CONCORD — Bernarda Pera grew up in Croatia, and first took up a tennis racket because her older sister, Andrea, was falling in love with the game.
“I was five years old,” Pera recalled Friday, shortly after advancing to Saturday’s semifinal round in the Thoreau Tennis Open. “I wanted to do everything she was doing.”
More than 20 years later, the 5-foot-9-inch Pera, a power-hitting lefthander, is ranked No. 56 in the world and arrived here days ago after back-to-back tournament wins at the Hungarian Grand Prix and Hamburg European Open. She dismantled world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, 6-2, 6-4 for the win in Hamburg.
Here on the western edge of Henry David Thoreau’s hometown, Pera advanced to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-1 dismissal of Katie Volynets, a 20-year-old Californian. Pera, often cracking a blistering two-hand backhander, bolted to a 4-0 lead in the opening set in less than 15 minutes. The two shared breaks to open the second, then Pera ran the hardcourt table to bring home the win in a tidy 1:14.
“I’m really happy with how I’m playing right now,” said Pera, who came here directly from her win in Germany. “I feel really good on court, and hopefully I get to transfer this rhythm to the US Open later.”
Most of the women here look at the Thoreau Open as a tuneup for Flushing, and some, including Pera, will play in another tournament or two before New York. Pera is among those eyeing stops in Cincinnati and/or Cleveland before entering her sixth US Open, where she never has advanced further than her dalliance in the third round in 2019.
Since turning pro in 2014, Pera has played in all four Grand Slam events, for a total of 19 tournaments, and has yet to make it to the second week. Now 27, she feels she might be on the verge of reaching the Round of 16 on the game’s biggest stages.
“I just wasn’t playing good, I mean, I wasn’t playing as good as I can play,” said Pera, pondering why she has yet to break through in Slam events. “Now I feel like I’m playing my best tennis and now I feel like I can win matches at the Grand Slams.”
Pera wasn’t flawless in her win over Volynets, but she was strong and assured with her shots, often dotting the deep corners with that crackling backhander. The key to getting into the second week of a Slam, of course, is consistency, delivering winners as pressure rises and the competition becomes stiffer.
She will face Katrina Scott in the semis, while China’s Qiang Wang, who rubbed out No. 4 seed Magdalena Frech, 6-2, 6-4, in the day’s first quarterfinal, will oppose New York City-born Coco Vandeweghe. Ranked No. 192, Vandeweghe held off the No. 1 seed, Denmark’s Clara Tauson, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, in one of the afternoon’s pair of three-setters.
Pera, the No. 2 seed, faces a slightly taller Scott (6 feet), an 18-year-old Californian who had to go three sets to knock out Chicago’s Taylor Townsend, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, in the final semi.
The finals, for both singles and doubles, will be Sunday.
Pera tore her right quad muscle earlier this year, and was sidelined for most of March and April while it healed. While dormant her world ranking slipped, leading her to play more tournaments this summer to climb up the rankings.
Her two July wins in Europe were on clay, the surface she learned the game on as a kid, while chasing sister Andrea , who gave up the game in her 20s. Now married and mom to a little girl, Andrea still lives in Croatia and teaches tennis.
Bernarda, who moved with her mom and dad to New Jersey nearly 10 years ago to burnish her game, doesn’t phone home to her older sister for playing tips.
“Oh, no,” noted Pera. “It’s more the other way around now—-I’m the one giving her the tips.”
Pera for a few years now has dated Kristijan Krajina, a 6-foot-10-inch basketball center who is also from Croatia. A former St. Mary’s (Md.) University standout, Krajina played last season in Brussels, where Pera spent her brief offseason last November. According to Pera, Krajina has yet to determine where he’ll play the upcoming season … Moments before the second set began, a gust of wind launched the large umbrella, pole included, from Pera’s sideline spot and it flew into the grandstand bleacher seats. A few patrons dodged the flying umbrella and its long wooden pole.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.