Saturday, June 25, 2011

China. Sanya.

Just wanted to let everyone know. This is my last entry on this blog site. From now on I will be writing my blog entries on I will let everyone know when my first entry will be posted. Thank you for following me here and hope to see you on my new blog!

Oh, a wonder land of China. You are so puzzling to me. From your smells in the air to your ability to imitate anything. From your ancient history to a the modern skyscrapers.
After 5 or 6 times I've been to China, it still amazes me to an extend where I can't seem to like it. But I try. I try very hard.

This time around, our destination was Sanya. An ancient Island that dates all the way back to 221BC. It promised a lot of good things. As well as white sands and blue waters. Some Asian players told us it was like "Miami." And of course when you go to a place with these kind of expectations it never turns out to be good.

On my first day there, I almost got run over by a car, while crossing the street on my way to
breakfast. Was kicked out of breakfast because I didn't have the right coupons. And was hit on the head with a broom by a woman who cleaned the street. Great first day, wouldn't you say?

Also, remember I said I love trying new foods? Well...not everything. The morning I was kicked out of the European breakfast. I was sent to a Chinese breakfast. Let me just say, that after I saw snake skins marinated in peppers, I run back to the European breakfast and begged to let me stay. The rest of the week it was European breakfast and Russian restaurants for lunch and dinner.
Why Russian? Oh, you would be surprised how many Russian people are in Sanya! I actually think there is the same amount of Russians as there are Chinese people on that Island! Shop and restaurant signs are in Russian! Chinese people in Sanya don't speak English, but they speak Russian. So for me it was easy to communicate in my own language.

But first things first. As soon as we land in Sanya, we find ourselves in a long line for taxi. Of course, taxi cars nowhere to be seen. Private car drivers swirled around us, trying to make us go with one of them. Their best price is $150. Compare to a $15 regular taxi fare. After 20 minutes in line we are tempted to take a private taxi. But we persist standing in line.
Finally, cars start coming in. Line starts moving. People get into cars not respecting the order of the line. When our turn came, the lady with a baby run in front of us and got in our car.

Eventually we got in the taxi and were on our way to the hotel. The smells outside were horrible. I covered my nose with my shirt. Galina turned to me and said: "I don't see any similarity to Miami here. Do you?" I looked outside and saw run down buildings. Dirty streets and lots of people. And that smell.....

As we got closer to the hotel, the area was improving. There were more modern buildings and cleaner streets. A lot of construction everywhere. Our hotel lobby was very "Grand." Marble staircase, columns and floors. But when I came closer to look at the beautiful flowers on the staircase, I understood that they were made of fake marble. I smile.

My room was nice and spacious, but the view from it, made me want to keep the curtains closed all day. Outside my window were temporary metal buildings that looked like storage. Some windows were covered with news papers. But I could still see inside. And what I saw wasn't pretty. I felt sorry to see young men, who lived in these horrible conditions. Three rows of bunk beds with candles for a light.
Sometimes I heard people fighting underneath my window. But I never got up to see what was going on.

We've spent 2 weeks in Sanya. Our first week was getting used to the conditions, courts and people. The cars that drove on the side walk and people walking on the road. All of it happening in front of the police station, which obviously didn't care about it. "Stop" signs were just a suggestion and "do not enter" signs were there to make the road more attractive.

One day I've decided to visit a local market. I specifically asked to take me to a place where local shopped. I have to say that I've regretted my decision after I was thrown out of taxi at the market. The door was opened for me. There was screaming and yelling, until someones hand reached for mine and pulled me out of the car. I thought "oh well, I will find another taxi when I am finished" And only later I understood how wrong I was. There were no other taxis. And f there were, people jumped in front of you and took it.
I could take one of many private motorcycle drivers, who honked at me all the time. But I preferred to walk, than take a half broken motorcycle.

After 10 minutes my slow walk became a fast one. And later into a run. I saw people looking at me like I was a big red spot on a white wall. Some followed me, and some stopped to look at me. I was scared. So the last 15 minutes of my walk became a sprint. When I finally saw courts, my heart jumped of happiness!
Needless to say that after my market visit, I didn't go anywhere alone. Forget about remote areas.

When my time came to go home, I couldn't wait to get on the plane! I had 30hrs of travel ahead of me, but all I was focusing on -I am going home!!!!


After Pattaya, I went back home for a week. It was very hard to adjust to time change. By the time I have adjusted, I had to fly back to Asia. Long flights are not my favorites. And I don't know of anyone who likes them. Perhaps, the first class passengers enjoy them a little more.
The only positive thing about long flight are miles. You get a lot of them! I am hoping to go up in medallion status this year.

Kuala-Lumpur greeted us with hot weather, nice people and great hotel. With one of the best breakfast buffets I've ever seen! The incredible selection of food included: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Malaysian and of course European foods.

I love trying new foods! When I played I was not allowed to try anything new or strange looking. Now I can do it!
In Kuala-Lumpur, I've discovered the Roti Canai bread for breakfast from Indian cuisine. Funny looking rice noodles in a shape of animal faces. And a strange looking fruit. (Still don't know the real name for it)

But sometimes, eating new things can cause some problems. In my case I started having problems with my teeth. Bad place to have problems with teeth, you would think. Malaysia.
But you'd be surprised how many Europeans fly to Malaysia to get their teeth fixed. It's much cheaper and you will get the same or better quality of equipment and care.

The tournament set me up with a young Indian dentist. His office was full of international clients.
In a matter of a week I had teeth cleaning, a crown and 4 fillings done. All for an incredible price of 430 dollars! Can you beat that! Last time I visited a dentist here in USA, I left with an estimate of $5.000!

And what is Kuala-Lumpur without it's "Twin Towers"? I had to go see them. Unfortunately I couldn't get up to the last floor. Because I had to get up very early in the morning to buy tickets. And I hate getting up early! But I walked around the towers and visited the huge mall underneath. The most impressive view of towers is at night, when towers are lit up. That's when you really get the feeling of how grand the construction is. And realize how small you are.

Kuala-Lumpur is a very modern and international city. But some things still remain old fashioned. Some modern offices still had floor bathrooms. If you've never seen or used one in your life, you might not like it. I remember these bathrooms from my childhood. Some schools and hospitals had them. They are not the most comfortable ones. Neither good looking. And of course they looked much worse back in Soviet Union.

We've spent two weeks in Malaysia. It was a very pleasant experience. And to make it even better, Galina won her first WTA doubles title. Paired up with Dinara Safina, the girls got a "wild card" into the tournament (a spot in the draw, granted by a tournament director or federation, to those who can't get in the tournament on their own) With an average height of 6 feet, they both had good serves and powerful ground strokes. Their first match was less than perfect. But once the girls got used to each other,they overpowered their opponents all the way through the draw.
I was happy for Galina. I know how it feels to win that first title after years of pursuing it! Doesn't matter how good you played or where you won that first tournament. It will always be very special.
After the ceremony, interviews, massages and showers. Galina, me, Dinara and her team gathered up at the hotels restaurant. The restaurant stuff was nice enough to re-open the already closed kitchen for us. We celebrated the victory with a couple of late night drinks and a very early morning flight to China.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


It took us about 3 hrs to get from Bangkok to Pattaya. The road to Pattaya was boring and seemed to be never ending. But when we got to Pattaya, we understood that it was worth it.
Our hotel was located on a cliff near the beach. We arrived late at night, so we couldn't see the beautiful views. But when the morning came. And I went down for breakfast, I was stunned at the beauty of the ocean views around our hotel.
The tennis club was inside the hotel. And it took me only a few minutes to walk down there.
Galina was playing against Sania Mirza, who was the number one seed in the qualifying. I thought it was a good match for her. Sania hits the ball hard and gives you a good rhythm. And I knew Galina likes these kind of players. But I also knew that I had to do a certain mental preparation with her before she entered the court. Because her performance in Bangkok was less than great.
When Galina went on court that day, she looked more confident than a day ago. And she beat Sania 6-4 6-4.

We continued doing the same mental preparation for that whole week. And every day Galina went on court she looked better and better. Her match against Maria Kirilenko was almost lost. She was down 1-6 2-5 and 0-30. But Galina fought till the end. And when I saw a small let down from Maria. I took advantage of on-court coaching, came on court and told Galina to fight till the end, put more balls in. And when she got a chance to attack, just go for it. Galina listened and delivered. She won the match, fighting off 2 match points. I was really proud of her!
In her quarterfinal match against Sara Errani, Galina was a set and 3-1 up. But I think coming from the qualifying and playing every day in the heat, took its toll on Galina. She lost her concentration and lost that match in 3 sets.
Nevertheless, it was a good tournament for Galina. She was coming back from a long break. Which is never easy. And she was already beating players like Kirilenko, Mirza and Oprandi.

It wasn't all work in Pattaya. On my day off, I went with other players to the beach. We helped locals to plant corals. The corals would be put in the ocean later on. And would be monitored through the year. I hope my coral grows faster then others :)

There was also a nice player party. With great food, fireworks and elephants. It was my first time seeing a live elephant. I never visited any zoos when I was little.
I saw players getting on the elephants trunk without fear. But it took me a while to gain courage. I fed some bananas to the elephant first, cautiously approaching him. Galina encouraged me to go on. As soon as I touched elephants head, I was swooped up in the air.
When I came down, I saw blood on my hands and my dress. I looked back at the elephant, and noticed that he had lots of small bloody spots on his head. He must've been hit with a hook to obey. I didn't like that. I was trying to talk to the man who was there with an elephant. But he didn't pay any attention to me. So all I could do for that poor elephant, was give him more bananas.

I really enjoyed Pattaya tournament. It was a nice relaxing atmosphere. Great food and nice courts. All right on the beach. The only thing I didn't like seeing while there. Many creepy men, who went there on sex tourism. I felt a bit uncomfortable on the bleachers, siting among 99% men.
On my last night in Pattaya, I visited a silk shop. And bought a pair of beautiful silk pillow cases. I love bringing home a souvenir from every place in the world I am visiting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fed Cup.

Here I go again! Back on the road! But this time around as a coach.
It's kind of strange to be at a tournament and have to apply for a coach's badge. Signing lots of forms, that I used to make fun of when I was a player. Not to be able to use the trainers or be in the locker room. But rules are rules! And I have to adjust to them, doesn't matter how strange it feels.

My flight to Bangkok, Thailand is about 30 hrs long. What do you do on such a long flight? Watch movies and sleep (if you can). In my case its more movies than sleep. I am stuck in the middle between two guys. Thank God I am small and can fit anywhere! So while both of my "short term neighbours" are snoring, I attach myself to a TV in front of me. Six movies is my record as of right now. And honestly, I don't know if I want to beat that record!

Finally, when I get to Bangkok, all I want is a bed and a pillow. Its a middle of the night in Thailand.
While checking in, I look around the lobby that looks awfully familiar. And only in the morning when I open my curtains I understand, this is the hotel where I stayed during a WTA event in 2007. I instantly remember the trip from hell, getting to that tournament.
My flight was delayed for a day due to a typhoon. The airline didn't provide a hotel, but was kind enough to give us sleeping bags and a box of dry food. I felt like a dog, sleeping on the floor and eating out of a box. Thank God I was not alone in this situation. Looking around the terminal, I could see hundreds of people lying on the floor in their blue sleeping bags.
I shook off a bad memory, got dressed and went down to breakfast.

"Now we are talking!"-I said to myself seeing a huge selection of food. Just what I need after plane food!
I joined the table with "Team Kazakhstan"sign on it. I think I was the first one at the table! But was quickly joined by some Chinese people, who obviously couldn't read English. They stuck their faces in a noodle soup and didn't pay any attention to the surroundings.

After breakfast I met up with Galina and we took a taxi to the club. And that's when speaking Thai would come in handy! The address of the club was written in English and the driver spoke none. So we jumped and swung our arms, showed him our tennis bags, trying to explain to him that we are going to the tennis club. Finally, after 3 stops we found someone who understood us and gave us directions.
The taxi driver dropped us off in the middle of the monastery. He obviously had enough of our company and left very quickly.
We looked around and saw no courts. The only live souls we saw, were stray cats. After walking around in circles we finally found a tennis facility. It was all the way in the back of the monastery. And the problem was, we had to climb the wall to get to it!
I found a broken down chair. Dragged it to the wall and threw my leg up. At that point I wished to be taller. Thanks to Galina's push I managed to get over.
After such a glamorous entrance we heard laughing from up above. We looked up and saw a small group of monks seating on the balcony. They had a live show while eating lunch!

I have never been to a Fed Cup as a pro. Only as a junior. In Russia, to play Fed Cup or Olympics you have to be in the top 20 or a good junior to be even considered. That's why I was looking forward to this experience.
As the girls were getting ready for an open ceremony, I got myself a nice spot and was ready to take pictures.
Team after team came out on stadium and took their stance. Until baselines on both sides were full. It was a nice view. A bit heroic to represent and play for your country.

When the schedule came out, Galina's team had a tough first round-Japan! It was decided that Galina will not play singles
but only doubles. And her partner would be Zarina Diyaz.

On the day of the first round everyone in a team was a bit tense. From players to representatives. This round was important! But the situation in Japanese team was even more tense. In fact, so tense that their number two player had cramps and couldn't finish the match. And their number one player looked so tight that it was painful to watch.

But that day, the Japanese team prevailed. Beating team Kazakhstan in the deciding doubles 64 64.
After the matches were completed, Japanese captain has gathered his team in a circle. None of us spoke Japanese, but from just hearing him scream, we understood that he said nothing good!

That day, a couple of more girls couldn't finish their matches due to cramps. I guess it's not easy to play for your country!

Throughout the Fed Cup Galina's form wasn't impressive. She struggled with finding a court and her game in general. And even though I was very positive and encouraging with her. I was a bit scared about the next tournament. I knew we had to do some mental work before Pattaya.
Galina even played a singles match in Fed Cup. The score was not important anymore, so I thought it would be a good idea if she played.
It was a long and painful match. Full of ups and downs and almost a broken racket. Kazakhstan played against Thailand. The temperature was in high 30's. But that didn't prevent many people from coming out to support their team. And most annoying was a group of 3 men with instruments. After each point they would play their instruments and yell. Later I was told that these men go to many tournaments to support Thai players.

Before leaving for Pattaya, we decide to go look at the Royal Palace. Getting there was easy but getting out... But first things first!
When we got off the taxi, right away we were approached by a guy who spoke good English. He explained to us that the Palace was closed for prayers for Thai people. And will re-open in 2 hrs. So while we are waiting why not to take a Tuk-Tuk taxi, that will take us site seeing. It only costs 3 dollars and like this we will not loose time and get to see other things.
We thought it was a good idea. 3 dollars and see other things. (For those of you who will get in the same situation, stop! Its a tourist trap! The Palace doesn't close for Thai people! Its always open during the day! So just continue walking to the main entrance and don't pay attention to anyone who tells you otherwise!)
Anyway, we get on the Tuk-Tuk. We drive through a crazy traffic in this small half-bike half-motorcycle with no safety belts or anything safety even written on it. The driver drives us to a standing Buddha. (which was not so nice). Then, we deiced to cut our tour short and get back to the palace. But the driver refuses to take us! He shows me a paper, translated in Russian. It says:" Please go with me to the next stop-Jewelry factory. I have to take you there, because I get a free gas coupon" I read it to Galina and we tell the guy we give him money for gas. He asks for $500!!!!! We give him $5 and tell him to take us back. He shows us a finger and with perfect "F" word leaves us at the standing Buddha. How about that holly behavior?

OK. It took us a while to find a new taxi. And when we got back to the palace, I had a desire to find the guy who tricked us into this Tuk-Tuk thing. But he was long gone. Probably knowing that many people would like to beat him up!

Finally we got to the Palace. I was the only one who was aloud to come in wearing the dress. But was asked to cover my shoulders. And everyone else had to rent long sleeves, pants and long skirts. I felt sorry for all the people who had to wear long skirts and pants-it was 40C outside!

In the certain areas of the palace, we were asked to take off our shoes. I didn't risk leaving my favorite shoes outside. Seeing a sign " watch for pick pockets" I knew my shoes would be gone the second I put them down. Doesn't matter how holly this place is! So I put mine in my hand bag. Galina did the same with hers.

After 3 gruelling hours in the heat. Wearing a warm sweater on my shoulders, I was ready to leave. But than I remembered about "Reclining Buddha". Something I should see, many people told me. And we start our quest to find him.
We walk through a busy street market. Full of things that I would never consider usable. Like a huge mountain of buttons. Or lines of glass with pieces of stone in them. I guess its like a "second hand store" only located on the street.

It was an interesting walk. And when the last person we asked for directions, pointed his hand to a big temple on the other side of the street, I start to get excited!
The "Reclining Buddha" is impressive! His long body is 46m long and 15m high! His face looks relaxed which relaxes me too. I hear a strange noise coming from somewhere. Later I find out, its a sound of small coins being deposited in metal bowls. For luck and good fortune. I do, like every other tourist does. Buy some coins and walk down the aisle putting them inside the bowls. This part of our little adventure I loved! And the day almost finished on a good note. Until we try to catch a taxi!

Every taxi that stopped, asked for a small fortune to drive us back to the hotel. We persist and end up stopping more then 10 taxis. One of them agreed to $30 dollar fare. (just a note-it cost us $4 to get there!)
When I finally get back to my room, I fall into bed and couldn't move. Being a tourist is much harder than being an athlete.But I shouldn't complain! I got to see a place that many people dream of visiting! I can't say I was very impressed with the Royal Palace. But I loved the "Reclining Buddha"!
My feet and my back are aching. I know I have to get up and start packing. Next stop is Pattaya!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Life as a Tennis Coach

I guess I should rename my blog “life as a tennis coach” instead of “life as a tennis player.” But before I do that, I really want thank all my supporters and fans who have been there in good and bad times. Being a professional athlete is a privilege, and I am very lucky that I had the opportunity to represent my country and equally important all my fans through out the world. I always gave it my all, and now it's time to pass on my experience to the next generation. I believe that professional women tennis needs coaches who can help players not only to develop as tennis players, but also as human beings. To many times over the years, I have seen coaches and parents who control their players and children in the wrong way. Tennis becomes an unhealthy obsession that controls everything. In my opinion tennis is the microcosm of life. In most cases the personality, upbringing and outside influences of players are clearly visible between the lines. Coaching to hit the right tennis shot is the easy part, but coaching them to become a complete human being, hence making them a more complete and better athlete and person, that is and will be my number one goal as a coach.

It's interesting that everything you knew as a player, now multipliers by 2 as coach. (as a coach of a Russian player it multiplies by 6, lol) As a player we have it pretty much straight forward. We go to our practices or matches and we do pretty much what we have done as long as we remember. Now as a coach, besides of course the tennis part you become the mediator between parents, significant other, nutritionist, psychologist, and motivator. The goal is is to bring all these important parts together, in the most harmonious way possible. There will be good times and bad times as a player as well as a coach. My responsibility as a coach is to pass on my experience and teach them the best I know. The rest is up to the player on how she/he wants to use the information you give her/him.

Ok, so now a little on my actual coaching. As many of you know, I am working with Galina Voskoboeva for less than a month now. Galina is coming back from a 7 month injury timeout. She had shoulder surgery last year. For those of you who ever had any surgery, I am sure you understand how hard it is to recover. Especially when you are a professional athlete, and your job and livelihood depends on it!

So far it has been a great experience for me. But as everything you do for the first time, I was a bit nervous at my first practice as a coach. Particularly, someone who I know well and played against as a player just about a year ago. It's also strange, that now as a coach. I am the one who picks up the balls and hands them to the player compared to the times when I was given everything I needed to do my job as a player. I guess the roles have changed, but I am up for it, and I love the new challenge.

Our first two weeks together were quiet good. She played two tournaments and finished 10-2 in singles. Come on!!! In American football I would be a big time winning coach with this record, lol. Joking aside, it's just the beginning and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. As a very talented player who was in the top 100 prior to her injury, and is trying to come back, it is hard to set your mind on your current ranking, and accept losses to players who you used to beat before. My obligation as a coach now is to explain to Galina, that her number one goal is to work on her game, be patient and don't pay attention to her first results. I am very positive that with a positive attitude and hard work she will be back at the highest level of tennis.

For now we are in Thailand where Galina is playing Fed Cup for Kazakhstan and then we are on to Pattaya for the WTA tournament.

So wish us luck! Me, as a coach and her as a player!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Saying goodbye.

Wow, where do I start? A lot has happened in the past few months.

As you probably know, I have played the U.S. Open playoffs and lost in the finals. It was heart breaking to loose in the last match. But even more heart breaking to loose the way I did. I didn't show up for a match. I had no focus and no energy. But I have to give credit to my opponent, she played better than I expected.
After the match, I bought a ticket to go home. I was not going to sleep anyway, so might as well take a red-eye.

Back home, I sat on the couch not knowing what to do. My dream was to win the U.S. Open series and retire in New York at the U.S. Open. But the dream was not coming true, so I had to come up with plan B. But I was to tired and depressed to come up with a decision.
Seeing me down, Sascha had a great idea. "Why don't we take a trip?"-he offered. "But where do would we go?"-I asked. "Lets just take a car and drive. The road will take us somewhere."-he answered. So the morning after my arrival home, we packed our bags and drove in the direction North on I-95.

The first day we drove for 5.5hrs and stopped in Tallahassee. And I got to see the capital of Florida. The second stop was New Orleans, which I loved. We only spent one night there, but I loved all the antique stores, restaurants and historic buildings.
Than we visited Mobile, which is a cute city too. And our fourth and final stop was Houston, where some of Sascha's family lives.
The week has gone by fast, but we had so much fun. We went out dancing, altered my wedding dress, slept in, I even got to act as an employee of a rug store. I only lasted an hour but had a taste of how many people in this world work at the office every day. And for someone like me, who is physically active all day every day, one hour at the office seemed like an eternity.

When I got back home, I felt refreshed and rested, but still no decision made.
One morning, while waiting for my tea water to boil, I called my mom. From her first word I understood that something was wrong. And when she started crying after another word, my heart sank. My dad was loosing his eye sight.
He woke up one morning and couldn't see. A trip to a doctor showed that he lost his right eye to glaucoma, and his left eye had 90% chance of going blind too. The doctor scheduled an emergency surgery trying to save his left eye.
I have imagined my father, and in what kind of stress he is. And my poor mother, who just came out of the hospital herself.

I was always my "daddy's little girl" and the connection I have with my father is incredible. He was the one who spent hours with me, trying to explain math to me. He introduced me to tennis, without knowing the name of the sport. And when I knew my daddy was coming home from a business trip, I would spend hours near the door, waiting for him. He always brought me "fox's bread." It was just a small piece of black bread, but it meant everything to me. Because it was from my daddy.
Needless to say, four hours later, after speaking to my mom on the phone, I was on the way to Russia. I was lucky to have some extra miles saved, otherwise buying a ticket at the last second would be very expensive.

Going to Russia is always exciting, but stressful. For the first three days I usually have a cultural shock and than become one of the Russians. But this time around my "cultural shock" has lasted the whole 10 days. I found Russia more expensive and stressful. And I am not even talking about traffic!

One day I went with my brother to his new construction site. Where we found a group of very distressed people. When asked what was wrong, they all started screaming at the same time. Only after 20 minutes we managed to figure out what was happening.
Apparently there is an army station near the house development. It has a working satellite transmitter. Every time the transmitter turns on it sends radioactive waves through air. And these waves have affected some families living close to the transmitter. They said their TV has turned on and off by itself. And family members had the worst headaches.

My brother managed to find out what was going on. That these people were paid to make so much noise, because someone had an eye on the land the transmitter was on. The only legal way to remove it would be if people complained. Than the land would be free for someone to buy it and build on it. Only in Russia!
Spending time in Russia really makes me appreciate my life in Florida. Yes, each country has different rules, and some of them may seem strange. But there is no country like Russia!

But not all is bad about Russia. I still have friends and family back there and I miss them a lot. When we get together, we have these amazing dinners. Table covered with food! Great food! You see, Russian people may seem to be distant and cold. But when they get to know you and trust you, there are the best people in the world. Who would give you their last dollar if they knew you were in trouble!

While in Russia, I decided to fly to Quebec and retire there. It's always been one of my favorite tournaments, but unfortunately with all the worries I had for my parents, I entered "main draw only" and didn't get into singles qualifying nor doubles. Every year I played that tournament, there were extra spots in the draw. But not this year! I saw it as a sign. And decided I would play some more until I felt like it's the right time to stop.

And so I did.
I actually had fun practicing this time around. After not hitting for a while I kinda missed it. But after two tournaments I've remembered all the reasons why I didn't enjoy playing anymore.
And after four tournaments I have decided to make Phoenix, AZ my last tournament. I was at peace with my decision. I knew it was time. " When your opponent starts looking like a nice girl, you know it's time to retire"-I joked with some of the players.

Bunny and Missy, were the tournament supervisors in Phoenix. Ironically they were the supervisors at the first pro-tournament I've ever played. Again, I took it as a sign.
At the player party I was presented with a huge retirement cake. I wanted to cry, but a smile took over tears. And than, after I heard myself saying goodbye to a sport that has been my life, I felt a big weight lifted off my shoulders. I knew this was it!

I came to United States with $500 dollars in my pocket and a dream to become a pro-tennis player. And some years later I made over a million dollars in prize money and played over 25 Grand Slams. It was not an easy road. It took me through many different countries before I found my place in this world. But my dream couldn't have come true if it wasn't for many people who have helped me along the way. And from the bottom of my heart I would like to say "Thank you" to all of them. You know who you are.

I worked hard and I gave it my all. I've been through things in life, many people don't go through in three lifetimes. I went though poverty, depression, anorexia, bulimia, insomnia and an abusive relationship. I beat it all! And living through all that, made me a better person!
It made me a survivor!

And as I dance at my wedding, this December. I know, I won't regret anything! After all, I lived my dream- I was one of the best tennis players in the world! And I made it there on my own!
Now it's time to look into the future and see what kind of new challenges it will bring! It's time to find a different dream and make it a reality!

Monday, July 12, 2010


School days.

While I was sidelined by a serious knee injury in 2006, I decided to go back to school.
I was scared to be back to school after 13 years. But after two lessons I was enjoying studying. It was very different from my Russian school experience.

Most kids in Russia go to school at the age of seven. So on September 1st you can see a lot of kids walking to school, accompanied by their parents.
In my days starting school was a big deal. Among kids, you were not considered to be a "big kid" if you didn't go to school. And you had no say in any games or discussions.

I was really looking forward to go to school. And on September 1st, accompanied by my grandmother, wearing the celebration school outfit I marched to school.
There were many kids in front of the school building, girls wearing white aprons over dark brown dresses with huge bows in their hair. Boys wore blue suites with white shirts underneath. Everyone holding flowers, mostly cut off the nearest flower bush.

From the first day of school, our teacher picked her favorite and her least favorite students. I was among the hated ones. Anything I did was always wrong. I was punished for making other kids laugh. For not sitting straight enough and for not being ugly and stupid. I think I was a major threat to our teachers daughter, who was in our class too, and had straight "A's." Our teacher's favorite punishment was putting me in the corner near the door, facing the wall, and let me stand there for 45 minutes.
On one of my birthdays, I wasn't aloud to come into class. I was outside the door, arranging the candy I brought for the entire class, when the class door closed in my face. When I knocked, I was told to stay outside, because I was late. So I just sat on the floor outside the door, holding a big bag of candy in my lap.

Every morning before lessons, we had to salute Lenin's photo on the wall and listen to Soviet anthem. Than quietly sit down at our desks, resting our arms on it and sit as straight as we could for the duration of the lesson. The rules also included: only a certain amount of pens and pencils and absolutely no jewelry.

Couple of times we had American exchange students at our school. We sang and danced for them. And when the entertainment was over, we were aloud to "talk" to the American kids.
I was always impressed by how clean and well groomed these kids were. They always smiled and smelled good.
Of course none of us spoke English, but we knew one word that meant everything to us-Bubble Gum! It was like knowing some secret word that opened doors to treasure. Every time you said it, you got a colorful little square, that smelled heavenly. I remember carefully opening the wrapping, smelling the gum and putting it back in a secret place in my small room.

When I got to high school, my teacher has changed and I was promoted to a pioneer. I was given a red star for my dress, and a red ribbon to put around my neck. I felt privileged to be a pioneer, not everyone in class became one. You had to be at least a "B" student.

I think it was 1992 when the rules for school uniforms has changed. So instead of dark brown dresses and black aprons we were aloud to wear anything we wanted. For me it was easier than for other kids, I started traveling around the world and had different outfits to wear. But most of the kids I went to school with didn't have the money to buy clothes. And back then, it was easier to buy a couple of uniforms than a pair of jeans and t-shirts.

I changed three schools since then. Trying to find the one that gave me more freedom to travel to my tournaments. My last year of school was at a music school. I don't sing or play any instruments, I was accepted there because I was considered as a famous student. Being one of the best junior tennis players in Russia. And I was aloud to do what every I wanted. I never got to go to prom or a school party, because I was always at some tournament. But one day, while exercising with my dad close to my first school, I saw my first teacher. I called out to her.
She gave me a long cold look and asked my father- "You must be very proud of your daughter?" And not even letting my dad answer turned around and walked away.

When I was little, I used to dread going to school. Now, 13 years later I loved every second of it! The teachers were nice and I studied something I loved-interior design. And since most girls in my class dressed up very nicely for school, dressing up and going there was a celebration!