An Audience With Our Teen Queen
Published July 28, 2010 12:00
ISTANBUL, Turkey - When Caroline Wozniacki celebrated her 20th birthday earlier this month, the mantle of highest-ranked teenager on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour was passed to one of her rivals since the junior days, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Twelve months younger than Wozniacki, the 19-year-old Russian won three junior Slams in singles and four in doubles, and was ITF World Junior Champion in 2006. Since graduating to the Tour, she has climbed as high as No.25 in the world, scored wins over the likes of Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic and been a semifinalist at Indian Wells. Earlier this year she broke through for her first Tour title, at the Monterrey Open in Mexico.
We caught up with Anastasia during this week's Istanbul Cup, where she is the No.3 seed on a current ranking of No.29.
Anastasia, how does it feel to be the top tennis-playing teen in the world?
AP: It feels good, though I try not to focus on it too much. I started to participate on the WTA Tour when I was quite young - I was one of the youngest in the Top 100 and then Top 50 and Top 30. So it's not a new feeling for me, being young, but of course it's always been good to know I'm one of the best teenagers. It pushes me and gives me confidence to be even better. Yeah, it's quite good motivation.
You've made a successful transition from the juniors to the pro ranks, but for many things don't go so well. What's the trick?
AP: I was the best in juniors, and then everyone expected me to be the best in the pros quite quickly. Which I did also expect. But sometimes now I feel juniors doesn't really matter so much - the real tennis starts after you stop playing those events. That said, most of time if you are good in the juniors you are good in the pros. But it's a pretty tough step mentally, even for me. You just have to try to handle it and pass it. I think there are several reasons why it's hard. When I moved to the pros, I didn't have good results straightaway - I lost early at lots of tournaments. I was accustomed to winning and you have to get used to the fact that it's not the same. Maybe some players don't handle this pressure so well, and break mentally.
What's it like having your brother Aleksandr as coach?
AP: It's mostly fun, but on the other side it's tough because he always tells me the truth as he thinks it! He criticizes a lot, and sometimes it's tough to accept this! But I have to. On the court, we try to be as a coach and a player. It's also cool off the court, because we can talk about tennis, but he's also a brother to me and we spend a lot of time together. And of course it's always good to have someone from your family around you. He supports me a lot, he believes in me and he tries to help out all the time. So it's only positive.
Are you working on any particular aspects of your game at the moment?
AP: We try to work a bit on everything, to improve in every way. Things to work on include my consistency and serve.
If you could steal a shot from another player, what would it be?
AP: I would say the serve of Serena Williams.
What are your goals for your last year as a teen titan?
AP: I always say I would like to finish at least Top 20, but I said that last year and I'm not yet, so we'll see. Of course I would say I'd like to be Top 10 by the end of the year but I try to be realistic. I will try my best to get as high as I can. To get to the Tournament of Champions in Bali or the season-ending Championships would be great.
You've got a real shot at making Bali because you won your first title at Monterrey earlier this year - what was that experience like?
AP: It was great, awesome. Ever since I've been on the Tour I've really wanted to win a title. I've had my chances over the last couple of years, reaching the quarters, semis… but I just couldn't do it. This time I just relaxed and focused on every match. I tried to play my good game and show good tennis. I beat Daniela Hantuchova in the final …two years ago she beat me in the first round at Wimbledon in something like 40 minutes, and I only won one game. So it shows I've come a long way since then.
Do you know what career path you'd have followed if you weren't playing tennis?
AP: Seriously, I've never thought about it. I started playing tennis when I was six, I always had good results in juniors and I never reached a point where I thought I might quit tennis or that I should do something different. No. My favorite subjects at school were Russian language and biology. But I like fashion and designer stuff, things like this - so you never know.
Is it hard to strike a balance, being a top pro at such an early age?
AP: Tennis is important, yes, but I always say I will have it for some years and then I will have a life to live. I don't want to be so crazy about it - you know what I mean? Of course I try my best, I work hard and I want to get good results. But other things are important also. For the moment, I'm quite young and I still have to learn a lot in life and in tennis. So I just enjoy both. Of course family is important, friends also, and I like to have fun off court as well. But tennis is my priority for the moment.
How do you think your friends would describe you?
AP: You probably better ask some other people! Well, people say I'm funny. I think I get along with most people. I smile a lot and am quite happy most of the time. Everyone calls me Princess, also! I'm quite a girly princess. Still, when it comes to tennis and working out, then I'm different.
How do describe your personal fashion style?
AP: It depends on my mood. I like to wear dresses and high heels when I go out, for example when it's a player party or something like that. I like to wear jewelry, girly stuff. But sometimes if I'm just going out to dinner I'll wear jeans with holes and Converse shoes, a cap, for example… dress like a boy.
Who has been your toughest opponent to date?
AP: The first who comes to mind is Caroline, because I beat her once in the juniors (in the final at the 2006 Australian Open) but I've lost to her four times on the Tour.
Is winning that title your most cherished achievement?
AP: Winning Monterrey, and also reaching the Indian Wells semis last year are definitely two of my biggest achievements so far. Especially Indian Wells… I was 17 and it was my first time there. My game was good and I really beat some good players… it wasn't like they lost. It felt great, but also so natural to me. After each match I was normal. I wasn't like, wow, I'm playing quarters, I'm playing semis. No. I just tried to focus on every match, because every time I focus on the results and scores it bothers my game.
What qualities do you admire in others?
AP: I don't like it when people complain and are rude. I like to see respect. I especially don't like it when people are rude to others who are trying to help them. I like it when people have a sense of humor and smile and laugh. I respect those things.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one luxury item with you, what would it be?
AP: The first thing that comes to my mind is my mobile phone.
What's the silliest or naughtiest thing you've done?
AP: Oh, I'm sure there are a few… Silly? Sometimes I sing silly songs in front of everybody and I don't care. Naughty…Once when we were in Australia my brother and I really scared our mom. We'd been in Traralgon, which is quite far from Melbourne. We had been told there are a lot of poisonous spiders and as it happens we played some games at a fun fair and my brother and I won a huge hairy spider, a toy. So at the hotel that night my brother distracted my mom while I put the spider under the blanket on her bed. It was quite dark and when she pulled back the blanket she thought it was a real spider. She fell off the bed and almost broke her leg. I felt so bad afterwards. We were laughing, we thought it was funny in the beginning, but it could have ended quite badly.
Do you have a favorite city?
AP: It changes from time to time depending on my experiences and the people around me. Maybe Paris, because I used to live there when I trained at the Mouratoglou Academy for a couple of years. After Wimbledon I went there for one day on my way back to Russia. I enjoy being there.
Were you able to take a break after Wimbledon?
AP: Yes, after the stopover in Paris I spent a couple of weeks in Russia. For one week I played club championships for the Moscow region. These people helped me a lot with my study arrangements so I had to give something back. I got to go to St Petersburg, played some pretty good matches, and experienced the White Nights - when it doesn't get dark at all during the night. That's really something you have to see. Then I went back to Moscow in time for the World Cup final. I also celebrated my 19th birthday during this time, so I was able to celebrate with my family and friends.
Moscow being your home town, if you had a day to show someone new to the city around, where would you take them?
AP: It depends on what the person likes to do, their wishes and desires. For sure we would go to the Red Square, that's a typical thing to see. Basically you can do anything in Moscow. The shops are great and there is every type of cuisine. I like sushi and as I said I like to sing, so maybe I'd drag them along to a karaoke bar!
What would your dream day off look like?
AP: For certain I would watch a movie, do some shopping, and make sure I was with lots of friends. I'd finish the day somewhere like a nice café lounge, just talking, enjoying some nice food and drinks. Maybe some karaoke and dancing!
What do you like most about life on the Tour?
AP: We travel around the world and have the chance to see nice cities and meet new people. We always get treated well. Speaking for me, I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I like to travel and I like to play tennis, so it's the perfect job.
To keep track of Anastasia visit her excellent official website, where she posts regular diary entries: www.anastasiapavlyuchenkova.ru