Zvonareva Taking Swing at Politics

INDIAN WELLS — Russian star Vera Zvonareva has reached the peak of her career, having earned a spot in the finals of the year-end

Sony Ericsson Championships and a ranking of No. 6 in the world following a run to the Australian Open semifinals.

However, Zvonareva's free time isn't focused on what you would typically expect from a high-level tennis player. Zvonareva, the No. 4 seed at the BNP Paribas Open this year, has been enrolled in the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the hopes of some day working with the United Nations.

“I got to know and meet a few ambassadors around the world and a few influential people and a few people who work for the U.N.,” Zvonareva said. “It's great to be involved in something like this and also to give me a lot of different knowledge outside the court. I'm really enjoying it.”

Zvonareva enrolled in the school in 2007, when a wrist injury forced her off the tour for half the season. The 24-year-old Zvonareva, who already had a university degree in physical education, is studying international economic relations and international affairs.

Having played on the WTA Tour since turning pro in 2000, Zvonareva said the change of pace has been refreshing.

“What I like about that school, everyone has a first education already,” Zvonareva said. “It is a second education for everyone. You meet a lot of people who travel around the world and most of them speak a few languages. It's different and interesting. I wouldn't say it was a usual school. It is different for me.”

However, Zvonareva has been juggling school with work. And it hasn't been any easier with the success Zvonareva has had of late.

Zvonareva enters the BNP Paribas Open after a strong end to the 2008 season. In an effort to qualify for the year-end Sony Ericsson Championships, which features the world's top eight players, Zvonareva played six tournaments consecutively.

But in making her push to the year-end tournament, Zvonareva realized that nothing was guaranteed.

“I knew I had to perform well to get into the championships, but I also knew I stood a chance to make it so I took my chances,” Zvonareva said. “I played everything I was able to play.”

During her marathon trek, Zvonareva played 21 matches in 35 days and traveled 8,966 miles just to qualify for the championships in Qatar. The grueling trip hit Zvonareva when she played in Zurich, the fifth stop in her run. She had to retire during her first-round match against Anabel Medina Garrigues.

“It was tough. The first couple of tournaments, it was OK, but then it was tougher traveling from Beijing to Shanghai to Moscow, Zurich,” Zvonareva said. “I've done lots of flying, but I think I handled the situation pretty good. At the end of the day it paid off, I made it into the championship.”

After Zurich, Zvonareva reached the final of Linz. Then two weeks later in Qatar (more than 5,000 more miles in air travel), Zvonareva reached the finals of the Sony Ericsson Championship, losing to Venus Williams in the final. Along the way Zvonareva beat No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, No. 4 Ana Ivanovic, No. 5 Elena Dementieva and No. 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

“For sure, it gave me a lot of experience and it helped me to improve. This experience helps,” Zvonareva said. “I don't know the amount of match helps to play at the beginning of the year, but the experience helped.”

The victory over Jankovic was Zvonareva's second over the world's No.1 player. In 2007, Zvonareva beat then No. 1 Maria Sharapova at the BNP Paribas Open, then known as the Pacific Life Open.

“It was a great experience. It's always great to beat a world No. 1,” Zvonareva said. “Not every can say it on the tour. It's an achievement. I believe in myself, I can do it. I always believed in myself. It was the first time I did it and it was great.”

Zvonareva's momentum carried her through the start of this season as she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open before losing to Dinara Safina, the top seed here at the BNP Paribas Open. Zvonareva followed the Australian Open by winning the title in Pattaya City, Thailand, and reached the quarterfinals in Dubai.

As well as things are going for Zvonareva, she doesn't plan on sitting on her laurels.

“I think I have to keep working hard, like right now,” Zvonareva said. “I have to try to improve every aspect of my game. It will be stupid to be satisfied with what I'm doing right now. I know I'm not perfect. I'm going to try to get to the perfect point as much as I can. I'm trying to improve everything I can.

“Even some shots I have in my game that I feel are very good, I'm trying to make perfect. I think that is what every player is trying to do and that's what I have to do as well to improve.”


www.mydesert.com, March, 2009