Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova shot to fame by recording a Golden Set at the Wimbledon and eliminating defending champion Li Na from Roland Garros. She tells Krithika Gopalkrishnan about her first Olympics, why she changed her nationality and the experience of playing on Indian soil. Excerpts…
How does it feel to have made it to your first Olympics?
It is incredible! It’s like a dream! It has been my goal for so long and then after my injury last year, I was thinking maybe it wouldn’t happen. But after Paris, I knew I had made it and I am super happy. It’s very special to be here with all the athletes from all over.
Do you think winning an Olympic medal is a possibility this time?
I never start playing a tournament thinking I must win it, but I always know there is a possibility I can if I play well. But I only concentrate on one match at a time so for now, I’m only thinking about my first match.
On your preparations…
After Wimbledon, I went home to rest for some days and have been back in London for about 10 days, practicing hard. First, we stayed in a hotel but now the team has moved to the Village and it feels special.
You won your first WTA title in India in the Sony Ericsson International held in Bangalore. Did you enjoy playing on Indian soil?
I have very good memories from India and winning my first tournament there. I enjoyed it a lot there and everyone was so nice to me. I remember doing a fashion show at the beginning of the tournament in saris. They were so beautiful and it was a fun time. I hope I can play in India again one day.
What do you have to say about Sania Mirza, who has also been your doubles partner?
I like Sania a lot. She’s a good friend of mine and we always have fun together. We have only played one tournament but we won it so we have a good record together.
You have pulled off some big upsets by beating the likes of Li Na, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic. Which one stands out?
All those matches are good memories but for now, the match against Li Na in the fourth round of French Open is the one that I like the most. I had to fight hard in that one to come back after I lost the first set and when I won that match I qualified for the Olympics. So I was super happy and it was even more special.
How does it feel to be the only player in history to have achieved a golden set (winning a set without losing a single point) in a Grand Slam? What was your opponent Sara Errani’s reaction?
It’s funny because I didn’t even know I did it till my coach told me after the match. I just felt like I played a good set. But it’s amazing to make history and it’s something I will always remember. People will always now remember and know this about me. I didn’t see Sara after the match.
You are also the first Kazakh player to have reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal. When will the wait for a singles Grand Slam title end?
I don’t know! But I will always work hard to play my best. Kazakhstan has some other good players now too.
The year 2010 was good as you won Wimbledon and US Open doubles titles...
It was incredible and one of the best moments of my career. I love playing with Vania (King) and we always have fun and that’s why we play well together. And our styles work together too. We couldn’t believe it when we won Wimbledon.
We only started to play together two weeks before and then we won.
It was amazing. It took a few days to feel real. Then we won US Open too, so it was nice to show we are a good team.
One player you wish to partner in doubles…
Mixed doubles with Roger Federer!
You changed your nationality from Russian to Kazakhstani in 2008. Why?
I was born in USSR so I can have nationality in Kazakhstan. In 2008, my father and I had a meeting with the federation and they offered to support me if I play for them. For me, it was a great chance to play Fed Cup, Olympics and Asian Games and be a top player for the country. The federation gives me a lot of support and good training and I am very happy to represent Kazakhstan.
The role of your father in your development as a tennis player…
He was my first coach. He was an athletics coach and he taught me to always work on different areas and not just focus on tennis but to do different sports because that helps tennis. So he gave me a very good base to grow from.
Your mother was a world champion runner. Could you tell us more about her?
She has always been a role model for me because when I was growing up, she was practicing hard and travelling for sport. So, I always wanted to have the same kind of life to travel and compete with top athletes.