London: Russian tennis star Vera Zvonareva has come a long way from her tough Moscow childhood, and now hopes to win the 2011 Wimbledon women’s title after ending up as runner-up last year.
Zvonareva believes she is mentally much tougher now than she was before, and credits this to Dutch orthopaedic surgeon Professor Niek van Dijk.
Brought up by her mother and grandmother in a small flat, on the ninth floor of a bleak apartment block in a colourless suburb of Moscow, Vera, 26, was a woman no one predicted would make the final last year.
A newspaper quoted her, as saying: “I came to Wimbledon with no expectations. I had been troubled for some months in 2009 with an ankle injury, and was told I could continue to play without making it worse. This turned out to be the wrong advice. By October, my ankle problem meant I could no longer bend my right knee, and my back had started to ache. I knew I had to have surgery.”
At the end of 2009, she met Dr. van Dijk and got her right foot operated.
“I wasn’t thinking about Wimbledon. I was scared I might never get back on a tennis court again. I trusted Niek and he did a great job. The final was not a lucky day for me [she lost to Serena Williams], but it was wonderful to have got that far,” said Vera.
In 2010, she was the second-lowest ranked woman in history (seeded 21) to walk out on to Centre Court to contest the Championship. This year, she is returning as one of the tournament’s favourites, ranked number three in the world. She has eleven titles to her credit, the last one being the Qatar Ladies Open in Doha in February.
Vera has deservedly stepped out of the shadow of Russia’s first princess of tennis Maria Sharapova. Vera’s intellect and beauty are no longer going unnoticed now that she is achieving her potential. She has recently appeared in a glamorous photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar, as well as for a glossy publication in Russia.
She arrives for the interview in the AC Cuzco Hotel in Madrid with her hair tied back and her tennis shoes looking as though they have been sprayed with fake tan after three hours’ practice on a clay court.
She feels no need for an entourage, and is patient and polite. She speaks near-flawless English with a slight American accent, as she spends the short winter off-season training in Florida, although she proudly maintains her home is Moscow.
She is a combination of a soft demeanour with a hard edge.
“There are two Veras. The way I am on court is different to the way I am off it. On court, I am focused and I never give up, never. Mentally, I think I am stronger than anyone. Off court, I’m quiet, I am shy and I don’t like to go out a lot. I like to learn,” she says.