Zvonareva Graduates In Moscow
While her tennis career is temporarily on hold, Vera Zvonareva has completed a different chapter - something just as amazing as all those titles, Grand Slam finals and everything else.
Zvonareva had been studying for the degree for several years, but having missed the last five months of 2012 due to illness and all of 2013 so far with a right shoulder injury, she found the time to wrap it up at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in Moscow.
"It feels great," Zvonareva said. "It took me six years - normally it should take three years, but because I was doing it at the same time as I was playing on the tour, it took me longer. I actually studied very hard over the last four months to catch up on everything I missed while I was on the tour. All of the hard work paid off in the end, and now I finally have my degree. I'm really happy about everything!"
For someone who has excelled so much in professional tennis, Zvonareva - who is best known for her Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010 - admitted she was nervous at exam time.
"My final exam actually consisted of three exams. The first was English, the second was international economic relations, and the third one was defending my thesis. I was fine with the English exam, and defending my thesis was fine too, because I had been working on it for three years, so of course I knew what I was talking about. But the one for international econonmic relations, I was very nervous.
"I didn't expect that from myself. I was so nervous going into the room. My fellow students were all saying I had to go first, because I was a professional athlete, but I was so nervous they had to push me into the room! But I actually did really well. When I was going into the exams I was thinking to myself, 'Oh my God, just let me at least get Cs.' But I got all As, which was great! I was really proud."
So is this it - is Zvonareva done with academia? Not so fast...
"I've decided I'll go farther with my education," she said. "Right now I have a Masters degree in international economic relations, but I want to do the same in law too, so I'm planning on studying international constitutional law. That will be at a different school. But then after that's finished I'm hoping to eventually come back to this school and maybe do some scientific work and research."
With her academic career really taking off, what are the Russian's plans for returning to the courts?
"I had my shoulder surgery in February and since then I've been doing all the rehab. I'm really doing everything I can to get my arm and shoulder back to 100%. To be honest, I don't have a specific plan for when I'm coming back. At the moment I'm taking it one day at a time. I don't want to rush. I've been injured in the past and tried to come back too fast, and it doesn't usually turn out well. Right now the most important thing is just trying not to rush it and getting back to 100% before coming back.
"And I'm actually enjoying a little bit of time off from everything right now - from tennis, from school - I don't have exams to worry about anymore, so I can really focus on my rehab. So we'll see."
The last tournament Zvonareva played was the Olympics last July, where she fell to Serena Williams third round. For someone with so many successes in her career - 12 WTA titles, those two Grand Slam finals, over $13 million in prize money - what does she miss the most while she's away from the tour?
"I think I miss the atmosphere of being on a big arena, playing the biggest matches, and the fans cheering and just appreciating the tennis - that's what I've been practicing all my life for," Zvonareva said. "When you finally get your moment to be there, it's just an amazing feeling. So that's what I miss most - the feeling of being out there in the middle of it all. It's hard work, but it's worth it for that.
"I've had experience with what I'm going through now. And every time I've been injured before, I come back stronger. It gives me a lot of confidence and desire to come back. The difference is I've never really been out for this long. I know how severe my injury was and how difficult it will be to even just start hitting tennis balls again. It's going to be a challenge to come back - but I like challenges.
"I hope to be 100% again soon, come back on the court and see where it will take me."