Zvonareva reignites competitive fire

August 19, 2017 05:07 PM

Not content to drift into an injury-induced retirement after 15 years competing at the highest level, former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva can never be accused of lacking in motivation.

Where many athletes struggle with the transition to life after they’ve hung up the boots, the Russian has certainly filled that vacuum since playing her last tour match in Katowice, Poland more than two years ago.

The two-time Grand Slam finalist got married, became a mother, earned her third university degree and took up some commentary for Eurosport Russia, just for good measure.

That hunger for competition never truly waned, however.

“I love the sport, I love the competition, I always did,” Zvonareva said. “Tennis is my passion and I started training because I wanted to get in shape after having a baby.

“It was a bit difficult to go to the gym every day so I thought I can go to the gym one day, play tennis another day, and that’s how it started.”

While happy juggling motherhood and a myriad of non-tennis interests, the 32-year-old took her first step towards returning to a WTA main draw on Saturday.

Having accepted a wild card into Connecticut Open qualifying, Zvonareva won her opening match, bouncing back from a set down to deny Anastasia Rodionova 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.

In her second match of the day, Zvonareva was up against it when she faced qualifying top seed and recent Wimbledon semi-finalist, Magdalena Rybarikova.

After narrowly dropping the opening set, the Russian was forced to retire with a lower left leg injury.

While disappointed, it was a small but positive move in the right direction.

“I felt pretty good out there. No matter what, I felt like I can still play better than this,” Zvonareva said.

“It’s just my second match at this level. Overall it felt really good. I was in a competitive mood, I was able to play some great rallies and make some great shots. I enjoyed it a lot.”

Whether she launches a full-scale bid to return to top-flight competition remains to be seen.

Zvonareva is not placing too heavy an expectation on herself after such a stint on the sidelines and with so many priorities to keep her occupied.

“Short-time goal is to get healthy to be able to play US Open qualies,” she said.

“Long-term? No long-term goals at the moment. As soon as I’m finished with the US Open I’ll be happy to go home to see my family and then we’ll see.”

That drive, though, still fuels that passion for the game. There is much Zvonareva feels she has missed in her two-year hiatus from the tour.

“The competition itself, preparing for matches, trying your best every day, going through ups and downs, fighting every day against yourself to make yourself better – those feelings are very difficult to get in normal life,” she said.

“And of course, winning – winning when you go through a lot of troubles and when you win some matches, at the end of the day it’s a great feeling.”