As an athlete, top 25 doubles star Alla Kudryavtseva has long been in pursuit of physical excellence, but holds intellectual acumen in equal standing, earning an online Bachelor of Science in Communications, her second degree and first at Indiana University East.
"I've always loved to learn," she told WTA Insider from LaGuardia Airport on Monday. "I'm always trying to read and learn something, so I thought, 'I'm doing all these things. Why don't I try to get a degree?'"
Kudryavtseva previously earned a degree in physical education back in Moscow, but was inspired to return to school by then-doubles partner Anastasia Rodionova, who is also at IU East studying business administration.
"Communications is a diverse degree, one that you can use in many different areas. I'm not quite sure what I want to do when I stop playing, so it just seemed like a good fit. Everything you do these days is with communications. Physical education was interesting at the time and very applicable to what I do as an athlete. I found this degree very applicable as well when it came to things like negotiations and persuasion, or even things like dissecting the news and what we see in media.
"It has been a really interesting journey and I learned a lot."
? IU East Chancellor (@iuechanc) December 13, 2016
"Alla was one of our finest students in the Communication Studies program and within the entirety of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences," noted Ross Alexander, IU East's Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. "Her professors consistently lauded her stellar work, professionalism, and the global perspective she brought to all her courses. She is among the very best we have at IU East."
The former World No.56 had more than her share of setbacks in her final two semesters - inucrring an ACL injury just before finals - but perservered to receive her diploma on Tuesday at the Richmond campus' Student Events and Activities Center. Through her various academic endeavors, this will be the first to have any proverbial pomp and circumstance.
"It has been a pleasure to host Alla on her first trip to the Richmond campus," said IU East Chancellor Kathryn Cruz-Uribe. "We are honored to present her with her diploma. As an alumna, she will join a network of over 9,000 IU East graduates," Cruz-Uribe said.
"I just turned 29, and from middle school to university, I've never been to an actual graduation ceremony," Kudryavtseva admitted. "I always came to the office, picked up the diploma, and thank you very much!
"It's difficult to be a student athlete; it takes a lot of discipline and commitment. No one is there to push you, so you've got to push yourself, and make sure you're leaving appropriate time for assignments and reading. When grades start rolling in, that also adds stress, but luckily I've been a straight-A student, so I didn't have to worry about anything."
Kudryavtseva joins a growing cohort that includes former World No.1 Venus Williams, who became the first WTA player to graduate under the tour's agreement with IU East. Current students include Olympic Gold medalist Monica Puig, Sloane Stephens, and Arina Rodionova. Also earning her diploma later this month is Irina Falconi; the former Georgia Tech standout won her first WTA title earlier this year in Bogota, and credited Lisa Grattan of the Women's Tennis Benefits Association (WTBA) as one who encouraged her to return to the online classroom.
"Once I heard about how good of an opportunity it was, I realized I had to jump on it," she explained in an email. "I was motivated to go the moment I heard about it! I know that having a degree is something important to me, so I knew I wanted to get it done."
Like Rodionova, Falconi is also studying business administration, a field the American saw as a natural selection for one already balancing the business of athletics.
"I like to think that I am already a running business. I wanted to really learn everything there is to know about running a sound business, making budgets, and marketing myself."
A second set of deadlines can prove daunting to the already-overloaded athletes, but Falconi found a way to make the grade through her tenure at IU East.
"When I started the program four years ago, WiFi wasn't everywhere and wasn't reliable, so there were a few late nights where I had to drive or walk to a coffee shop to make sure I submitted something before the deadline."
Both Falconi and Kudryavtseva stressed the importance of education, arguing it helped give them a better sense not only of their future, but also their present.
"My capstone project was a 40-page paper on athletic retirements, and that was a very interesting topic to choose," Kudryavtseva said. "I learned about all the difficulties athletes face: loss of identity, and how unprepared many are for what comes next. An athlete's network can affects them a lot, because it gets to a point where everyone they know is somehow involved in their sport.
"That made me evaluate my own circle of friends and I realized just how many people I know have played or do play or are somehow connected to the WTA or even ATP tour or college tennis. When I was younger, I thought I'd want to disconnect from the tennis world when I retired, but getting older, I don't think I want to. You learn so much over a 15-year career that I couldn't have this level of expertise in any other field; it'd be a waste if I completely disconnected."
"I know that tennis won't last forever, so I knew that having a degree in my back pocket would benefit me in the long run," Falconi added. "I think that some players may be a bit intimidated by the idea of online schooling, but if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish it!"
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.