Michelle Larcher de Brito: Life After the Upset

I’m always more interested in players when they’re down than when they’re up. Sure, it’s great when a low-ranked player gets a huge upset win and a moment in the spotlight. But…what about what happens next?

For that reason alone, I was curious to keep an eye on Michelle Larcher de Brito this week at the Citi Open.

It was only a month ago when the 20-year-old from Portugal stunned the tennis world by taking out Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon. Of course, Sharapova’s hip was–and still is–an issue, but I will never forget the grit and fight that Larcher de Brito showed throughout that match, especially at the end.

She played some phenomenal tennis.

But then, as you do, she came down to earth. She lost in the third round to Karin Knapp, and only saw her ranking climb about 20 places–she’s currently ranked No. 111.

Larcher de Brito is very small–only 5’5″ and somehow with an even slighter frame–but she plays a big-girl game. It’s pretty weird to see someone so small hug the baseline and will herself into ball-bashing contests with her opponents, but that just seems to be the place that she is the most comfortable. She is a Bollieteri Babe after all.


I caught Larcher de Brito’s final-round quallies match against Victoria Duval, and it was a roller-coaster of a topsy-turvy affair. And yes, I did need to use both of those descriptions. It was insane.

When I got onto the Grandstand court–which had about twenty people sparsely scattered about on the overcast Sunday afternoon–Victoria Duval, the 17-year-old American, was serving for the first set at 5-4.

But then Larcher de Brito won the next three games, and thus the set, thanks to the fact that she finally started taking the ball early, hitting with more depth, and actually taking control of rallies. Also, Duval’s nerves got the best of her.

But things did not stay that way.

I’ll just let my live-tweets of the match take things from there:












Michelle Larcher de Brito d. Victoria Duval 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 to qualify for the main draw of the Citi Open.


After the match I got a chance to talk with Larcher de Brito for a few minutes. She was incredibly friendly, warm, and thoughtful, and I really enjoyed our conversation. Considering how intense and drained she had been on the court, I was pleasantly surprised.

We laughed a lot, even though the topic of conversations were not particularly funny.

She was fun, even though some of the things she said did not make a lot of sense.

On the match and her physical struggles:

Yeah, I mean Vicki played a really great match…I’m just glad that I managed to hang in there.

I felt really dizzy, I was struggling big time in my second match. I thought I was a Floridian so I’d be used to the heat, but I dunno, maybe I hadn’t been eating right, because I didn’t eat much this morning. Probably should have fueled up this morning.

On moving forward after her Wimbledon successes:

You’ve just got to move forward. That was unbelievable what I did at Wimbledon. As a tennis player, I’ve just got to keep up the results, you know. Just try and forget about it and keep working hard. The challenge is to just stay focused on my matches and keep up my results and keep my ranking where it is, not get any worse.

I mean, obviously a lot of people are still talking about it, but that’s one of those things that I’ve just got to move forward. If I think too much about the past, I’m not going to think about the future.

I’m sure I put my name out there to quite a lot of people, but I try not to think about it too much.

On calling her father out for on-court coaching (both times she did this she lost the next two games), and the mental side of the game:

I kind-of needed help out there. She was playing really well and I needed a little bit of advice, and something positive. My dad just gave me some positive words. He told me to stay calm, to keep it together.

I am trying to control [my temper] a little bit better now. Tennis is 90 percent mental, you’ve gotta keep your head cool out there. I’m just trying to stay focussed, because the match turns around in a matter of just one game out there. I’m trying to work on mental along with my serves and what-not, a big part of tennis is mental. I haven’t broken a racket in quite some time, so I’m trying to keep it that way.

My dad came on court and he told me to just stay calm and not complain and not throw my racket. You know, you’ve just gotta curve the anger and not put the racket on the floor and not, try and not get too angry.


Larcher de Brito burst onto the scene in 2009 as a precocious, hard-hitting 16-year-old who made the third round of the French Open and the second round of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

This is what her life has looked like since:

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 12.32.22 AM

You might also have heard that she was a shrieker.

I’m going to do a bad-writer thing, and just let the Wikipedia page do the explaining:

During the 2009 French Open and Wimbledon tournaments, Larcher de Brito came under criticism for what by some was considered excessive grunting. Some players and commentators have voiced suspicions that the grunting is used as an unsportmanlike tactic to distract the opponent and that this tactic is actually taught by Nick Bollettieri, who is responsible for the training of Larcher de Brito and other grunting tennis greats. Bollettieri has denied this by saying: “My staff and I have never taught grunting. It isn’t something that is done deliberately to hurt their opponents.” He also called for some sort of regulation: “Players on both the men’s and women’s tours grunt. Something eventually needs to be done.” Michelle Larcher de Brito also denies being unsportmanlike and has stated: “Nobody can tell me to stop grunting. Tennis is an individual sport and I’m an individual player. If they have to fine me, go ahead, because I’d rather get fined than lose a match because I had to stop grunting […] If it has inconvenienced the other player, there’s nothing I can really do about it, because I don’t really want to change anything. […] I’m here to win. That’s it. If people don’t like my grunting they can always leave.”.[13] On a more conciliatory note, however, Larcher de Brito has also recently[when?] remarked: “I’m 16 and I’m still learning. Maybe I can eventually put it under control. I don’t know, but I’ll try. It comes from Seles; it comes from Sharapova. It comes from great players.”.[14][15] Like Larcher de Brito, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova were also trained by Nick Bollettieri.

It should be said that Larcher de Brito was not at all distractingly loud in D.C., and I did not here one member of the crowd make a snide remark about her shrieking.

It should also be said that she struggled mightily to beat a 17-year-old in quallies, and then got thoroughly beaten by an 18-year-old, Madison Keys, in the first round.

People always talk about the up-and-coming generation with Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Laura Robson, Genie Bouchard, Heather Watson, Monica Puig, and company. Larcher de Brito is often left out of that conversation.

But the petite player from Portugal is right in that magic age group, and has a few more tour years under her belt than most of her peers. She could be an integral part of the bright future of the WTA. However, it remains to be seen if she can live up to her earlier potential on more than a one-off basis.

Larcher de Brito has now qualified for three straight tournaments, but she’s still only won two main-draw (WTA or Grand Slam) matches in all of 2013. They just happen to both be at Wimbledon. And one of them happened to be against Maria Sharapova.

It turns out that, so far, life after the upset looks a lot like life before the upset. Just, from the outside at least, slightly more disappointing.

Lindsay is an author, a filmmaker, a long-winded blogger, and a huge tennis fan.