“You learn a lot on the road. You just become a better person overall.”
Travel is such a crucial aspect of many professions and such is the nature of the professional tennis tour, where lifting your ranking and staying competitive among the world’s best becomes near impossible if one is not willing to venture outside the borders of their home country.
Calling from Buenos Aires, we caught up with the women’s world No. 48, Varvara Lepchenko, who won the match of her career just last month, having stunned Jelena Jankovic in a grueling three setter in Miami.
Q: How old were you when travel started to become a factor in pursuing your tennis aspirations?
A: I think I was about 12 the first time I travelled abroad, but back then I didn’t travel much. When I moved to the United States at around age 15, I was playing more challengers and have only recently started travelling more since I’ve received my US citizenship a few years ago when I was 24. Before receiving citizenship, I was fairly limited but after that I started travelling all over the globe. I started going from one place to another and just covered so many nations that it got pretty crazy. It was to the point where I was pretty tired by the end of the year, so I had to cut right down. It’s also very important for players to find their training base and where to build a good team, which is not necessarily the place where you live. This takes a bit of time away from you being home, but these are the sacrifices you have to make when you want to achieve something from your tennis.
Q: Was it difficult to adjust to being away from family and friends back home?
A: Well at first it was kind of fun actually because I’d always wanted to go to some of the tournaments and play those big events. Then it starts to set in that ‘oh no, I’m going to be away on this date or that date’, but at the same time I’ve always wanted to go to different places rather than just the same tournaments I’m used to playing every year. When I got citizenship, it gave me the freedom of travelling wherever I want whenever I want and I started going to different places I’d never been before. It was a lot more fun and something new. Something changed. It was interesting. But now that I’ve been travelling over the world on tour full time, I’m trying to better pick the destinations and tournaments that give me time for preparation and planning – rather than just going everywhere.
Q: Yeah, you can’t be everywhere. Is it difficult to schedule which tournaments you’re going to cover each year?
A: Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge. I wanted to go to Stuttgart – I’d heard so many good things about it – but I’ve had to leave it out of my schedule every time because of timing. I have to have those days of preparation. Sometimes you have to overlook other days that are important for you, like your birthday and your parents’ birthdays and anniversaries. You can’t work around them, you have to put tennis as your first priority. You need to give yourself time because you need weeks of preparation before tournaments, you can’t just go and play. You need that period where to allow yourself to be mentally refreshed, rested and ready to give 100 per cent.
Q: Can you describe what your daily regime is like on tour, both during the tournament and in that preparation stage?
A: During the tournament, you usually try to wake up not too early if you’re playing late. I also try to hit a couple of times, very light, and then just go back to the hotel to chill out. As it gets closer to my match, I try to have a little something to eat and just discuss the plan with my team. Then I just wait for my match and try to get ready mentally and physically. Before the tournaments, say if I have one day left, I usually try hitting once and then rest. I’ll go out to dinner or something to take my mind away and have a really good night’s sleep.
Q: Speaking of relaxation time, do you get much time for sightseeing while you’re travelling?
A: Yeah, my fitness coach always makes me go out to go sightseeing on my days off (laughs). I always try to spend some time in the city.
Q: Of the places where you’ve been, what’s your favourite place to visit?
A: I really like Melbourne, I like Sydney a lot too. I also love Paris and Rome. There are so many places I like to visit, not just one, but every place has its own special things to see and good places to shop.
Q: In terms of the tournaments themselves, do you have a favourite one? And, if so, to what extent does that reflect the atmosphere of the destination?
A: You obviously respect those tournaments where you perform the best and those are the ones you like to come back to. They give you that special feeling. For me, one of the favourites would have to be Miami. It reminds me of my beginnings, when I first came to the United States and was training in Miami. I remember going to the Sony Ericsson Open and I would just be standing outside because tickets were too expensive and we would try to get in on tickets given away for half price by people who had already been watching. So coming back to that place brings back memories and I obviously have a lot of friends and supporters down there. That place is just so familiar to me and I have a lot of fun playing there.
Q: What are the best aspects of travelling while on tour?
A: You meet a lot of people. You get to do different things and see different cultures. You learn a lot on the road. You just become a better person overall.
Q: Are there any aspects of travelling which aren’t as ideal?
A: Well, being overseas, you leave your family behind and your friends and boyfriends and fiances and everybody else and it’s not always easy to do that. This is something you need to sacrifice to try to develop your talent and try to become the best that you can be.
Q: So how many places do you think you travel to each year?
A: If I play about 20 tournaments in a season, I’d say that would mean I’ve been to close to 18 countries in that year.
Q: Wow, that’s a lot of frequent flyer points! How are you with flying? Do you enjoy that aspect of it?
A: As long as I’m flying business class (laughs) then I enjoy it, but usually I’m flying economy so it can be tough if it’s a long flight.
Q: Is there any place in the world you’re yet to travel to that you’d hope to go to sometime in the future?
A: Yes, I’d like to go to the Virgin Islands, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about Costa Rica. I’ve never been to Hawaii. There are so many places I’d love to visit and just enjoy. It’d be nice to just have a holiday.
Q: Yeah, I think you’d definitely deserve a nice holiday at the end of the year after all of those tournaments! Thank you so much for your time Varvara. Good luck with everything this year.
A: Thank you, no problem.