Vera Zvonareva enjoying life and tennis as she books spot in first Grand Slam in more than three years

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After a three-and-a-half year absence from Grand Slam main draws, Vera Zvonareva is back competing in a major, having secured qualification for Wimbledon.

The former world No. 2, who made the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open back in 2010, saw her career derailed multiple times by injuries, but last season, started playing tennis again following a two-year hiatus, returning to the tour after having her first child, Evelyn.

Currently ranked 141 in the world, Zvonareva posted three impressive victories in Wimbledon qualifying this week to book herself a spot in her first Grand Slam main draw since the 2015 Australian Open.

The cerebral Russian, who has three different college degrees, will take on fellow Wimbledon runner-up Angelique Kerber in the opening round at the All England Club on Tuesday.


Sport360, along with tennis writer Tumaini Carayol, sat down with Zvonareva on the sidelines of the qualifying action in Roehampton this week to find out more about the 33-year-old’s return to the game.








Does the competition feel differently now compared to in the past when you were making Grand Slam finals and ranked in the top-10?


I think the women’s game is at a very high level right now, and I think all girls, not only top-100 girls, but 200, 300, 400 girls, they are playing really good tennis and they’re really taking care of their bodies, they want to be strong, they work out a lot, not only playing tennis but overall they are much better athletes nowadays. It’s very competitive out there. If someone can play their best tennis, even ranked 300 in the world they can still beat a top-20 or top-30 player out there. That makes a great competition.


Are you doing anything differently now to be able to compete at this higher level?


I wouldn’t say that I’m doing much different but I feel that I need to work much harder physically. I was injured a lot in the beginning of the year but I just felt like maybe I wasn’t physically as fit as before but also all other girls are much stronger now. So I felt like I needed to put in the hours in the gym, and I needed to get myself stronger and ready between the tournaments then of course during the tournaments you have to take it easy a little bit so you can feel fresh on the court but as soon as the tournament finishes you have to go back to the gym, that’s how it works nowadays.


What did you tell yourself before you decided to come back to tennis?


Really nothing. I wasn’t really planning on coming back to tennis but it just happened. I love the game, I started playing for myself a couple of exhibition matches and that’s how I got into it. I think my family really helped me, they said ‘Look you like to play tennis, why don’t you try to play a little bit and see how it goes? If you still want to do it a little bit, you can give it a shot’, and that’s what I did.


I realised I still love the game and I still want to be out there, compete, and eventually if I can make it up back to the big stages, that’s great, that’s awesome, being able to play on big courts against great players that’s what we are all looking for, it’s kind of a reward for the hard work.


But if I am not able to climb back up the rankings or not being able to make it to the big stages, it’s not a big deal for me. I was there, I know how it was, I had so many great emotions and experiences out there, so right now I’m just trying to enjoy every day, and trying to enjoy every match I can play.


Is it tougher finding motivation in qualifying events and the smaller tournaments?


For me I’m not really paying attention to that because I’m playing more for the love of the game. More to enjoy the moment of fighting, not because you’re winning or losing easily, but actually enjoy the fight itself, enjoy the challenges. So you always have to push yourself to be braver on the court, to go for your shots, or maybe to think a little bit more, change your tactics if something isn’t working, so that’s what I like.







You’re back playing as a mother, and someone who has recovered from so many injuries, what kind of message do you think your return sends?


I’m not sure what kind of message it sends but I think it’s that if you’re able to stay fit and take care of your body and compete, it doesn’t matter how old you are. Before, girls thought ‘Okay, if I have a baby, then I’ve got to stop playing’, but I think it’s a message out there that you can still have a family, and go back and get back in shape and compete out there and I think it’s very important.


You can see a lot of guys on the tour who have families but they continue their career and guys always played a little longer than girls before. But girls would stop earlier because they wanted to have a family but I think it’s important that even if they have a baby at a younger age, let’s say 25, they can still have even a 10-year tennis career afterwards, if they’re able to get back in shape.


You say you’re enjoying every day on tour now, was it easy to enjoy it when you were younger?


I guess we all do, but in that moment, when we’re a little bit younger, we have so much pressure and when you come up and everyone expects you to do well because you did well at one or two Grand Slams and everyone is watching you, sometimes you can’t enjoy that moment because you feel so much pressure.


You feel pressure that you have to practice every day and you have to beat everyone who is at least lower-ranked than you, all this. When you are younger it’s very difficult to find that joy and I think that’s the same for everybody. It’s only with experience and maybe – if you look at [Roger] Federer at his achievements, I’m sure he can enjoy the game much more than he could before he had any Grand Slams or anything. Now, it doesn’t really matter for him. If he loses, it’s not a big deal, he goes out there and tries to play the best he can, and if it works, great, if not, it’s not.


When you’re younger and everyone keeps asking you ‘Okay when are you going to break into the top-10? When are you going to make a Grand Slam final? When are you going win a tournament?’ That makes it a little bit more difficult.


You have many different degrees, why did you choose to study all these different things?


I always felt that you still need an education even though you’re a professional athlete, but you still want to educate yourself to make yourself better on the court but also off the court and I liked it. I have a few degrees but we’ll see. It’s a different life, a difficult challenge for me. I don’t know if I’ll stay in tennis after my tennis career or I’ll change, it’s kind of an open question for me.



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Mixed fortunes for Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and other takeaways from Wimbledon draw

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LONDON — The Wimbledon draw was revealed on Friday at the All England Club, featuring an unseeded Andy Murray, a 25th-seeded Serena Williams, and a slew of urgent topics to deliberate.

Roger Federer is the defending champion and No. 1 seed – even though he is ranked No. 2 in the world – while recently-crowned French Open champion Simona Halep headlines the women’s field.

Murray told reporters after practicing on Court 14 at Wimbledon on Friday that he is “likely” to play the tournament but will make a final decision on Tuesday ahead of his first round against Frenchman Benoit Paire.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Nadal is the No. 2 seed and was seen practicing with France’s Nicolas Mahut on-site on Friday.

Here are the main takeaways from an intriguing Wimbledon draw…

MIXED FORTUNES FOR SERENA AND MARIA

Seeded 24 and 25 respectively, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were handed different kinds of draws for this upcoming fortnight. Playing for the first time since winning a seventh title here in 2016, Serena was given a seed by the AELTC’s seeding committee and as No. 25, was always going to have a top-eight seed in her path in the third round.

The draw revealed fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina as Serena’s potential third-round opponent, which is one of the better options for the American.

Serena opens against Dutch world No. 107 Arantxa Rus then gets either Viktoriya Tomova or Tereza Smitkova in the second round. Madison Keys or grass-court specialist Magdalena Rybarikova possibly await Serena in the fourth round, while second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki is a projected quarter-final rival.

The 23-time Grand Slam winner managed to avoid the likes of grass-court favourites Petra Kvitova and defending champion Garbine Muguruza, who are both on the other side of the draw.

Sharapova on the other hand has landed in a loaded top quarter of the draw that could see her play 12-seeded Jelena Ostapenko in the third round, eighth-seeded Kvitova in the fourth and top-seeded Halep in the quarter-finals. Not to mention feisty Greek Maria Sakkari could stop her in the second round.

Sharapova is appearing at Wimbledon for the first time since 2015, having missed the 2016 edition due to a doping suspension and skipped last year with an injury that forced her out of qualifying.

TOUGH FOR UNSEEDED SLAM CHAMPS

Two three-time Grand Slam winners were handed unkind draws as Murray faces tricky Paire in round one before a possible second round against an in-form Jeremy Chardy, or rising Canadian Denis Shapovalov. Stan Wawrinka has a brutal opener against former semi-finalist and No. 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov.

SMOOTH PATHS FOR FEDERER AND NADAL

Top two seeds Federer and Nadal can both be pleased with their draws. Federer’s first real obstacle can come in the fourth round against No. 16 seed Borna Coric, who beat the Swiss in the Halle final last Sunday. Nadal avoided most of the big-serving players who could blow him off the court and seems to have a clear path to the quarter-finals, where fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro possibly awaits.

If Nadal wants to revive his former Wimbledon glory and add to the two titles he won in 2008 and 2010, this draw can only help his cause.

MUST-SEE FIRST ROUNDS

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) v Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x6)
Gael Monfils (FRA) v Richard Gasquet (FRA x23)
Andy Murray (GBR) v Benoit Paire (FRA)
Caroline Garcia (FRA x6) v Belinda Bencic (SUI)
Angelique Kerber (GER x11) v Vera Zvonareva (RUS)
Barbora Strycova (CZE x23) v Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
Sloane Stephens (USA x4) v Donna Vekic (CRO)
Madison Keys (USA x10) v Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)

DOMI DRAMA AVOIDED

Bumped out of the seeding spots due to Serena getting elevated to No. 25 in the list, Dominika Cibulkova was under the threat of facing a seed in her opening round. That would have caused a stir considering the Slovak had already aired her grievances, saying it was unfair her seeding spot was taken away from her.

Cibulkova ended up getting unseeded Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in the first round and could play either No. 22 seed Johanna Konta in round two or Natalia Nikhlyantseva. No. 15 seed Elise Mertens is her projected third-round opponent.

LUCKY LOSERS

Eight lucky losers made it into the Roland Garros men’s draw last month and the trend continues as five have already entered the Wimbledon men’s tournament.

Lorenzo Sonego, Michael Mmoh, Hubert Hurkacz, Bernard Tomic, and serial lucky loser Peter Polansky all made it in as lucky losers thanks to the withdrawals of Roberto Bautista Agut, Chung Hyeon, Viktor Troicki, Andrey Rublev and Pablo Andujar. Will we hit a record number of lucky losers this tournament?

Two more beneficiaries from these withdrawals are Leonardo Mayer and Stefanos Tsitsipas who both got seeding spots instead of Bautista Agut and Chung.

GOOD DRAW FOR THE ARABS

Tunisia Ons Jabeur, who was given a wildcard into the Wimbledon draw after winning the $100k Manchester title on grass earlier this month got Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic in the first round. The good news for Jabeur is that she has beaten Golubic twice in the last three weeks, in Manchester en route to the title and in Ilkley on her way to the quarters.

Her compatriot Malek Jaziri drew American Jared Donaldson in the first round. They are 1-1 head-to-head and the winner goes to play Tsitspas or qualifier Gregoire Barrere.

THE STACKED THIRD QUARTER

Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, Kei Nishikori and Kyle Edmund all landed in the same quarter of the draw. Throw in the mix the likes of Fernando Verdasco and Damir Dzumhur and we’ve got a real bloodbath on our hands.

MEN’S PROJECTED QUARTER-FINALS BY SEED

Roger Federer (SUI x1) v Kevin Anderson (RSA x8)
Marin Cilic (CRO x3) v Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x6)
Alexander Zverev (GER x4) v Dominic Thiem (AUT x7)
Rafael Nadal (ESP x2) v Juan Martin del Potro (ARG x5)

WOMEN’S PROJECTED QUARTER-FINALS BY SEED

Simona Halep (ROU x1) v Petra Kvitova (CZE x8)
Garbine Muguruza (ESP x3) v Caroline Garcia (FRA x6)
Sloane Stephens (USA x4) v Karolina Pliskova (CZE x7)
Elina Svitolina (UKR x5) v Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x2)

30 06 TENNIS NEW - WOMEN

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Unseeded Andy Murray handed tricky Wimbledon draw

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LONDON — Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray was handed a tough draw at the Championships as the returning Brit opens his campaign against tricky Frenchman Benoit Paire.

Paire, who recently forced Roger Federer to save two match points in their Halle second round, is a former world No. 18 currently ranked 48 in the world.

Murray, who came back to competition at Queens last week after nearly a one-year injury-enforced absence, is ranked 156 in the world and has won just one of three matches contested since he has returned (lost his opener to Nick Kyrgios in Queens, beat Stan Wawrinka then lost to Kyle Edmund in Eastbourne).

The ex-world No. 1, who reached the quarter-finals here last year before getting sidelined with a hip injury that required surgery, is yet to confirm his participation at Wimbledon but if he does play, he’ll have a difficult path to navigate.

Murray is 2-0 against Paire head-to-head, which includes a victory over the Frenchman in the Wimbledon fourth round last year.

If Murray gets past Paire, he could face either No. 26 seed Denis Shapovalov or in-form Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who has won 12 out of 14 grass-court matches in the past three weeks, winning the Surbiton Challenger, making the finals at s-Hertogenbosch and reaching the semi-finals at Queens.

Possible awaiting in the third round for Murray are the likes of No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro, or grass-court wizard Feliciano Lopez.

No. 10 seed David Goffin could be a fourth round opponent for Murray, while world No. 1 Rafael Nadal is a possible quarter-final rival.

Fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev, seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem, 12th-seeded Novak Djokovic and 15th-seeded Nick Kyrgios are all possible semi-final opponents.

Meanwhile, Roger Federer’s possible route to a record-extending ninth Wimbledon crown looks smooth as he opens against Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic. The first seed the Swiss could face is No. 32 seed Leonardo Mayer of Argentina. A real test could come in the fourth round in the form of No. 16 seed Borna Coric, who defeated Federer in the Halle final last Sunday.

Eighth-seeded Kevin Anderson could take on Federer in the quarter-finals, while a rematch of last year’s final against Marin Cilic could this time take place in the semis.

Sixth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov is in the same half as Federer and he opens against three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, who is unseeded after missing several months on tour with a knee injury that required two surgeries last August.

Nadal, seeded No. 2, opens against Dudi Sela and shares a quarter of the draw with Del Potro.

Djokovic faces American Tennys Sandgren in the first round and could face No. 21 seed Edmund in the third round. Edmund defeated the Serb in Madrid last month. Djokovic could play Thiem in the fourth round, while Kyrgios or Zverev could await in the quarter-finals.

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