TORONTO, Canada - BNP Paribas Open champion Elena Vesnina has showed her prowess on hardcourts, clay, and, most recently, grass when she and Ekaterina Makarova took home their first Wimbledon women's doubles title.
But before switching back to concrete - where she made a victorious return at the Rogers Cup, knocking out Alison Riske, 6-3, 6-3 - the reigning Olympic Champion took her turn on a completely different surface when she joined fellow gold medalists on ice.
"I know Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov," she told WTA Insider of her friendship with the pairs winners in Sochi, adding, "and Roman Kostomarov; he won the gold with Tatiana Navka in Turin. They called and invited me to the show, so I took everyone. It’s like theater on ice, like you’re going to Bolshoi.
"I went on the ice after the show and had a group picture together. We got a tour of the locker room, and everyone was greeting me. Everyone wanted to take a picture with me, and I was like, ‘But I want to take pictures with you!’"
A hometown hero at the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Vesnina even brought some of her skating superfriends to the tennis court - to surprising results.
"Ilya Kulik, the Olympic champion from Nagano, impressed me with how well he plays tennis. He was at my Indian Wells final with Svetlana [Kuznetsova], sitting and watching the match. He was congratulating me, saying how exciting it was to see me on the court, and then we hit together. It’s good to meet friends from other sports."
Vesnina caught up with WTA Insider after her first round win to discuss how life changed since winning in Indian Wells, how she gave fans an exclusive look into the Wimbledon Champions Ball, and her tricky flight into Toronto on the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:
On her win vs Riske...
It was a very difficult match against Alison. We’d had some tough battles in the past, and I know that she’s a fighter. She’s always giving her all on the court, so I’m really pleased with the way I played today. I was smart, using my best shots today, and my serve really helped a lot.
On the perils of flying into Canada (for a second straight year)...
I had some troubles getting into Toronto. I flew to New York, because I had to arrive early, but I only got my visa last Thursday. For some reason, young Russian women can only get Canadian visas for 12-20 days. My dad has one that’s valid through 2024. Last year, I had one for 12 days, and this year, 20. I could only fly on Friday, which is quite late when you’re trying to fly from Europe to Canada. They cancelled all the flights from New York to Toronto at 1PM that day. I tried everything, and they gave me an option for the next morning where I could fly from New York to Buffalo, Buffalo to Detroit, and Detroit to Toronto. I decided to fly to Buffalo and drive from there, because I knew it was close. Elena Dementieva used to tell me it was only a three hour drive, and so I arrived on Saturday afternoon.
On returning to hardcourts for the first time since March...
I had a good preparation in Sochi. I went back home and spent 12 days at home, training with Andrei Chesnokov and my fitness trainer, Irina. We struggled in the heat so much, like 85% humidity and up to 40 degrees Celsius. But now I’m feeling really good, and hungry, ready to play a lot.
I want to have some good results here in Canada, and then the US Open Series: Cincinnati, New Haven, and, of course, the US Open. They’re all big and important tournaments, and it’s almost the end of the year. I’m trying to give my all now.
On adjusting to life after winning the BNP Paribas Open...
When you claim such a high-level title like Indian Wells, you feel something inside of you. I was not ready, and mentally tired. I had a lot of attention and a lot of interviews, and at the same time, I didn’t have a chance to enjoy my win. I went straight to Miami, and right away I lost my first round in singles. It was like going back to the ground, or maybe even lower.
I lost my next match in the first round, and I was thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ I didn’t play bad, either - not as great as in Indian Wells - but my opponents were playing better against me. They were really trying to beat me because I was the target. I feel like more players play against me differently because they know I’m a Top 20 player with some good results.
It’s always a pleasure to beat someone like me now, and I feel the same way when I play someone like Venus, because I know she’s the greatest of the greatest. Not that I'm comparing myself to Venus, but it’s becomes a special challenge to play top players.
On taking the Wimbledon doubles momentum into singles...
I feel similar, definitely. After Dubai, I won Indian Wells, and I was talking with my dad, saying, ‘When you have that title in your hands at the end of the week, you feel confident, and have something to celebrate.’ These positive emotions give you the power to work hard and want to win again. We won Wimbledon, and then right away Katya won Washington. I want to do well too, keep this winning feeling. We’ll see because Toronto is a big tournament, and everyone wants to win. Everyone’s practicing hard, but it’s interesting, challenging, and that’s why tennis is beautiful.
On broadcasting the Champions Ball on Instagram Live...
I thought someone would stop me, but I did ask someone before I started if I could broadcast live. A few guys were doing it, too. It was just so exciting, and I was even doing a few interviews with Kubot and Melo, with Heather Watson and Kontinen. I couldn’t stand up, but I was filming Roger and Garbiñe when they were coming through the corridor with their trophies. It was a great moment.
A lot of people thanked me for going live during the Wimbledon Ball. I didn’t know I’d have such great feedback, because I asked Katya before the party if she wanted to do it. She said, ‘Come on, you do it!’ That was only the second time I’ve gone live on Instagram, and it was fun. I wanted to share the moment with friends and fans, as well, what it was like to be at a Champion’s Ball.
We were wearing beautiful dresses and the atmosphere was great, in such a historical place, Guildhall. There were so many paintings, sculptures, and everything was breathing with history. English people know how to show off their history, and it’s amazing. We had so many emotions after winning Wimbledon, and going to the Ball. I was invited four or five times because I’d played the Wimbledon final, but every time I got the invitation I would turn it down. I only wanted to go to the Ball when I won a title!
Hear more from Vesnina in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast: