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

Memories.

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!






Monday, June 28, 2010

Continuing.



Ah, El Paso. Didn't stay there long enough to discover anything good. All I know that it was 109 degrees almost every day (probably 118 on court), everyone around us spoke Spanish and altitude didn't let my balls stay in the court.
I lost to the first seed in the tournament and was outta there asap. I played in the hottest hour of the day. My feet were burning and my body was screaming at me to get off the court.
So no El Paso stories. Except for 4 days I was there, newspaper was reporting yet another shooting on the border with Mexico. I didn't know how far it was until the last day, while driving to the airport. "Those houses look like Mexico"-I told the driver. "It is Mexico."-he said. Wow, it was just a few hundred feet away!

Being home was much better. Also hot, people spoke Spanish, but the ball was not flying and there were no border shootings every day.

While in El Paso, I have heard that there is a pre-qualifying tournament for the US Open wild card. And since my ranking of today would not permit me to get into US Open, I have decided to enter the pre-quali.
I have never played anything like this before. Wait, I am laying. I did play the pre-quali of Miami one time. Like in 1998. But it was close to home. This tournament had not much info,except that it was held in Dallas, TX. And it was a bit confusing how the schedule was made. After researching for a while I understood that I was playing on Tuesday at 12pm. I looked at the draw and saw only one familiar name on it.
When I got to Dallas, I didn't know what to expect. I found out that the draw was 64, not 32. There were no referees until the quarters. No water or towels and I had to check in and hour before each match. Hmmm...interesting.
By the time I got to play the "familiar name" girl, I had to win 3 matches and she only won one-60 60. Oh well.
The finals was at 9am. And I am telling you its the earliest finals I have ever played! I got up at 6am that morning. I won the match, and the sectional, but can't say I had it that easy. There was one 3 sets match and 2 well fought ones. Three times I had to get up at 6am, eat the boring oatmeal, and play 3 of my 6 matches. I almost passed out in the semis, because of the heat exhaustion. But I got through it all and was happy about it.
I also won a nice "Olympus" camera, and was instructed to film my preparation for the Playoff finals. It was nice, because most of the tournaments don't even give you a gift anymore. My boyfriend joked, that I got some money back for the trip by getting a camera.
I was exhausted but wanted to fly home asap. Thank God I was able to change my ticket to that same evening. So I said bye to my friends who housed me in Dallas, picked up some peacock feathers from the ground and drove to the airport. I still can't believe my friends had wild peacocks in their back yard! Incredible!

When at the airport I stood in a big crowd outside one of the airport bars and cheered for team USA. I always prefer to play a sport than watch it. I get really nervous. Especially when you want someone to win. They lost. I was sad.

When I landed in Miami, my boyfriend offered to go out. So around 11 pm we hit the Lincoln Rd. in Miami Beach. There were all kinds of people, young, old, with children. All dressed up. "The only time I go out, I am wearing tennis shoes and jeans."-I thought to myself. But I don't think I could wear high heals that evening. I would probably complain with every step I took. (Like I always do when I wear heals) But I have 30 pairs of high heals in my closet. But there is always hope, that some day I will wear them!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Raleigh & LA.




I found some old tennis photos. Wow, I have changed! I was a robot. Winning all that mattered to me back than. I haven't noticed it before, but looking at the photos now I realise how different I am today.
But some things remained. Like my fighting spirit. Doesn't matter what the score is, I will keep fighting. And thats what I did during the last two tournaments.

Raleigh.

After getting through the first round I had to face a girl who I played in Indian Harbour Beach. I retired during that match and now I had a chance to show her how I play when I feel good.
And I did. I won 62 63 and was happy with my performance. I did the same thing she did to me, said "common" after a good shot and run to the chair.
In the next round I faced my old rival Lindsay Lee-Waters. I must've played 8 times against her through out my career. I think one year it was either her, Shenay Perry or Laura Granville.
So I went into the match feeling good about myself, but got a bit tight on the important points, which costed me a match. Still, I was happy with my playing, it was getting better.

After the match my housing took me to see Raleigh. I was really impressed how green and cosy the city is. We even stopped at a bridal store and I had fun trying on some beautiful and soooo overpriced dresses. And for the first time in my life visited a consignment boutique.
Over the week I have made new friends and met a lot of tennis fanatics who help to put a nice tournament together.

Los Angeles.

It's cheap and easy to get to LA, but to move from place to place In LA is hard. There is traffic all the time! And after a very stressful, bumpy flight where I let a scream after an unexpected drop in altitude, I was in no mood to be stuck in traffic. And thank God I didn't, but the next morning.....Oh my..... I was just glad I left 2 hrs in advance.

The tournament was held at the Home Depot Center. I played at this venue many times before as a WTA event just before the US Open. It took a while to get used to the big stadium and windy conditions.
I got to the quarterfinals, coming back from 61 41 down in the first match and 41 down in the second. And lost to Lee-Waters again, but this time in three sets. Maybe next time I will win.

Flight home was long. Its was a choice between a red-eye or a change over. I chose the second one and flew all day. At least there is internet and cable inflight. And it makes the flight seem shorter. So I got to watch French Open and check my emails.

Next stop is El Paso, Texas.



Friday, May 7, 2010

Well....








I left my house to go on 3 weeks tour without any expectations and knowing I am not going to see my boyfriend for a while. I came back with one doubles title and engaged.

It all started with Charleston, one of my favorite tournaments. I played well and was up a set and 4-3, when suddenly I started cramping. I never cramped before and it was scared to move.
I lost the match and cramped for 3 more hours in the training room. I was disappointed, but there is nothing I could do. So I tried to enjoy my time in Charleston by going to the beach, visit a beautiful downtown area and go to the player's party. Where I won yet another piece of jewelry. If I keep coming back to that tournament and win something year after year, I might never need to buy any jewelry for the rest of my life!

The next stop was an 8 hrs drive away, in Dothan, AL. It's a small town with very friendly people. One night we even got invited to a family reunion by a complete stranger. Who thought that we were almost family, because his wife (who died) was Russian. Unfortunately or fortunately, we played finals that day and didn't get to go.

Our doubles draw was not easy until the finals, but we managed to win the tournament, a result I was happy about. And right after the finals it was back on the road again. Driving to Charlottesville,VA.

I didn't get to play singles in Charlottesville because I was one out of main draw and by being in the finals of a previous tournament didn't allowed me to play. Although, when I got to Charlottesville I found out there were 4 lucky losers. If only people pulled out on time, I would be playing both singles and doubles. Oh well!

My boyfriend has surprised me by coming down for one day. He took me to see Monticello (a house of Thomas Jefferson) and later he told me that his plan was to propose there, but my doubles partner came along, so he couldn't do it.
That night, at the players party we got to meet Boyd Tinsley. He is the main sponsor for the tournament and I thought it was nice of him to come out.
All night I was loosing my boyfriend in the crowd. He likes to pull a "Houdini" on me, but this time it was more than usual and I didn't give it a thought. But just before we went to sleep he proposed to me. It was one of the best moments ever, if not the best! Very intimate, cute and unexpected! If you have ever proposed to anyone or have been proposed to, you know what I am talking about.
Of course I didn't sleep all night, to many thoughts and feelings. I arrived at the tennis club with huge bags under my eyes, but happy as can be. We won doubles that day, even though I was really tires. Unfortunately our run ended in the semis, where we lost to number one seeds. And it was back on the road again. I was due to play the next day.

This time it was Florida we were driving to. What a long drive! And even though my doubles partner Anastasia Yakimova helped me drive, I still got to the match exhausted and had to retire. I just couldn't move. It was the same situation as at the previous tournament. I was one out and didn't get in. And when the matches started two people pulled out. It was such a bad luck!
But I still felt lucky. I am engaged to a great man! And I knew what could cheer me up. Looking at the wedding dresses! I didn't have time to go into a store and try them on, but I looked at plenty online. More than 3 thousand. And when I close my eyes its all I see-wedding dresses.
I guess it would be more important to set date and place, and only than look for a dress. But I figured that it wouldn't hurt if I did the opposite.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Traveling.






I wake up in another hotel room somewhere in this world. I look around the room. It all looks the same. Bed, table, chair and TV. I remember making a promise to myself, to keep track of how many hotel rooms I will be staying at if I made it as a pro. But long ago lost count.

I was 12 when I traveled outside of Soviet Union for the first time. Me and other 8 kids went to Italy to play a junior tournament. My mother gave me 2 towels and 3 roles of toilet paper for a week. She didn't know that hotels in foreign countries had all that and even shampoo and soap. Soviet hotels only provided bed sheets, and sometimes you even had to bring those with you.

We landed in Rome, and drove for 5 hrs to a country side in a big yellow van. To a small town the name of which I can't recall. Our one stop on the way was at a gas station. I remember walking in, to use a bathroom, and standing still in front of shelves filled with things.
For several minutes I stood in shock in the middle of a small space. Other kids gathered behind me and were also speechless. All we saw back home were empty shelves in the stores and long lines outside. Sometimes my mother stood in line all night to get me a pair of jeans, without knowing that she will get it for sure.
Grey and black were dominant colors in Soviet times. So for us kids it was magical to see so many colorful things in one place!
When the initial shock was gone we started exploring. Whispering at first and than talking loud, excited to think of what we could buy when we'll have the money. We found courage to touch things. There were toys, dolls, chocolate bars, chewing gums.....Even the car parts looked great to us. There was so much color, it took our breath away!
We lost track of time, when one of our coaches called us back to the van. We didn't want to leave. All of us forgot to use the restroom, and sat quietly for the rest of the way under impression of what we have just seen.

We were only children, but already than we understood that life back home was not as great as we thought. Here, no one stood in line for food. Clothing was available to buy every day in any size and color. People were happy and smelled good. Life seemed to be enjoyable and happy. And back than I knew, I have a lot to fight for, but I didn't know that it will be a long bumpy road before I reach my goal.

Time to get up Alina. Another day, another town. It may have been a long road to get where I am right now, but if I were to do it al over again I wouldn't change a thing!



Sunday, March 28, 2010

Memories.




In early '90s, when Russia was starting to open up and change for the better. People were starting to have more possibilities to earn money. Most of them left their normal jobs and became entrepreneurs. So did my father.
Like many other Russian men, my father left his 20 year job as engineer and became a business man. He did everything from construction to import-export. The money was more then he ever made in his lifetime (by Russian standards).
With the money my dad made we could afford a new TV and a washing machine. My mother got her long awaited "dublenka" (sheepskin coat which is really popular in Russia) and I got new tennis shoes and two more tennis racquets.
Of course, being a "business man" was a dangerous thing in crazy '90s. Some people didn't survive, and were killed by their rivals. As many others, my father was also faced with danger of being killed over a business deal. But he chose family over money and I am thankful to him. He is a great honest man, and I am proud to be his daughter.

On one of the sunny afternoons, my father set me down in our small kitchen and said: "Here is a thousand dollars, I want you to go play those tournaments you wanted." It was probably most of our savings we had, and I was hesitant to accept his offer. But I knew that my parents would sacrifice more then that for the well being of their children.
Looking back, it was already a sacrifice living in 43 sqm (420 sqft) apartment in four, for over a decade. It was my parents, my older brother and me. On some occasion my grandmothers would visit and stay for a while. When that happened, my place in the apartment was restricted even more, to underneath the table in the living room. I slept on unfolding metal bed, referred to as "raskladushka" in Russia.

I looked at the money laying in front of me on a kitchen table. Looked at my father. I knew I had to be very careful with spending it. The road ahead was long, 7 weeks on the road, through 4 different countries, I had to pay for transportation, boarding and food. I was only 16 years old but I knew how hard it was for my dad to earn this money and I also knew, these would probably be the only tournaments I would play that year. So I took the money, put it in a pouch and was on my way to start my trip.

The most remarkable adventure of all happened in Budapest, Hungary. I remember taking a train from Slovakia to Croatia, with a layover in Budapest. I got there at 10pm and all the visitor centers at the train station were already closed. And taking a taxi to go to some hotel in the city I knew nothing about was a bit scary. So I decided to stay at the train station and wait till 6 am for my next train.
I found a nice spot in the middle of the station where I can have a view of everything and made myself comfortable on a metal bench. For a couple of hours I did my crosswords and wrote my diary, feeling safe. Then, about midnight I saw a couple of men. They appeared out of nowhere and now were eyeing me. It made me uncomfortable and I hugged the pouch with money underneath my sweater. But than the men were gone the same mysterious way they appeared. I breathed out with a relief.

Another hour has gone by. A man came in the station and walked right to my bench and sat down behind me. I really needed to go to the bathroom, but carrying a heavy bag and my tennis racquets with me seamed such a bad idea. So I turned to a man behind me and asked him in English to look after my bag while I used a bathroom. I knew that I might not see my bag again, but at that point I was to tired and sleepy with my bladder about to explode, that I didn't really care.
Surprisingly when I came back, the man was still sitting on the bench with my bag next to his feet. He turned his face to me and I saw that he was just a couple of years older then me. "You should not be sitting here alone."-he said to me in good English. Happy to see my bag still there, I sat next to him on the bench and we started talking.

He told me he was Romanian. I told him I was English. I didn't know what was the political situation between Russia and Romania, so I decided that England would be a safe choice. But when he asked me where in England I was from, I came up with a first city in mind, Manchester, he told me he has been there. "Oh no,"-I thought-"now what do I do? I have never been to Manchester!"
Thankfully he never asked me my address and I tried to speak with the best English accent as I possible could, to pass for a British girl. Now when I think about it, I ask myself: "What the hell was I thinking!?"

His name was Rado. He told me that he escaped from prison and was heading to a French army. He had no documents and needed a plan to get on the train illegally. The words "prison" already sounded bad enough for me and I moved my bag closer to my side. But I needed to know what he was in prison for? "I killed someone"-he answered calmly. A wave of cold shock run through me. Oh my God, he is going to kill me too!!!! Oh my God!!!
Inside I was screaming, outside I tried to appear calm. I came up with a plan, talk as much as I could so he would have no time to kill me. Talk all the time. And so I did.

Rado carried my bags while we were looking for food, he didn't say much just listened to my crazy talk about weather, food, my cat, my parents. He mostly stared at the road while walking with sad look on his face. I felt bad for him and had a strong urge to hug him. But I just kept talking.
At one of the closed food stands we met a boy about my age. Rado started talking to him. I didn't know what language it was. All I knew I didn't understand any of it, and I didn't like that. So with a huge smile on my face I suggested that we find food and I buy it for everyone.
But all the food stands at the station were closed. So our new friend took a chocolate bar from his left pocket. "We can share it"-he said in broken English. The sound of a familiar language made me feel better and I started talking again.

Our new found friend didn't tell us his name, but was kind enough to tell us what he did for a living. He was a "pickpocket." Ahhh, so nice! Here I am in a company of a killer and a thief, sharing a chocolate bar! I even smiled at this thought and made a joke. " Do I look like one of your victims?"-I asked. "No, you are to nice to steal from."-he answered. And all three of us laughed.

The night was passing by fast. We talked about our lives and dreams. The "pickpocket" gave me his phone number and told me to find him a nice English girlfriend. And when the sun started to come up he said his Good byes.
Rado accompanied me to my train. Helped me to my seat, and stood outside my window until the train started moving. " I know who you are and where you are from!"-he shouted to me-"You are my angel!"
I was looking out of the open window of the fast moving train. Rado's figure was becoming smaller and smaller. "On the contrary Rado, you were my angel tonight."- I said into the wind.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to Rado. And if he was a criminal. But I know for sure, he was my protector during that night. Who carried my heavy bag, listened to my crazy talk and just kept me company. And for that, I am thankful.






Thursday, March 25, 2010

Clearwater and Miami.


Clearwater.


The tournament in Clearwater was named after a sheriff, but the ironic thing was, I've never seen or heard so many police and ambulance sirens like I did in one week. There was a car robbery, a missing boy and gas explosion. And to add some more excitement to all of the above, we had a lot of rain. So some girls had to play 3 matches a day.
My singles didn't go so well, but I made up for it with doubles final. And because I was playing finals, I couldn't make it to the next tournament. Which would have been in Mexico. I have to tell you though, I was not looking forward to another Mexican bus ride. Unfortunately it's the best way to Irapuato, Mexico, fly into Mexico City or Guadalajara and then take a bus.


During the tournament I stayed with friends of my friends who happened to be Russian.
They have a beautiful house on Belleview Island with incredible views.
The route to the club was easy, I didn't have any traffic all the way to the club and back. Most people made a turn before the poshy neighbourhood I stayed at. Sometimes I was the only one driving through narrow street looking at the beautiful houses around.





Miami.

Driving back home for 5hrs was not fun, but I was happy to go back. Home is home, doesn't matter how big or small it is. So for the first couple of days when I get home for a trip I like to stay home and some house work. I also like to visit some of my favorite places like a small fishing pier in Hallandale Beach, where you can see fish swimming through incredible clear water, fabric store in Boca Raton that has lots of great fabrics, and new cafe in West Palm Beach that serves delicious 3 course lunch for only $20.

Sony Ericsson tournament started on Monday. I remained 8 out, but still had good time being there. I did an interview with Tennis Chanel, watched some good matches and talked to all of my fellow tennis players. I also wanted to go to the player party, but as I said, I am a party pooper. I usually get dresses, put make up on and then get really sleepy. I remember, it was my first vacation in 17 years, where I didn't bring tennis rackets or running shoes with me. My boyfriend took me to Cancun, Mexico.
All flight long I was thinking that something was missing, even when I picked my luggage the feeling was still there.
Anyhow, one of the nights we went out to a night club and I fell asleep in one of the uncomfortable lounge chairs. From now on we try to go out a bit earlier then other people.

I have another week home, I've decided to take some time off to prepare for the clay season. My fitness regimen is brutal right now. I am doing the old program I used to do when I was top 50.And I am starting to remember how hard I used to work when I was at my best. It's easy to get used to nice things and life, which makes it twice harder to go back to things that were hard but made you better. So if I want to continue playing this year at my best I have to go back to the roots, where it all started.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Monterrey.




I found out I am in the tournament on friday night. All the flights that day to Monterrey, Mexico were already gone. So the only way I could get there in time for my match was to take an early morning flight. I am not an early riser and hate morning flights, but I was happy to play one of my favorite tournaments again. So alarm clock was set for 4 am and the bags were packed in a matter of an hour.

When I am traveling, I love watching people. People that are going, people that are coming, people that are waiting.
Here is a woman dragging her bag, a huge teddy bear and a crying child on top of it. Another very large woman who is trying to walk in her high heels, that look like they are going to brake. And in line at starbucks a woman who's race and age I can't tell. She has a long ponytail with lots of bows in it, piercing of every part of her face and a big bump growing on her ear that is tied with dental floss.
Ok, lets look at men. There is always a man that thinks he is hot stuff, I look around and see one. He is siting with his legs crossed, cell phone in one hand and blackberry in the other. He talks very loud about some meeting he just had and trying to let everyone know how important he is. I smile and look away.

Thank God my flights were on time and I made it to Monterrey with enough time to check in to the hotel, eat and warm up for my match. I was tired, but mentally prepared to play. And also happy to be there.
You see, before I came to USA, I went to Mexico. I played a lot of small tournaments there and happen to have lived in Monterrey and practice at the club where the tournament is. People of Monterrey were always nice with me and have helped me a lot. So when I go back there I always feel like home.

My match against Zec Pesciric was very long. I was loosing a set and 2-0, but then came back and won the second set 6-3. Third set started even, but I went ahead 5-3. It was a very long game that I lost, and then lost the next two, feeling very tired. But somewhere in my brain I still had that fighting power in me, that always made me stand out and helped me win lots of matches. It came in handy at 3 match points down, I just felt so calm and confident under the pressure, and it helped me win the deciding tie-breaker.
After the last point I felt exhaustion piling on.I dropped in my chair unable to move for a few minutes. Thank God for good trainers and massage therapists on tour, without them I wouldn't be able to function! And thank God for nice soft bed and black out curtains in the hotel. At 8 pm my lights were out!

Next day I woke up to a nice view of the mountains. Had a nice big breakfast and was mentally ready to battle again. But my body had a different plan. It wanted to sleep, it wanted a massage, it didn't want to be on the tennis court running down balls.
It was a good fought match, with long points and many "come on". I gave everything I had, but lost.

video

That evening we had a player party. Location was one of the older hotels in Monterrey. Three course dinner was served and entertainment contained Mariachi and traditional Mexican dances. It was also Jelena Jankovic's birthday and the tournament director had a surprise for her, a huge cake and a Mariachi band.

Ok, it was time to plan a trip back home. Flying directly from Monterrey was very expensive, so I decided to take a bus to Laredo and fly from there. The good news was, tickets are more then half a price less from Laredo. But do I want to do it again? Probably not!

When we pulled to a bus station, I must have had a scared look on my face, because a local police asked me in a broken English:" Americana? Come with me." He took my bags and showed me the way.



The bus station looked run down and old. Counters and people were everywhere. Bus company signs were the only lights that illuminated the station inside. And a couple of empty cafes, that looked like small holes in the wall, waited for someone to buy something from a large selection of potato chips and soft drinks.

With assurance and re-assurance of the hotel concierge, that my bus was at 9am, I found out that the bus was at 8.15am and I missed it by 10 minutes. So I bought a ticket for the next one that was leaving in an hour.
Holding my luggage as close to me as possible, I was looking for a place to sit. The seat cushions were torn out, don't know who would do such a thing. Maybe someone decided to stuff their pillows.
I sat in the corner and looked around. There was not enough light to read and I really didn't want to open my Louis Viutton bag.
In about half and hour I needed to go to the bathroom. Finding it was easy, getting inside was a problem.

Risking to never see my bags again,I asked a girl at the counter if she could look after my luggage while I go to the bathroom. She agreed.
The "Banos" greeted me with steal bar entry, like at some NYC metro stations. It was impossible to sneak in or pass with bags. For a moment I mentally measured the size of my bag and the entry, but gave up.
Once I got through the metal bars and took some toilet paper from a huge role hanging on the wall, I was in for a "green treat" inside the ladies bathroom.
The doors had no locks and the walls were so low that you could see other women's heads.
After that memorable experience I stopped drinking water and was hoping not to use that toilet again.

Getting on the bus was confusing. My ticket said "Sala-1" but it led to a big open space outside with a line of buses. My bus was nowhere to be found.

A man appeared in front of me, he attached a bag tag on my bag and disappeared. He appeared again half an hour later and announced that my bus was arriving. "Where?"-I asked. He pointed to a couple empty spaces "Maybe here or there."
Well,that was promising! But thankfully I spotted my bus early and was able to get to it's stop on time.
I was surprised how soft and comfortable the seats inside were. I took out my book and pillow and happily sat down. But my happiness didn't last long. A very large woman sat next to me, cutting my lovely space in half. Almost right away she started eating, offering me a piece of her taco. And when I said " no, thank you" she replied "Whats wrong with you? You only eat fruits?
The rest of the trip she ate and slept. Every nap she took followed up with a snack and humming to herself.

When we got to the Mexican border I was the only one who got my documents checked. My "neighbor" said-"Because you are the only white one on the bus." I looked around, she was right.
At the american border things were different, I was barely looked at and the rest of people were throughly checked.



After crossing the border, the bus made his final stop at a very small station. It was full of people and stuff they bought. There were boxes inside and outside. And I was wondering if it will all fit on the bus.
In Spanish, I asked for a taxi to the airport and when it came I thought: "Does anyone speak English in this city?"
I told the driver to take me to the airport to Continental terminal, she smiled back. And I understood why. There was only one terminal, and it had Continental and American Eagle counters. There were two people working and I while eating at a small restaurant near the counter, I was looking at my lonely bag, standing in the middle of a room waiting to be picked up.
Two days, two matches, one bus ride, four flights. And many new memories. Every week brings something new and exciting. Good or bad, I will never want to change any of it!



Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bogota.


Bogota is a big and confusing place for me. From polluted air to lots of people on the streets. From buses with open doors that slow down for people who jump in and out of them, to the hotel bill, that was a confusing list of million numbers without a total!
Don't get me wrong, the people are nice and I am sure that there are things to see, culture wise. But I never got to see anything accept courts and hotel.
The whole week I felt like a fish out of the water and remembered why I have decided never to play in Bogota again after my 2000 trip there-high altitude! My heart kept beating like crazy and breathing was not an option.
After 2 days of practice it was obvious that to get a rhythm was almost impossible and playing points was uncomfortable. Although someone was going to win the tournament at the end. And someone did. But my result in singles there was nothing but bad.
We got into doubles with my Colombian friend Cata Castano, but we lost to the winners of the tournament. Oh well.....

But even though my route included hotel-club-hotel I still got to see few things that amazed and surprised me. Like a homeless man surrounded but 20 dogs, all of them on the leash and happy. Old horse carriages trying to squeeze between cars on a busy street. Poor horses looked so skinny and fragile.
Hail in the middle of a hot afternoon, then sun and then hail again. People selling beautiful flowers on the streets, that I was tempted to buy. And many nice restaurants. Maybe I just felt confused because I didn't get enough oxygen?

One of the days I decided to eat at the hotel. The food looked good and reasonably priced for a 5 star hotel. Plus the large selection of deserts sold the buffet right away.
Maybe it was to much desert or the tuna fish I tried, or the combination of both.....but I spent the whole night in the "Lu-Lu room". Needless to say, the next day I couldn't play and spent the day in bed watching movies in Spanish.
I tried to complain to the manager and was shocked to hear her say: " So what?!" So what!!! I am so Americanized now and so accustomed to the rule "customer is always right," that her answer was shocking! After that she said:"If this is it, I have things to do." She turned around and left.

I was happy to go home. (No offense to nice people of Bogota, but high altitude is not my thing.)
But before I got on the plane I had one more obstacle to overcome. Getting through a check in at the airport! The line was huge!!!! There were people everywhere, talking, yelling, asking you questions in Spanish. I was glad that Rosana De Los Rios and her mother were there, but even they were confused. We had to go to some office and get a tax free voucher. Then we found out we had to pay another tax, and they only accepted pesos. Then a girl at the counter checked in all of our bags together and was confused which one was which....Two hours later we finally checked in. And in the confusion of things were given an access to Admirals Lounge, "because you are flying first class"-the girl said. But we were not! More confusion, but at least this one ended with a huge advantage for us.

When home, seating at my favorite sushi restaurant, and looking back on the events of the day, I saw a cockroach running from my napkin to a sushi bar in front of me. I hate those things! When I was growing up, it felt like a huge family of cockroaches was growing with me. Our Moscow apartment was attacked every morning and night.
I called the manager, who was very apologetic. And I got a free dinner. I guess it makes up for the one in Bogota. In Russia we say:" What ever God takes, he always gives back."










Sunday, February 7, 2010

Palm Springs.


I can't believe how cheap it is to fly from Florida to California! 99 dollars for 5 hours flight! The rental car from Los Angeles to Palm Springs was $80! And that's only 2 hrs drive! Wow!

Palm Springs is a town very similar to Boca Raton. A big retirement community. The Palm Springs area hosts Indian Wells tennis tournament and many golf events. It also has lots of country clubs and spas. The winter weather can be cool and sunny. But don't try to be outside for to long during the summer months, it's very hot!!!

During Indian Wells tournament I always stay with a family I have known for 10 years now. Fred and Gail. They are very nice people who have opened their house to many other players beside me. And by doing that lots of players have saved lots of money on hotel and food.

I felt good when I got to the tournament. I thought I started playing better and my energy level was high. I won my first match but then run into "Korean wall." The girl didn't miss anything, doesn't matter if I was hitting the ball or not! Also the chair umpire didn't really help making bad calls and corrections countless amount of times.
We played for 3 hours, good fight, but I lost. It was a disappointing result for me. I knew I should win. I knew that I had to go to the net more and be more aggressive.....I knew all that and didn't do it, so for me it's very upsetting.

Tennis is a sport where you have to be very resilient and mentally strong. Everyone looses, but the secret to win the next one is to be able to bounce back, even after the worst loss ever. And you have to do it fast. So I am trying to stay positive, learn from my mistakes and move on. I have a lot of experience in my sport, but I can still make mistakes, I am human.

I had the whole day before my flight back home, so on my way from Palm Springs to LA I had time to stop at one of the best outlet stores I've ever been to! Where else can you buy a "Crate and Barrel" pendant lamp for $9.95!!!! Last time I looked at it online, the lamp was $129!
That got me in a great mood! The only problem was, how would a carry the huge lamp shade?

When I got to the airport I've decided to check in my tennis bag and make the pendant my carry on. I have to tell you, I got more stares and laughs then someone who forgot to put his pants on leaving the house! Even the flight attendants were pointing at me! OK, how do you explain to people that tennis players don't have that much time to shop. And when they do, it is usually on the road where the next tennis event takes us!
I must say the lamp was not the most bizarre thing I brought back home from a trip. There were curtains from Morocco, china dishes (which I carried in my computer bag) from England,
bed sheets from Italy and many, many, many things from China!


At the airport, standing in line at McDonald's and looking at not so healthy menu, I was thinking how limited my food choices were. The other two choices were: California Pizza Kitchen or some bar that sold mostly chicken wings.
And even though buying a beautiful pendant lamp at the outlets made feel a bit better, I still felt down.
I ordered my food and turned around. Suddenly I almost stepped on something. When I looked down I saw a pair of beautiful green eyes looking at me. I froze for a second, didn't know what to say.
In front of me was a young woman trapped in the girls body, her face was lit with a smile and her eyes were sparkling with joy. "Excuse me"-she said. I nodded, coming to my senses. The girl pushed her cart to the counter and I couldn't help but turn around to watch her.
She was probably 4 feet tall, her long blond hair was nicely tide in a ponytail and run all the way down to her waist. Her legs were skinny and long but her torso was small and crippled, the girl almost didn't have a neck.
"Number 521! Number 521!"-I heard my number being called.
I got my food and set down. "Why am I feeling depressed? God gave me everything I could ever wish for?"-I was thinking. "Look at this girl. She probably gets stares all the time. I can't even imagine how it was for her when she was a child...."
And there are many people like this. I guess when you feel depressed always compare yourself to those who are less fortunate. For me looking at this girl, who was smiling to everyone who looked at her, made me feel ashamed of being sad because of the tennis match I lost! So I took the last look at the girl and decided that life is to short to be sad! If people less fortunate then me find the way to be happy even in the worst situations, so can I, especially in such a small thing as loosing a tennis match.

Next stop- Bogota, Colombia!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Few days at home.


Sometimes players don't do as well in the tournament as they expect. And the next tournament doesn't start till a week later, that creates some time off. In my case I have 5 days between the tournaments.
What do I do in these 5 days besides practice? Lots of things that have nothing to do with tennis.
One of my other passions besides tennis is decorating. During my one year knee injury (I had an ACL reconstructive surgery in the end of '05, just as I got to my best career rank of 51) I went to study Interior Design.

At the beginning I was scared to go to school again, it has been 12 years since my high school graduation, so my fears were to be the worst in the class. But to my surprise after about two classes I felt like I never left school.
You see, when I first came to United States, my plan was to get a scholarship at the university and study international management. But suddenly I started doing very well on the pro circuit and my decision has changed to pursue my dream, to be a professional tennis player. And it was a decision I will never regret, because not only I got to pursue my dream, but also to travel the world and meet incredible people.

So now that you know on of my other passions I will tell you what I do with it. Well, apart that I could literally live at DCOTA design center and every other furniture and interior design
store, I love painting walls. If I am not mistaken, the walls in my house were painted and re-painted at least 6 times. And right now I am helping my friend to decorate his house.
I have almost finished with a kitchen ( I volunteered to paint) and now off to the living room. So instead of doing upper body exercises I just go and paint the walls!



I have also celebrated my "thirty something" birthday. The party was a bit delayed, because I was playing a tournament.
I was not the only person who had my birthday on January 18th. One of the coaches who I know
for a long time also celebrates his birthday on the same date. And he happens to stay for a few
days with my ex-coach Marco, with whom I have split a while ago. And this gave me a chance to reconcile with Marco, who had a big impact on my life on and off court.
Sometimes we forget to thank people from our past who helped us to shape our future. And I would like to thank Marco for teaching me how to be a better person and player.














Excited to see my new and old friends, I was helping my boyfriend to make hamburgers that we were going to put on the grill...but....the barbecue has "died" just in front of our eyes.
It made a big "PUFFFF" and the flames have disappeared.
Standing in silence in front of the grill, with a big tray of raw hamburgers, we didn't know what to do next. But thanks to my boyfriend's skilled cooking we ended up eating hamburgers in a shape of meatballs. Let me add-great meatballs!

I have one more day before I am off to California,
lets see what kind of fun a new day will bring. Stay tuned!


Friday, January 22, 2010

2010.


January.


I almost forgot how competitive small tournaments are. And how hard I have to work to win them. And because I was sick most of the last year, unable to play at my best, my ranking has dropped and that forced me to play qualifying.
Surprisingly I was not the only former top 100 player to play these events. Many other girls close to my age were forced to start their year grinding in qualifying of small events. Girls like Catalina Castano former top 40 player, Olivia Sanchez, Mariana Lucic, Mashona Washington, Eva Birnerova and even Nicole Vaidisova (main draw) who was top 10 player two years ago! And I am not talking about junior players who are just starting out on tour. Needless to say that it's tough. Not only you have to be in great psychical and mental shape but you also have to be well off financially to travel to all these events, because there is no money in these tournaments unless you win the whole thing. And most of the time you spend more money then you earn.

And of course there are tennis parents. Lots of them! They are even more competitive then their kids. They yell, they scream, they walk around like crazy people talking to themselves when their child is playing. There are constant "come on's and lets go, you can do it and take your time." Then they look at the coaches, who are as nervous as they are and ask "Why is she doing that? How is it possible?" It's a never ending circus which I can't bear to watch. But I am right there in the middle of it. So I tell myself- get your mind together, get as many points as possible and lets get out of these small events to more "civilized" tournaments, where will also be parents, coaches and agents but it won't be so openly dramatic as at the small events.




Friday, January 1, 2010

The off season.




Ahhh, the long awaited "off season"!!!!
I think it's only called that way to make everyone feel like they are resting, but the truth is, it's the hardest practice time for a pro-player!
Everyone has a different time frame for their "preparation." This is going to be my final season playing tennis professionally so I thought that 5 weeks will do just fine for me. And after the final flight of the year (which felt like never ending) I landed on Florida's soil!
Everything was just fine until I got through the security....then I started shaking. My whole body was shivering and my energy level dropped so much that I was barely pushing my luggage cart.
I don't know how I got to the car rental company....I think I just had enough in me to rent a car and put my bags in the trunk.
For the next four hours I was laying on a declined car seat, shaking all the way to my bones, thinking that I am not able to drive myself home.
Thank God my boyfriend was arriving the same evening and I decided to wait for him and let him drive home.

And that's how my OFF SEASON started! Laying sick in bed for almost two weeks!
At times I would move from my bed to the living room's couch and look outside the window where the sun was shining and luring me to come outside.....The long awaited warm weather, my plans to go to the beach during a week off....I hope the illnesses I had this past year, from vertigo to bronchitis and a horrible flu at the end of the year, are all gone, and next year I will be healthy.
That is one of my wishes for 2010!

Finally after about two weeks of flu, still couching a bit but feeling better, I have decided to start practicing again. I called my fitness coach Jo Jo (or "torturer" my nickname for him) and my tennis coach Nick who has been helping me this year,to set up the schedule for the next few weeks. I was ready to go!

First couple of tennis practices were very short and lacked energy on my part. Of course, I must have lost five or six pounds being sick! I am already having hard time gaining weight as is, (something a lot of women would kill for) and now I have to work twice as hard to gain my weight back plus some extra pounds of muscles.

So here I am on the New Years Eve, it's 6 pm, but I am ready to go to bed. I joke with my friends that in these three weeks of my "preparation" I have moved the GYM I work out at, from the street it stands on, closer to my house.
I have to get dressed for the New Years party tonight but I have no energy to do so. I thought of the small toothless boy who watched me work out today, together with his little friends , he slowly approached me and said: "I was watching you. And I must say you are doing a great job!" Even he understands how hard I worked! And he is like six!!!!
I better do a great job! This is my last year playing professionally and I want it to be a great one! I am ready! I worked my butt off! I was sore and grumpy for two weeks out of three!
I have to be ready and be back in shape!

So please join me in 2010, my last year on the Tour!
I will try to make it fun and adventurous! Come with me to play and travel around the world!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!