The Education of Vera Zvonareva

Vera Zvonareva reached the fourth round of Wimbledon with a straight-sets win over Yanina Wickmayer. But the Russian isn’t all game, she’s also brains.

Many of the women at the Family Circle Cup player party at Saks Fifth Avenue in Charleston admitted to picking up goodies. How can you blame a jet-setting girl for wanting another cute dress or pricey handbag? But Vera Zvonareva didn’t buy a thing at Saks. Instead she stopped by the local Barnes & Noble and bought three books she hoped would help her write an essay. Why is a tennis pro writing a paper? Zvonareva is getting a degree in International Economic Relations at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Zvonareva’s inclination for academics isn’t what she’s best known for. That would be tennis. She’s been on the tour for nearly a decade and has won an Olympic bronze medal and 17 tour titles, including three Grand Slam doubles titles. (She’s also known for some on-court wackiness, like her affinity for towels on changeovers and a tendency to melt down when things aren’t going well.) Last February Zvonareva reached a career-high No. 5 before injuring her ankle and taking a tumble down the rankings. Her ankle’s been better in 2010, and so have her results. Earlier this year she won Pattaya City and reached the Charleston final. Now she’s in the fourth round at Wimbledon, where she’ll play world No. 3 Jelena Jankovic.

But tennis isn’t the only thing she has going for her. We talked to her a bit about her nerdy ways.

Why School?
Another injury, this one to her left wrist in 2007, caused Zvonareva to pursue the degree. She already had a first college diploma (for physical education), which was a prerequisite, so she decided to go for it.

“I needed to find something to keep myself busy,” she says. “I love to study. Even when I was going to school, most students didn’t love it. I enjoyed it. Also, since I’m traveling around the world, I wanted to do something that I’m familiar with.”

Zvonareva has since finished two years of the three-year program, and she expects to graduate next year.

Staying Ahead of the Class
Every session Zvonareva takes around eight subjects, such as foreign diplomacy and statistics. When she’s on the road, she says she doesn’t have much trouble keeping up with coursework. Students e-mail class notes, and teachers suggest books and articles for her to read.

Zvonareva also relies on the Internet to keep up. “You always have to stay up-to-date with the political situation around the world,” she says. “They can ask you, for example, what happened at the last G-20 summit. I’ll at least read the headlines. If there’s something important about Russia, I read more about it.”

For the Future
Zvonareva’s studies are part of an effort to prepare for a future that may not involve hitting a small yellow ball for a living. “Some players do want to stay in tennis for the rest of their lives. Me, I’m not sure at the moment,” Zvonareva says. “It’s something to help me get a different experience than just being an athlete. For me it’s very important to get that education.”

Another way she’s getting experience outside the sport is as a Promoter of Gender Equality with UNESCO. It was her “keen interest in education and international leadership” that led to Zvonareva being chosen last year as a part of the WTA tour’s partnership with the international organization. (Other players in the role include Venus Williams and Zheng Jie.)

Zvonareva isn’t yet sure how she’ll apply what she’s learning. “I’m very interested in the work that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia does,” she says. “We’ll see.”

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. If the 25-year-old Zvonareva can stay injury-free, she should have some good years left on the tennis court.


June 26, 2010 - By Bobby Chintapalli