Vesnina credits mental strength for breakthrough

Published by Matt Trollope

Elena Vesnina credits her mental gains and perspective for her recent success - culminating with a title at Indian Wells; Getty Images
Elena Vesnina has a degree in sports psychology. And after hoisting the biggest trophy of her career at Indian Wells on Sunday, it’s clear that qualification is paying off.

Much has been made of Elena Vesnina’s last 12 months.

In March 2016, the Russian lost in the first round of qualifying at Indian Wells.

On Sunday, she became the champion at that very same tournament.

Vesnina’s rise in the past year has been nothing short of meteoric. Not long before bottoming out at Indian Wells in 2016, she was ranked outside the top 100. Yet she went on to reach the final in Charleston as a qualifier, and later the Wimbledon semifinals, to finish the season inside the top 20.

Now she verges on the top 10 – she’ll rise to world No.13 on Monday – after a stunning fortnight during which she took down three Grand Slam champions en route to the title.

“Tennis is awesome, I can say. That’s what we have. I think that my example is the good kind of self-belief, like, good kind of vibe for all players,” she said.

“All other girls on the tour who think, Oh, my God, this is the end of the world, end of my career, I lost first round of quallies, what can be worse than that? You can regroup and get back. You can just play the best sport you have, what you’re doing for all your life. You gave so much to tennis. I gave so much to tennis.

“I had, last year, kind of few tough moments when I was playing, coming from qualifying, having a lot of matches and trying to kind of win these matches. I was not thinking about my ranking at that moment, I swear. I was just thinking about my game.

“When I had couple of good wins against the good players, I was, like, Okay, this is it. I have it. So just remember this. Remember your shots. Remember your kind of feelings on the court when you were winning these matches. Try to keep it as long as I can.”

“But it’s difficult. We have a lot of tournaments, and I had a lot of matches. I kind of lost this kind of feeling, then the Wimbledon came. I made that semifinal run, and it gave me a lot of confidence, because I was waiting for this kind of Grand Slam run, long run for all my life. I was kind of going there.

“And now here I won the title, and this sounds like a miracle, you know, for everybody, for you guys, for me, for, I think, all the girls out there. I think nobody could pick me at the beginning of the tournament that I could win this title.”

Several other factors have combined to lift Vesnina to the level at which she currently resides.

At 30 years of age, she’s enjoying her tennis more than ever before. Remarking on a conversation she once had with Svetlana Kuznetsova – whom she beat on Sunday for the Indian Wells title – Vesnina said her compatriot realised how lucky she was to be doing what she loved, and noted she was enjoying a similar kind of momentum to Kuznetsova in this latter stage of her career.

She said that many people had noticed a positive change in her since she got married in 2015.

She discussed achieving a degree in sports psychology, and how all her years on tour as well as studying and reading up on the careers and stories of other elite athletes had given her a better perspective on the ups and downs of professional sporting life.

She admitted that while in her early years “I was eating all the crap”, she was eating more nutritiously now and paying greater attention to her health and fitness.

And then there’s doubles. Enjoying a successful partnership with fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, Vesnina is currently the world’s sixth-ranked doubles player and last year won Olympic gold in Rio as well as the WTA Finals.

The confidence she’s accrued in the tandem domain is translating to her singles career.

“(My team) were always saying to me I have the game. You have the game. You have the shots. You are such a positive person. They were always saying to me, You’re never going down. You’re always fighting till the end,” Vesnina said.

“I have it since I was a kid, but you just need to pull this in the tournament consistently through the match by match. That was the most difficult part for me. I could play, like, amazing couple of matches, and then I can have really frustrating loss.

“This is it. This is why top 10 players are on this high level, these big champions, because they are playing match by match. Even when they playing bad, they keep winning. This is the big difference between top players and the other players.

“I think these two weeks I was playing great. But even when I had the bad moments, I was still winning. I was able to kind of turn it around. Like today, I was not playing, like, the best tennis in my life, like, in the first maybe two-and-a-half sets, but I was just fighting.

“That’s what happened at the end.”


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