Getting To Know... Varvara Lepchenko
Published May 15, 2012 02:20
Ten years ago Varvara Lepchenko made the 6,000 mile journey from Tashkent to Miami in search of the American Dream. While tennis fame and glory did not come overnight for the 25-year-old, a recent upturn in fortunes both on and off the court suggest that they may not be far off.
Last September Lepchenko was granted US citizenship, bringing an end to years of visa and passport headaches. And coinciding with this new dawn of hassle-free travel has been a series of rather impressive results, topped off by a quarterfinal run on Madrid's blue clay last week.
The Allentown native now sits at a career-high ranking of No.59 and after her heroics in the Spanish capital she had a quick chat with wtatennis.com to talk passports, piano and Paulo Coelho.
How did you first get into tennis?
VL: When I was seven my dad brought me to a tennis club five minutes away from our house in downtown Tashkent. At first I was just hitting against the wall every day and then I gradually started playing more and more.
Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
VL: My mom, Larisa, is an accountant and my dad, Peter, is an engineer. My mom is not so sporty and it was my dad, who used to play a few sports like tennis and kayaking when he was younger, that saw the tennis player in me.
Can you tell us about your coaching set up?
VL: When I'm training back in New York I actually have a few coaches working with me: Patrick McEnroe, Jorge Todero and Jay Gooding. I also have a fitness trainer whose name is Brad Waltz. Basically, when I'm back in the United States they are helping me out and coaching me there and when I'm on the road I'm pretty much on my own with just my dad.
How would you describe your playing style?
VL: I'd say I'm kind of an all rounder. If I have to defend, I can do that. And if I have to go on the offense then I can be very aggressive as well. So I'm not really a one-way player, but I tend to be slightly more on the aggressive side because I have a lot of power naturally and I try to use it in my matches!
Are there any specific areas of your game you're looking to work on?
VL: Definitely there are a lot of areas to improve. I want to improve my fitness, my tactics and variety of my game. I mean I'm always working on the basic shots of my game, but overall fitness would be the one thing I am really trying to concentrate on.
Who inspired your tennis as you were growing up?
VL: When I started out in Uzbekistan I was looking up to Iroda Tulyaganova and when I moved to the United States I was still young, I was 15, and Serena was dominating at that time and I was also looking up to her too.
Can you tell us about your early years playing in the US?
VL: I first came to the US to play the Sunshine Cup and at the time things were really tough back in Uzbekistan; there was no budget for tennis and monthly incomes were like $20 or $30 and in tennis you can't go far on that. So I came to the United States with my dad because there were a lot of opportunities to play professional tournaments. First I started out at $10,000 tournaments and it was really tough at the beginning but at the same time it was much more manageable than what I would have back home in Uzbekistan. And now I have my citizenship it's much easier as I can travel more freely and play whichever tournament I want. Now all I have to worry about is my tennis!
What is the highlight of your career so far?
VL: Probably the first victories I had against top players like Patty Schnyder and those who were a lot higher in ranking at the time than me. Those memories gave me the belief that I could be at the top as well and play at their level. Hopefully, though, there are some more good memories to come and I think the best will come at a Grand Slam. So when that happens you can call me back and ask that question again!
Who has been your toughest opponent?
VL: To be honest with you, all the players I have been playing in the Top 50 or Top 70 are pretty tough. Against them you can't just walk on the court and dominate. At that level, against every single player you have to put a lot into the match both mentally and physically to be able to pull through.
What's your favorite surface?
VL: I started out on clay and cement, but I've been doing pretty well on all surfaces since I first started playing in the big leagues last year. Obviously, here on clay in Madrid has been my best result, but I also had a good result on Doha, which was on hardcourts. Honestly, I like all the surfaces… as long as I play well! If I'm in good shape and in good form, it doesn't really matter what surface I'm on because it's not just one style I'm playing.
How far did you go in your education?
VL: I graduated from my high school back in Uzbekistan. My dad wasn't too strict about school but my mom actually really wanted me to go to college.
What do you like to do to relax away from the tennis court?
VL: Last week I was recovering from injury so I did a lot of sightseeing in Budapest and I really loved doing that. I also like reading books. The last one I read was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it in Russian and it's one of my favorites. I'm also playing the piano which I started a couple of years ago. I did about five or six lessons and then I was just copying songs from YouTube and learning to play some melodies. But I guess this isn't something I can do every week as you can't really bring it on the plane!
How about movies?
VL: That's another of my favorites, because when I'm watching them it's like leaving the world I live in. I've seen so many that it's difficult to pick the best, although the last one I saw was The Hunger Games which was actually pretty good.
If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
VL: Curious or adventurous.
If you could meet one person in the world, who would it be?
If you hadn't been a tennis player, what career path would you have chosen?
VL: Something in business. Business management or something like that because I manage a lot of things for myself!