Coach Writing...

Rising An Underdog (thoughts before Sashka’s first pro match)

It is good to be an Underdog

When Sashka was 8, she moved from Kyiv, her birth place, to Odessa, a beautiful city near the Black Sea. That year Elena Bryukhovets, a former WTA Top-50 player and a coach of Maria Kirilenko, started her own tennis academy project in Ukraine.

After Sashka came in academy space first time to practice in the group, somebody immediately showed her a pretty 9-years-old girl who had individual practices only. “Look there, this girl is going to be a world top-10 player!”. It was Dayana Yastremska. In 6 years she will play in the final round of junior Wimbledon.

Several years later Sashka entered the tennis hall of Good To Great tennis academy in Stockholm, Sweden. She saw a lot of boys and girls hitting, serving & playing on many courts – but somebody pointed to dark-skin guy, who practiced under supervising of several coaches. “Meet the new future star of world tennis”. It was Mikael Ymer, the junior Wimbledon-2015 runner-up.

While playing in Croatia & under Croatian flag, from 2011 to present time, Sashka won several noticeable titles on national level, like National Championships in singles & doubles, Nike Masters Junior country final. She was the internationally highest-ranked Croatian junior player of her ages for years! But she was never interviewed or mentioned (except of tournament results or rankings) by the only local tennis magazine in Croatia, though ALL her fellow junior players made this (sometimes twice or more).

Sashka was never seen as “a future star”, “prodigy” etc. She is a tennis girl who work hard and play in a kind of shadow of more promising players – whereever she’s practicing.

This weekend Sashka will probably start her pro career in tennis – by playing a qualification draw of $15k ITF tournament in Tucepi, Croatia. She will go there with no big expectations, and a single win will be a big achievement on that stage.

“Did we (as a team) give up in running for really big highs for Sashka” – you can ask us? No way!

There is no magic in tennis. Sashka had a terrible 2016 year, and this is a source of most of her current difficulties – mental, technical, fitness-related etc. We all need a time to fix this.

But if you rise a prodigy, you do not have that time. You need to “feed” those who see this prodigy together with you – like sponsors, media etc. The prodigy itself needs a constant injection of self-confidence – but what if he/she starts to lose match after match at one point of the career? The parents need their “drug of glory” so they can be proud of the kid’s victory. Club, federation, school – all are waiting new wins from you!

Things are completely different in Sashka’s case – and we honestly are satisfied with it. Sashka is a “not-a-star” so we really can concentrate on the small steps in her career, small, but regular inprovements of Sashka’s game.

So she aims to gain some experience and, if lucky, will try to win a single match in Tucepi.

But the main task is to collect some “raw materials” for Sashka’s improvement on (still) junior level.

Our general goal has not been changed from the beginning of the year: we want Sashka to be ranked inside ITF Juniors top-150 by the end of 2017, so she could try to enter the quali draw of Australian Open-2018.

At this stage her game is far from that level. But we, her team, are patient and persistent at the same time. We are ready to try again, again and again – till she succeed.

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