WTA Insider David Kane | Former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva discussed some of her big changes in the last few months, with an eye on a possible return to tennis.
WTA Staff

The 2016 US Open draw features seven former finalists, including Svetlana Kuznetsova, the first Russian to take home the trophy in Flushing. Kuznetsova's countrywoman and fellow former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva reached the final back in 2010; absent from the Open since 2012, Zvonareva will be part of the action for the first time in four years, if only from a distance.

"I'll be commentating for Eurosport Russia for a few matches," she told WTA Insider by phone on Wednesday. "It'll be a huge opportunity for me. I like to watch tennis and different matches, so it will be exciting.

"I don't know if I'll be good at it or not, but it'll be something good to try. I've only ever been in the radio booth, but not on TV. It'll be a new experience for me, but I'm ready for the challenge."

The gig comes as just the latest in a series of fun and exciting challenges for the Beijing Bronze medalist, who announced her marriage and newborn daughter Evelyn (Evelina in Russian) in a lengthy post on Instagram.

"I've had so many injuries over the last few years. I tried to come back a couple of times, first after my shoulder surgery, and then I had an Achilles injury. I needed to take a break and my physio told me I'd need six months to get back on court again.

"During that period of time, I thought maybe it'd be great to have a family, because I couldn't do what I love to do; I couldn't do any sports. It happened really fast, and then I became a mom this summer.

"It's all different, being away from tennis and being a mom, but it's great as well."

Vera Zvonareva

Zvonareva's injury struggles began not long after she and Kuznetsova won the women's doubles title at the 2012 Australian Open. Two truncated comeback attempts - the most recent ending last spring - sent her back towards more pursuable passions like academics and athletics, the latter of which she shares with husband Alexander.

"I met my husband about four or five years ago; we met during a run. I love running, and I had been taking part in different competitions in Moscow, but for fun, not professionally, just different five or 10K runs. I was doing those and he loves running as well, so that's how we met.

"He came with me to a couple of tournaments, but then I couldn't continue. He would love to see me play more because he loves tennis and to watch me play, but I got injured."

She discovered she was expecting while studying for her Master's degree in Political Science, applying her typically studious approach to the news as her due date drew nearer.

"During the pregnancy, I tried to juggle studying and being pregnant. I took birthing courses for four months, because I'd never had sisters or brothers; my family was quite small. For me, it's something new, so my husband and I took the courses together.

"My close friends knew, of course, but I never made it public because I prefer to keep my personal life to myself."

Vera Zvonareva, Kim Clijsters

Following fellow WTA stars Ana Ivanovic, Dominika Cibulkova, and Tsvetana Pironkova down the aisle, Zvonareva is able to rely on a network of compatriots who've began families before her.

"I heard Victoria's news, and of course it's great to hear she's expecting. I've been in touch with some friends from the tour, especially the Russian girls and former players like Elena Dementieva, Alina Jidkova, Tatiana Panova. They all have babies by now and it's great. We have a big community of tennis moms!"

Whether she can emulate rival and former No.1 Kim Clijsters, who won three major titles after starting a family of her own, depends on how her body responds to its return to the gym.

"I'm going to start trying to get back into shape because sport is part of my life and I want to get back in shape. I don't know if I'll be back on the tour or not; it's tough to say at the moment, but for myself, I want to back into the shape I was in before and play tennis again - even if it's just for fun.

"I want to start going to the gym three times a week, and I'll probably start in about a week. Hopefully by October, I can start running a little bit. My first goal will be to participate in some of those five or 10K runs, because I like those a lot. From there, we'll see, but definitely being an athlete for all of my life, I want to get back in athletic shape. I don't know if I'll ever come back to tennis, but I want to be in a good shape, no matter what!"

No matter what, Zvonareva has already had a career to remember, reaching a pair of Grand Slam singles finals in 2010 and winning four majors in women's and mixed doubles. But her greatest memory remains rounding out an all-Russian podium at the 2008 Summer Games.

"For all the girls in Russia, the Olympics gives a lot of motivation. When I was younger, I watched Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Elena Dementieva when they were playing in Sydney. Yevgeny got the gold medal and Elena got the silver; it inspired all of us to continue doing what we like and to continue dreaming. It was an exciting moment for Russian tennis.

"We saw how many Russians came on tour afterwards; there was a time when we had five players inside the Top 10. It was great."

2008 Olympic Tennis Podium

Watching a new wave of Russians rise in her absence, she has high hopes for another strong showing at the Summer Games, especially after 2016's gold medal in women's doubles, won by Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

"I think Russian tennis has a great future. We have names like Daria Kasatkina and Margarita Gasparyan; they're already inside the Top 100, and Daria's been doing really well this year. I never played against her - because she was still a junior when I was playing! - but I've seen a couple of matches on TV, and I think she's been doing great.

"There are also junior girls winning Wimbledon like Anastasia Potapova, so maybe we'll yet have another Golden Era of Russian tennis.

"I'll be happy to see a new generation of Russian players on tour, and I'll be happy to see if they can produce the same results and maybe win gold, silver, or bronze medals in tennis as well."

She'll continue to enjoy the game from afar for now, and though Zvonareva admitted that little could compare with the emotions of being on court herself, the memories will always remain close to her heart - however this next chapter ends.

"I got the chance to travel around the world, and meet different people and athletes the world over. It's not easy being a professional athlete, but tennis taught me a lot and gave me a lot. It taught me discipline, how to fight, and all different things that help me in life.

"I miss the feeling of being on the Centre Courts and the big crowds. That's something that's very difficult to get in life, those feelings of when you walk onto a big court at a Grand Slam to play a big match, get through tough challenges to win in the end. That's a feeling I miss a lot, but they will always be inside me. I can always remember them, and they make me smile, and proud of my career."

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.