This month, the WTA editorial team is profiling a selection of up-and-coming names to look out for in 2024.
Maria Timofeeva Marina Stakusic Alina Korneeva
Last month, Marina Stakusic announced her arrival on the world stage with a stunning debut at the Billie Jean King Cup. Ranked outside the Top 250, the 19-year-old Canadian went 3-1 in singles to help lead Canada to its first Billie Jean King Cup title, notching wins over No.64 Rebeka Masarova, No.63 Magdalena Frech, and No.42 Martina Trevisan.
Canada wins Billie Jean King Cup for the first time
It was an experience of a lifetime for Stakusic. And one that gave her a taste of what’s in store.
“Going in, I wanted to see where am I compared to these top girls,” Stakusic told WTA Insider. “I got a pretty good answer by the end of the week.”
“It was just crazy to be on a team with Leylah, Genie, and Gaby. I watched Genie play the final of Wimbledon, so it was so cool to be on the same team as her. It was so loud in there, it was hurting my brain at times, but it was so cool. Those are the moments you work for, so it was an unbelievable experience.”
The week gave Stakusic even more fuel as she chases her ultimate dream: to play on the Hologic WTA Tour, win Wimbledon, and become World No.1. Having grown up idolizing Novak Djokovic’s competitive tenacity and all-court game, Stakusic is champing at the bit to nestle a place for herself on the main tour in 2024.
More from the ambitious teenager, who once caught not one but two racquets from her Serbian idol:
WTA Insider: How did you start playing tennis?
Stakusic: My dad grew up in Montenegro and he came here when he was 25. My mom is also Serbian but she was born in Canada. Her parents emigrated earlier.
None of my family plays tennis, but when my brother was five years old, my parents bought Walmart racquets and they went to play outside. He started playing and they thought they should put him into tennis.
About a year later, I followed in my brother’s footsteps. I was about 6 years old and I started taking a lesson a week.
WTA Insider: At what point did you start to see tennis not just as a hobby, but as something you wanted to pursue professionally?
Stakusic: From a very young age, my goals in my head were to win Wimbledon and become No.1. So from the beginning I never really did it just for fun. I was doing this to win Wimbledon one day. I’m not just doing it for fun. It’s always been serious since the beginning.
WTA Insider: What did you love about tennis?
Stakusic: I love competing. I love hitting the ball. It’s therapeutic. When I’m on court all my problems disappear.
There’s something in me that just loves holding a racquet, playing in front of people.
WTA Insider: Is your competitive streak limited to on the court or are you competitive off the court as well?
Stakusic: I’m pretty competitive. I have one older and one younger sister. I’m the middle child, the calm child of the family. I’m the one who calms down my siblings from exploding like bombs. We’re very close. We get along and hang out all the time.
But I cannot lose to my younger sister, like, in life. There’s no chance I’m letting that happen in anything. So I’m pretty competitive off the court.
26-5 win loss record in 2023 💪
First three ITF singles titles 👏
Career-high ranking of No. 258 ⬆️
Billie Jean King Cup winner’s trophy 🏆
Welcome to the ITF Class of 2023, Marina Stakusic 🇨🇦 @TennisCanada
— ITF (@ITFTennis) December 5, 2023
WTA Insider: How would you describe your tennis development?
Stakusic: When I was younger I started with a private coach, a guy from Serbia, because my family is Serbian. He was one of my dad’s friends. When I was 13 I joined the National Tennis Center in Toronto. I was part-time there.
When I was 14 I went to Montreal. I also went to Serbia to train for a few months. I was at in an academy in Novi Sad. I went back and forth for about a year. I was kind of everywhere, but I settled down in Montreal last year.
WTA Insider: Did you watch a lot of tennis when you were growing up?
Stakusic: I definitely was watching. My idol is Novak Djokovic. Shocking, right? I always watched him growing up. Every Grand Slam final, we would gather and have a viewing party.
WTA Insider: Have you met Novak yet?
Stakusic: I think when I was around 5 or 6, we went to the National Bank Open in Toronto and we watched him. When I was 7 or 8 we watched him in the final there and after the final he threw us two racquets. I still have them. That was an unreal moment.
I’ve seen him many times as a fan, but I’ve never met him in person.
WTA Insider: Why is Wimbledon your ultimate goal?
Stakusic: I played on grass, maybe not professional grass, but I played at a grass tournament when I was 10 years old and I won it. I loved the surface. There’s just something about Wimbledon. It’s prestigious and it was always the tournament that I wanted play.
WTA Insider: What are your goals for 2024?
Stakusic: I definitely want to try to play as many WTA tournaments as I can to get my ranking better. I’m at 260 right now so I can’t get into qualifying at Australia. So my No.1 goal is to make qualifying at the French Open. And then Top 100 is my main goal for next year.
WTA Insider: After playing a series of Top 100 players at Billie Jean King Cup, where do you see the gap between yourself and the top players?
Stakusic: I feel like my mentality is there. For me, it’s the physical aspect and being present for every single point from the beginning of the match.
For example, I played against Barbora Krejcikova and I could see the difference playing against her. She took so much time away from me. She was so precise with her angles. So it’s about being present, good energy, good footwork, not giving away any free points.
WTA Insider: For fans who didn’t tune into the Billie Jean King Cup, how would you describe your game?
Stakusic: I’d say that I have a complete game. I like to play aggressive but I can also change up the rhythm. I like to use drop shots, slicing, and coming to the net.
One thing I do want to work on more is my serve. It has potential to get better. So I would say I’m an aggressive player with a lot of variety.
WTA Insider: Is there anyone on the tour right now that you’re just dying to play?
Stakusic: I would want to play Sabalenka or somebody who hits really hard. I want to see it coming at me. I think that would be really fun.
Or Iga, to see what it’s like to play someone who is winning a lot. It would be cool to see where I stand with those players.
Five quick hits with Stakusic:
Most used app on her phone: Instagram
Pre-match music: Luke Bryan
Favorite meal: Lamb chops
Favorite recent movie: Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning
Book recommendation: “Verity” by Colleen Hoover