Yesterday I had a chance to sit down with Vera Zvonareva, the No. 7 ranked player in the world and the No. 2 seed at the LA Women’s Tennis Championships. Vera is coming back from an on again/off again injury layoff, that started in April when she badly injured her ankle chasing down a ball at the Family Circle Cup.
“It’s improved a lot.” Zvonareva said of her injury, which forced her to pull out of Roland Garros and withdraw before the third round of Wimbledon. “I came back too early and had to stop for about 4 weeks (after Wimbledon). But now it’s better. I was able to practice every day here, so I’m happy about that.”
Vera is a low-key No. 2 seed in a field that includes Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova. The tennis season’s long, and it’s easy to forget how fast Vera’s star was rising at the beginning of the year, after a 2008 which included her top 10 debut, Olympic Bronze and a three set loss to Venus Williams in the final of the Season Ending Championships in Doha. She zoomed into the top 5 for the first time in 2009, after making her first Slam semifinal appearance in Australia, and she backed up this success with a singles/doubles sweep in the finals at Indian Wells.
A few weeks later, and the Zvonareva Express came to a screeching halt. I asked her what it was like to return to tour after her Season, Interrupted:
“I think at the moment it’s a little bit like starting over for me,” Zvonareva said. “Like being at Wimbledon, I still felt in the momentum a little bit. And now it’s a little bit different- everything seems to be different.”
The big difference is in her game, which Vera says is not coming easy to her:
My game is not there. The level of concentration is not there. It’s more difficult to focus. It just doesn’t come natural. You see this ball that you usually hit so easy – just a slow ball – you come up in the open court and it’s a winner. Now the ball comes and you think, “Should I come to the net? Should I take it forehand or should I take it backhand?” It’s not there yet. So you have to start it over and forget about everything that was before. And not think you’re going to go out there and everything is going to be so easy.
I asked if the first half of the season gave her anything to build off of. Vera said she can’t look back:
I try to concentrate on where I’m at right now. Because if you’re going to think about the past, it’s not going to take you anywhere. You have great memories and you go with them on the court and you’re not able to make the same shots anymore. And it’s just killing you inside. Because your like “where is it?” The best way is not to think about what was there.
Don’t despair Bepa fans. Vera may be brutally honest to the point of pessimism, but she’s also a fighter:
“It’s going to be hard. But I think as long as I’m going to be trying my best out there, I’m going to get back and playing good tennis again. . .I believe in myself and know that I can get it back. That’s the most important thing.”
Vera Zvonareva plays Peng Shuai in the second round of the LA Women’s Tennis Championships tonight. (On a double bill with Vania King vs. Ana Ivanovic.) Click here for tickets and more info.