2018 was the year of the Belarusian in more ways than one.

You might've heard about Aryna Sabalenka blasting her way into the Top 20, or Aliaksandra Sasnovich's upset heard 'round the world at Wimbledon, but Vera Lapko had a breakout season of her own over the past 12 months.

The 20-year-old cut her ranking in half in 2018, as she began the season outside the world's Top 130, and ended it at World No.65 after reaching a career-best ranking of World No.60 in early October. 

In an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com, the Belarusian No.4 opens up on working hard, being a 'double' threat, and looking ahead to the first Grand Slam of 2019 - which holds special memories for her. 

1. She is the latest in a slew of former junior stars to find her feet in the professional ranks.

The girls' singles champion at the 2016 Australian Open, Lapko was also a two-time Grand Slam finalist in girls' doubles en route to ascending to the World No.1 junior ranking. 

Two years later, she now sits inside the Top 100 in both singles and doubles - a balancing act that has become rarer in the modern game amongst the elite.

Asked to assess her season, Lapko said: "I felt more comfortable from match to match on the WTA, so I was kind of getting smarter and more experienced on the court.

"[Coming from being World No.1 in juniors], I just started to push myself more and started to work harder, and I also started to think more on self-improvement in every aspect of my life."

Some highlights of the Belarusian's 2018 season included a semifinal appearance at the Samsung Open in Lugano, Switzerland where she came out of qualifying and lost to eventual champion Elise Mertens.

In addition, she had a strong end to her season by reaching the quarterfinals in three of her last four tournaments of the season in Guangzhou, Tashkent and Luxembourg. 

2. There is no secret to her success just the tried and true. 

After her breakout week in Lugano in April, she embarked on an 11-match winning streak on the ITF Circuit, claiming two titles along the way, en route to first cracking the Top 100 ahead of Roland Garros. 

At Wimbledon, she stretched eventual semifinalist Julia Goerges to three sets in the second round, while her best win in terms of ranking was over then-World No.28 Anett Kontaveit in the aforementioned Swiss city. 

"I think it is not a secret if I say that I have heavy shots, so I think power which I can create is one of my weapons. I still have a lot of things to improve...I'm trying to work harder from week to week and improve my skills on the court," Lapko said.

"There is really no particular thing I changed since I was No. 130 or No. 250. It might seem simple but it’s just like this. Just one thing is important – hard work."

3. Long before her rise, she almost traded clay and grass for snow and ice.

Well before she skyrocketed up the rankings in 2018 - or even before she became junior World No.1 in 2016 - Lapko could've been on her way to excelling in a different sport – in a very different climate. 

"Our family lived just a five-minute walk from the tennis courts," Lapko said. "My parents decided to bring my brother into that tennis club and he started to play tennis, but I started my sport career in figure skating – it was very popular in our country that time, so my mom wanted me to do it.

"But there was a problem for me to continue in figure skating after two years: I became too tall for this sport, so I had to finish doing it."

The rest, as they say, is history.

"While my brother was playing tennis, I was coming to the same club to just hit the ball against the wall. My parents saw that I was very excited about tennis and also decided that I need to start working in a group with a coach."

Lapko (far left) has been nominated for Fed Cup in each of the past three years. (Getty)

4. She's a 'double' threat on court.

After reaching the pinnacle of the junior rankings, Lapko had her first taste of success at WTA level in doubles.

As a teenager in 2016, she reached her first career WTA final alongside Olga Govortsova, and reached three more championship matches in 2018 alongside three different partners: Sabalenka (Lugano), Danka Kovinic (Guangzhou) and Mandy Minella (Luxembourg). 

"Doubles is a very good chance to find yourself on the court as a player if you have some troubles in singles," she said. "You can play more matches and also focus on a different kind of a game. You can practice a lot of things in your game playing doubles matches. 

"I was really trying hard to play good in doubles, because I wanted to compensate [for] my results in singles. It was pushing me to play better, but besides that, I like to play doubles, too."

5. And it was that expertise that helped her to a statement win in April.

Despite finishing runner-up in all three doubles finals she reached this year, Lapko's biggest win of the season came alongside Lidziya Marozava in the spring.

Belarus, which finished runner-up to the United States in the 2017 Fed Cup final, lost its opening match to Germany in February, and needed a win at home against Slovakia to remain in the World Group for 2019. 

With the tie level at 2-2, the duo defeated Slovakia's Anna Karolina Schmiedlova and Viktoria Kuzmova in straight sets to keep their nation amongst the elite in 2019. 

"It’s our first official match, but we have played countless times together in practice," Marozava told fedcup.com after the big win. "We know each other’s game from a lot of hours, sets, matches. We already had a base together and I think that helped. We just had to show that on the court today."

Lapko, though, had just one thought in mind.


"'Finally!' This thought hit me right after my winner on a match point against the Slovakian girls. It was 'Finally!' because I was already tired of sitting on the bench cheering up for my teammates," she revealed. 

"I wanted to step on the court and go away with a point for my team. And, fortunately, I did it."

Lapko is the youngest of four Belarusians currently in the Top 100: she is four months the junior of fellow 20-year-old Sabalenka, alongside 24-year-old Aliaksandra Sasnovich and two-time Grand Slam champion and 29-year-old Victoria Azarenka. 

"We usually find out how everything is going when we meet and have some spare time," Lapko said of the squad. "...When I was younger, of course, I was always excited when Victoria [Azarenka] was playing – I was amazed by her courage."

Like most milennials, Lapko documented a moment to remember with Azarenka on Instagram this spring, as the rising star and the former World No.1 had a practice session at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. 

6. Her 'home' base travels with her, too. 

Born in and residing in Minsk, Lapko largely trains out of the Palace of Tennis in the Belarusian capital, but also practices at the ProWorld Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, Florida when she's stateside. 

Despite having the opportunity to train in two places separated by an ocean, her coaching team has all the comforts of home. 

"My tennis coach is Vladimir Kruk, who used to work with Olga Govortsova," she said. "We’ve been working together already for more than three years and I think it will be even longer! I really like his vision of my game and admire him as a person.

"My fitness coach, Tatsiana Lavets, is also from Belarus. She is a very experienced physical training coach because she’s been working with a lot of top Belarusian hockey, soccer, handball, tennis and basketball players."

7. She's looking to take the next step just one day at a time.

With 2019 weeks away, the 20-year-old has not put a limit on what she wants to achieve next season.

Why?

"I don’t really pick any goals...because I’m that kind of person from whom you don’t even know what to expect!" she joked.

"My goal is just to play 100 percent in every match, every tournament and every practice, and we will see what happens - because my biggest wish is to play on the highest level."

That road for Lapko will begin in January, where she's set to make her Australian Open main draw debut after falling in the qualifying tournament in 2017 and 2018. 

She'll look to have a winning debut for the third straight Grand Slam, as she won her first round matches in her first Wimbledon and US Open main draws last year. 

"I really like Australia! I have very good memories from this place and I really love to come back there every year. I’m really looking forward playing main draw of the Australian Open next year and I hope I can succeed."

Vera Lapko won the girls' singles event in Melbourne in 2016. (Getty)

Quick Hits with Vera Lapko

What’s the most-used app on your phone? Safari, Google Maps and Instagram. (Give her a follow, @veralapko!)

Favorite thing to do in a rain delay? Talk to my coach to get more relaxed and listen to music. 

Who would you want to play you in a movie? Mila Kunis. She has Ukrainian roots, so she can speak Russian and understand my character better.

Which tournament is your favorite? Indian Wells.

Favorite city to visit for vacation? I haven’t been to many places, but let’s say Milano in Italy.

Dogs or cats? Both! I used to have only hamsters but for sure, I will have a British shorthair cat and a pug.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what career path would you want to have? I’d like to be a journalist or a contributing editor in a fashion or interior design magazine.