As an elite doubles player for much of the last decade, Alla Kudryavtseva has fielded her share of familiar questions to do with the discipline, and with the tennis world still in quarantine, the former World No.15 is ready to answer them - with an interactive course set to debut this week.
"I love to study, and I haven’t stopped since elementary school," she explained over the phone following her announcement on Instagram. "I like the educational format, where you can read something, watch a lecture and then maybe a quiz at the end. I can’t say I’ll be talking about anything revolutionary. It’ll be a lot of textbook, what is supposed to happen in doubles, because right now there isn’t a textbook."
Kudryavtseva, who studied at Indiana University East and Harvard Business School through partnerships with the WTA, was a mere three tournaments into an unexpected return to tennis before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the Russian veteran back home to Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and 16-month-old son.
Looking to connect with fans who, like her, are off the court due to stay-at-home orders, the 32-year-old was inspired to launch "Tennis with Alla" by a conversation with a Boston realtor and doubles enthusiast.
"She recognized me from the tour and started asking all kinds of questions, like, ‘What do you talk about with your partner during matches, in between points?’ Almost everyone has asked me questions like this: what the hand signals we make mean, how we decide who serves first, or when do we switch sides during a point.
"We were both missing tennis, but had so much fun having this kind of conversation at a time like this. A couple of days later, I figured there are probably other people who miss tennis just as much, who probably can’t play right now and have the same questions.
"In social settings, people especially want to know how doubles teams come together: why did you pick her, and not her? I’ve had people ask me why I wasn’t playing with Martina Hingis, and I had to say, ‘I don’t know, I’m pretty sure Martina has other options!’ Still, they’re great questions, and I felt there was enough to share through this kind of platform."
Kudryavtseva plans to debut the course on LearnWorlds and cross-promote the content on Instagram, breaking it into multiple modules that explain the benefits of playing doubles, helpful strategies, and drills to improve at the discipline.
"If most of my viewers are club players, I'll tailor the classes to focus on their needs. If they’re more juniors, aspiring professionals, I can go in another direction and talk about things like periodization and tournament scheduling. It would just be nice to get to know my audience, beyond their screen names.
"My goal would be to branch out into group discussions through live chats. Right now, you see a lot of girls doing Instagram Q&As, and hundreds of fans can send questions, comments, and little hearts. I’m more interested in having smaller groups of, say, 10 people, and we convene via Zoom to exchange opinions, ask questions. Hopefully those could lead to interesting discussions.
"I know I’m not Sharapova. I can’t have a Zoom meeting with however many people were on with her because that’s just an exceptional, inspiring reach. I don’t see myself with the same reach but at the same time, I want to connect to fans, and nobody’s going to want to see me do burpees or bake a cake; I’d lose all my followers! I had to come up with something different."
Making the pivot from player to teacher, however natural, was certainly different from how the four-time Grand Slam doubles quarterfinalist and 2014 WTA Finals semifinalist thought she'd be spending her spring. Initially eager to enjoy a new chapter with her family, Kudryavtseva parlayed a fitness journey into a comeback that began last fall, and in earnest back in February when she won a match at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy with fellow Volvo Car Open champion Katarina Srebotnik.
"I was honestly pretty happy not playing tennis until I started having trouble losing weight after having a baby. I started working out and training, and I thought about how I’m struggling through it and waking up sore. It wasn’t enough motivation for me to work that hard just to look good, because I love myself the way I am and my husband does too. I added tennis back into my fitness regimen and when one of my friends trained with me, she couldn’t believe how well I could still hit the ball after not touching a racquet for a year. I visited a tournament and saw all the girls again, and watching it made me wish I was back on the court again. Before I knew it, I was making a comeback."
A winner of nine WTA doubles titles with four different partners, Kudryavtseva took narrow losses to talented teams in the Middle East - including one to Sania Mirza, who is also coming back from maternity leave - and has only found herself more motivated to return since the tour took its pause.
"I wrote a paper about athletic retirement as my capstone for IU East, and one of the chapters was about voluntary retirement vs forced retirement. It made sense to me at the time but I wondered if people were truly that affected by the latter. Now that I’m stuck in the house, unable to play tournaments, and suddenly the calendar isn’t looking how I wanted it to, I’m really frustrated. I want to play the tournaments I wanted to play with the partners I wanted to play with, just to see how things go. If they don’t go very well, I could be done. When I had the opportunity, I wasn’t this sure, but now that this happened, I want to be back more than ever.
"Once again, my faith in academics has been supported!"
In the meantime, Kudryavtseva aims to see the course evolve, include more on-court content as social distancing restrictions lift, and feature insight from her extended doubles family.
"I’ve gotten a lot of responses and new Instagram followers after announcing the course. It’s been a lot of encouraging messages and, surprisingly, none of the hate! A lot of younger WTA players have told me they’re looking forward to learning new tactics and I’ve had to tell them, ‘It’s not directed towards you! We might end up playing one another in the future!’"
The course will be free to all viewers, a nod to potential economic concerns presently endured by fans and athletes alike - something about which Kudryavtseva is especially passionate.
"There have been a couple of stories in newspapers, articles about the financial struggles of athletes amidst COVID-19, and I've seen many angry responses from people, asking why we should be worried about athletes. I can’t not talk about this, because of course, there are millionaire athletes who are probably continuing to train like normal. There are also athletes in New York or Massachusetts, where all the parks are closed. Even if I didn’t have a baby, I couldn’t go out and play tennis right now; there isn’t a single open park right now, and there are police making sure people aren’t gathering.
"Everyone is in different circumstances, and to lump us all together and suggest there aren’t any struggling professional athletes is absurd. Professionals ranked outside the Top 200 are struggling right now; they need that weekly income that they used to get. A lot of the countries affected by COVID-19 aren’t getting the government support that they need. I know people are struggling out there, and so I’m really grateful for the WTA, ATP, and ITF for working on the Player Relief Fund. I won’t get anything from it, personally, but there are others who really need it, and I’m super excited for the WTA to be a part of it."