Ageless Vera Zvonareva Not Setting Any Limits At Linz

WASHINGTON/LINZ, November 12, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Win or lose, thirty-six-year-old Vera Zvonareva is making up for lost time.

“I’m just enjoying my time on the court, and I want to play as many matches as I can to prolong my career,” the Russian Zvonareva told Tennis TourTalk during a candid international media roundtable interview Tuesday evening after she defeated 98th-ranked Ukranian rising star Martya Kostyuk at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz WTA International tournament in Linz, Austria.

The 18-year-old Kostyuk was born two years after Zvonareva made her pro debut in 2000. That shows just how long the Moscow, Russia, native has been toiling on the WTA Tour – through countless injuries, getting married, and giving birth to a daughter four years ago.

Once was the time in 2010 when Zvonareva rose to World No. 2 in the rankings – but never really had aspirations of reaching No. 1. Now, after playing in more than 800 career matches at all levels and winning more than 500 of them, she said, “Maybe I have a few more months, maybe a few more years. I’m not setting any limits for myself.”

The main thing for Zvonareva is she’s happy and healthy, and her current ranking of No. 173 doesn’t factor her desire to remain competitive. She’s playing singles this week in Upper Austria thanks to a wild card. It’s the last of 11 WTA and ITF tournaments she’s entered this year, where she’s compiled a respectable 18-10 record in all competitions after missing most of 2019. Her best results during this pandemic-interrupted season have included reaching the semifinals of a WTA 125K at Indian Wells in early March before the tour’s lockdown, then reaching the finals at an ITF World Tour 25K indoor hardcourt tournament in Istanbul last month. She also reached the third round of the Western & Southern Open in New York in August the week before the US Open. Whether through qualifying, using a protected ranking following injury respites or accepting wild cards, Zvonareva has used all avenues to find her way into main draws when her own world ranking hasn’t always ensured a direct entry.

Zvonareva was introduced to tennis as a youngster at age six by her mother, who was an Olympic field hockey bronze medalist for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, and she’s never lost her love for the sport. Zvonareva has won 12 WTA Tour singles titles and reached the finals of the 2008 WTA Tour Championships and in 2010, both Wimbledon Championships and US Open finals. She earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and owns five Grand Slam titles – three in women’s doubles and two in mixed doubles. Her third women’s doubles Grand Slam title came at this year’s US Open, partnering with Germany’s Laura Siegemund.

Looking back to earlier this week against Kostyuk, “I was up against a young up and coming player [Tuesday], and we were able to fight on court and play a good match,” said Zvonareva, who won 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 29 minutes by breaking Kostyuk five times and winning 12 more points on her returns than her younger opponent. Zvonareva outpointed Kostyuk 72-59.

“I knew she was a great, upcoming player. She’s a fighter on the court. I  had seen her play a couple of times, but had never practiced or played with her in the past. I knew it was going to be a tough match, and that I’d need to play my best to beat her,” she said.

And Zvonareva did just that. She played her best and beat Kostyuk to set up a second-round tussle today against No. 2 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, who is ranked 21st in the world.

“When I was [Martya’s] age, it was different,” Zvonareva recalled when asked by Tennis TourTalk if her approach to the game is different now that when she was younger. “I had no idea what it was like to be on tour and I had no experience.

“Everything seemed easy at first, transitioning from juniors. I got lucky. I never got stuck having to play ITF tournaments because my transition was so fast. I came up the rankings so high, and you start taking things for granted. You think it’s going to be like that forever; it’s great to play. It’s sad to lose matches, but you don’t think as much about injuries or how anything can happen. Maybe, you’re not going to win all those matches anymore. You’re not thinking this way. 

“Sometimes, you get frustrated for no reason. I’m much calmer now, more aware of the ups and downs, because everyone has them … and you have to be able to manage them. … It’s difficult to stay your best all the time.”

Besides playing singles at Linz this week, Zvonareva is also in the doubles draw paired with Gaby Dabrowski of Canada. Seeded No. 2, they’ve won twice and have reached the semifinal round where they will face No. 4 seeds Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands and Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia. So, it seems, life is good for Zvonareva.

“After so many years, my fitness and mentality are still there, and I still have the desire to compete, to fight” Zvonareva said. “If my mindset is like that, the age doesn’t matter to me, and it’s just about two players competing on the court trying to win a match.”