so as not to get fed up with it too quickly. So I was put into tennis, soccer and gymnastics. So was my brother.
I’m more of a competitive person myself. I don’t want to rely on a team and gymnastics just wasn’t for me. So I just chose tennis. I’m a very competitive person, so I think that’s why.
WTA Insider: Was it super serious right away?
Mandlik: Not really. It was a fun thing. It was about an hour a day, three times a week, something like that. And then, when I was 13 or 14 years old, I went skiing every winter. I told my mother that I wanted to be a ski pro. She thought about it because she knew I was good at it.
She said: I won’t move to a cold place for you, I won’t do that. So I just went there and did it for fun. But if I hadn’t chosen tennis, I would have chosen skiing. I just loved racing.
WTA Insider: When did it get serious?
Mandlik: By the time I was 15, I knew that was all I wanted to do. My twin brother, we have a bit different mentalities. He loves the social aspect of it, so he went to college. And he kind of always knew he wanted to do that, and I always knew I didn’t want to.
So my mom was like, OK, you go to college and you’re going to play pro. So she had to deal with it. Of course she wanted us both to go.
WTA Insider: After deciding against going to college, how did you plan your path to becoming a tennis pro?
Mandlik: I never thought of rushing it. I just take my time and when it happens, it happens. If not, then not. I can always go to college later to be a doctor or whatever I want, you know what I mean? So I’m not rushing it, but for me it’s worth it.
WTA Insider: When did you realize your mother is a Hall of Famer?
Mandlik: It was from a fairly young age, for I only had my mother; I have no father. So she took me everywhere. So I would go, if she played Legends she would take me. Then sometimes she wouldn’t take me and I cried all week. I would say around 10, that’s when I noticed it.
At the Grand Slams there was a daycare and I was with other kids and they were all talking like, oh, so who’s your mom? I remember it.
WTA Insider: How has your mother’s experience helped you in your career?
Mandlik: It helped me alot. There are cons and pros, but what helps me is knowing she knows how hard it is. She helps me stand up. She’s always positive no matter what because she knows I’m trying my best. She knows everything on and off the pitch so it’s very easy to talk to her about it.
And when I say I don’t want to practice, she says don’t practice. She has already built me in that I know how much I have to push myself. So she doesn’t want to push me anymore ’cause I’ve got it so high already, you know?
WTA Insider: Has she ever tried to talk you out of it?
Mandlik: Yes. It happens all the time. Like here, I played a tournament before this tournament and got to the semifinals. Then I flew right back and my coach said, ‘Let’s go to San Jose.’ And my mom says, ‘You need to rest. You’re only here for a day, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
And my coach says, ‘No, I feel it. I think she has to go and just try.” Even if we don’t get in, it’s okay. And my mom says, ‘No, I think she should rest.’ And then my coach said, ‘Please give me the opportunity.’ So it was crazy how it worked out.
WTA Insider: I assume you’ve spoken to her since you won last night.
Mandlik: she was so happy I was listening to a video and she was like, ‘I can’t believe that.’ I said, ‘Well, you better believe it.’
WTA Insider: When did you find out that you would be given a wild card for qualification here?
Mandlik: It’s a funny story. So we came here and I was a proxy. I was seven or eight out and we were just hoping to get in. We just waited and the warden said there would be two of you coming out.
A girl I know, she had a wild card, and she told me she wasn’t coming. So I said to my coach, go and hit the wild card, maybe I have a chance. So it was about 10 minutes before the draw when I knew.
WTA Insider: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
Mandlik: overcoming the losses. You have those three or four weeks where you keep losing, but the only reason you lose is because you’re improving. You’re playing so well on the practice field, but you can’t move into the match yet. So the hardest part is staying positive in those moments.
WTA Insider: How would you describe yourself off the pitch?
Mandlik: I would say I have a very small circle. I’m not an extrovert, I’m definitely an introvert. I’m very easy to get along with. I don’t have that many friends, I try to keep to myself. That’s the way I like it.
I love hanging out and doing things with my brother. He plays tennis at Oklahoma University. When he graduates, he’ll turn pro too.
WTA Insider: Are you a big tennis freak?
Mandlik: Yes, I watch tennis all the time. Anytime there’s a TV I check to see if Tennis Channel is on and then leave it on, even if it’s on in the background I have to leave it on.
For example, I watch tennis all the time at home in the living room and my mom is like Eli, turn it off. I don’t want to hear it anymore. She grew up playing tennis and then has two children who play tennis. She’s like I don’t want to hear the ball! At least from the voice (laughs).
WTA Insider: How would you describe your playing style?
Mandlik: Aggressive type of player who consistently fights on. I try to interfere as much as possible and take the ball early and always try to just step in and make the girl feel rushed.
I feel like I’ve come this far in the last year playing like this. That really catapulted me to doing it well. I really try hard to do that because I’m not that tall. I’m fast but I’m not tall so I gotta do something a little bit harder you know? So, yes, take the opponent’s time.
WTA Insider: You mentioned that you had never scored with a top 100 player before this week. Are there any players on tour that you really want to play for?
Mandlik: When I found out that my placement was okay to play in the US Open qualifiers, my brother was like, ‘Oh, maybe you could get a wildcard for the main round.’ He said: ‘Would you rather play a qualifier on an outdoor court or would you rather play Iga Swiatek?’
I thought, ‘Are you kidding? What was that question?’ He said he would rather play a qualifier. I would rather play against Iga Swiatek on Center Court.
So I would say Iga.
WTA Insider: This is obviously your first WTA tournament. Looking ahead, which main draw tournaments are you most looking forward to?
Mandlik: Definitely US Open. I would rather say Wimbledon, but also US Open. I would say Wimbledon because my mother never won Wimbledon and that’s my goal. I want to win Wimbledon. No one can say, “Oh, her mother won.” And I think no, not this time. That’s just me (laughs).
WTA Insider: What’s the best tennis tip your mom gave you?
Mandlik: Tough moments don’t last, but tough people do.