There was a moment Friday in Nur-Sultan when the celebration for the retiring Yaroslava Shvedova turned to wonder.
The moving ceremony, which was held before the semifinals of the inaugural WTA 250 Astana Open in Kazakhstan, featured personal tributes and highlights from a 15-year career that began in 2006.
It was a video of Shvedova hitting tennis balls against a wall when she was a young girl that made her realize how fortunate she has been to be able to enjoy success around the world.
“It was an old one my parents found when I was hitting against the wall and I was trying to understand what was in my mind at the moment,” she said.
“I was transferring that to now and thinking how huge my tennis career and my life has been in between.”
Shvedova, who played her final tournament at the US Open last month, felt composed when she arrived for the ceremony.
But the composure soon evaporated when she realized the respect her family and friends, her peers on the court and others including the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation held for her career.
“It was an unbelievable ceremony,” she said.
“Before I stepped in, everyone was asking, ‘Are you nervous?’ I was saying, ‘No. I am super relaxed and super happy.’
“But as soon as I stepped in, I started having tears, seeing people around and understanding that they all came to support me and enjoy my moments from the past.
Shvedova will not be lost to tennis as she has been appointed the captain of Kazakhstan’s Billie Jean King Cup team. Nor is the mother of twins Mirka and Stan lamenting the end of her playing days.
A career that spanned the length that Shvedova toured for will always have its share of highs and lows. But despite some significant injuries, she enjoyed plenty of joy on the court.
Shvedova reached three Grand Slam quarterfinals in singles, with two at Roland Garros in 2010 and 2012 and the other at Wimbledon in 2016.
She is a two-time major champion in doubles (Wimbledon and in the US Open in 2010), and she was also a finalist in mixed doubles (Roland Garros in 2010).
Her success in the Wimbledon doubles event in 2010 alongside Vania King is her most treasured moment on court.
A week before the tournament, her bags were stolen, which meant the former World No.25 played the tournament with two racquets bought from a pro shop.
Shvedova recalled that a trophy ceremony for her triumph in a WTA tournament in Bangalore in 2007 had to be delayed for several minutes as she cried tears of joy. But she said nothing compares to the thrill at Wimbledon.
“A couple of weeks after [Wimbledon], we were still pinching ourselves,” she said. “We were saying, ‘Do you understand that we won Wimbledon?’
“We could not believe, in our heads, that we had won Wimbledon, because since you are a child, it is so far and unreachable. Then, when you reach it, you cannot understand it and digest it, in a way.”
The European summer of 2012 is another experience the 34-year-old still cannot quite believe.
She arrived at Roland Garros desolate, believing the chance of competing in the London Olympics had slipped by.
“I was playing qualification and hoping to win just one round, praying to God, because for the last two months I had been losing first round,” she said.
“I had given up on the idea of qualifying for the Olympics, my first Olympics, in London. I thought that there was no chance, but round by round, I qualified and won rounds in the main draw.
“And then playing the defending champion [Li Na] when I am a qualifier, and the night before finding out that if I beat her, I would qualify for the Olympics, there was a lot of energy there.
“This information pushed me to fight to the end. Like a bulldog, I never let her go, beating her. I was the last one into the London Olympics.”
The good fortune continued. Shvedova wrote to the All England Club committee requesting a wildcard into Wimbledon, which was met to her great delight.
In the third round she produced an astonishing performance when winning a “golden set” against 10th seed Sara Errani.
“I don’t remember the song, but I was listening to music and felt footloose, and the coach was telling me what to do and how to play,” she said.
“Everything was going well and I was feeling so great. I was flying on the court. But I never realized it was going only one way, because after each point … her coach and her team were clapping to cheer her up.
“When I won the set, we started the second set and on the first point I made an easy mistake, a silly mistake, and everyone started to clap. I was [wondering] why people were so excited about a silly mistake. After I was going through these emotions, I realized it was her first point.”
Four years later, Shvedova reached the last eight at Wimbledon in what was a particularly busy week given she also made the semifinals in the mixed doubles and the decider in the women’s doubles.
“I had 15 matches and after the first week, I felt like a cat with nine lives,” she said.
“After each match, I felt like I lost a life, but I would wake up and there would be a new life. I was so exhausted and tired, I didn’t know how I could keep going.”
Even when injuries sidelined her or precipitated a slide down the rankings, Shvedova refused to bow.
“I was a fighter. I always wanted to come back,” she said.
It is this attitude that motivated her to return to the tour after the birth of her twins in 2018. The pandemic made it a harder task but the return of crowds in the United States last month made the sacrifices worthwhile.
“I think I am the first one with twins, no, to come back. Except Roger [Federer]. He has two [sets of] twins,” she said.
“It was difficult. Especially with coronavirus, the timing was difficult. I was very excited that I could find the spirit of me from the past at the US Open, in the mixed doubles, about how I was flying and enjoying it.
“It was what I was looking for, for many years. I was happy to be able to get it there.”