NEW YORK, NY, USA - On Yale University’s quiet campus, Arina Rodionova was making herself heard a fortnight before the US Open was set to begin.
While most players were at the Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies aiming to prepare for the US Open, Rodionova, ranked just outside the Top 100, was consigned to the qualifying draw unless the Aussie made it through a Wildcard Play-off provided by Tennis Australia.
“It was a good couple of matches,” she told WTA Insider. “I played two girls who ended up playing qualies here, so obviously it wasn’t the easiest draw. I’m really glad that I got a win in the end.”
She paused, before adding, “I obviously proved that I didn’t take anyone’s spot here, because I won first round and I feel like I really belong.”
It’s taken a while for Rodionova to find her voice on the court. She played her first US Open back in 2008, where she took a medical timeout five games into an encounter with Kristina Barrois, and has dealt with injuries throughout her career - most recently a shoulder issue after last year’s French Open.
“If you’re not confident in your body, your game will be a bit more defensive I’m really happy that I’ve pretty much had an injury-free year, and I think that really helped me to build mentally and physically to the level where I want to be.
“I feel really good on the court, and I’m really enjoying competing. I think it’s an important part of being a tennis player, to really enjoy every time I step on the court. I’m really having lots of fun there. When you’re injured, it’s really tough to do that, because you have to play through pain, and I’ve done a lot of that in my career.”
Rodionova channeled some of that pain into her studies - working towards a Business Administration degree through a WTA partnership with Indiana University East - and a sardonic Twitter persona, with enough followers to earn her a seed at any social media Slam. When Margaret Court made comments about top doubles talent Casey Dellacqua, @arinarodionova was among the first to speak out.
“This whole situation is a little bit ridiculous,” she said after her win over Richel Hogenkamp, who has been equally outspoken on the issue. “The comment she made was really personal, an attack on Casey, and saying something about her kids. I found it really disturbing. Casey’s a good friend of mine and I know the way she is with her family. She’s one of the best parents out there, and it’s really not nice of Margaret Court to say what she said. I’m definitely not on her side in this issue.”
Backing up her talk on the tennis court, the 27-year-old qualified for her first Wimbledon main draw a month later. With part-time coach Cara Black at her side, she saved seven match points to upset Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for her first Grand Slam main draw win.
“I’ve had a good few months. After Wimbledon, I made a quarterfinal in Nanchang, and then today’s win, as well. I’m building confidence, tournament by tournament, and I’m playing bigger events, against the girls who are Top 50, Top 100. I can see that I can compete with them., and it’s not like I’m getting smashed by anyone. I think it will help me with the future tournaments, and for the end of this year, just to get a bit closer to, or make it into, the Top 100.”
It was in Nanchang where she next aimed her Twitter account at angry bettors, taking the unique approach of challenging them to come up with better insults.
“I feel like everyone reacts really differently to the messages we get every single match - even now, because when you win, sometimes you get completely negative things. Mostly, they’re wishing you should die from cancer. I know quite a few players in different sports who get really affected by that. I think it’s a big issue, and social media should probably do something about it.
“I’m happy to speak about it, and the more people will bring it to social media’s attention, hopefully there will be some stricter rules or some sort of punishment for that. The people sending abuse feel safe behind their computer screens, and I’m sure they’re either losing money, or they’re just evil people or angry people, who just feel like they can abuse others.
“I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think that anyone should be getting those sorts of messages, but receiving them sometimes just makes me laugh. It just makes me realize that my life is way more important than theirs is, that they spend the time actually writing those sorts of things. But unfortunately, not everyone reacts like that. I just want to give an input on how to explain, to the younger generation especially, that they really shouldn’t care of the opinion of people they don’t even know.”
Someone who knows her better than anyone is older sister and fellow WTA player, Anastasia. The duo are rarely apart on tour, and can be seen playing doubles - making the Australian Open quarterfinals last January - or supporting one another from the sidelines. But having such a strong bond does present one major drawback.
“We don’t play singles points against each other, because we know each other so well, it became a little bit of a joke. We know exactly what the other one’s going to do, and it makes points really uninteresting. We couldn’t really win them, because every time I’d try to hit a winner, she’s already standing there!”
Walking the walk towards a Top 100 ranking, Rodionova is already planning a yearly sojourn to Manhattan’s Russian Samovar, and might have even more reason to celebrate should she make it past a second round meeting with Maria Sakkari on Wednesday.
“I feel great, I think I’m moving well, and yeah, I feel like I’m sort of in my prime time at the moment.”