Sashka’s Story

This story is NOT about being a tennis prodigy – actually Sashka was never one.

Instead, this story is about fighting for a dream.

It`s about keep working even if your chances to succeed seem disappearing.

It`s about sweat, tiredness, pain – and achievement, smiles & happiness at one point.

At last, this story is about faith & miracles which sometimes happen in our life.

Welcome to the Sashka’s world – a tough, but interesting place.

Part 1. Beginning

Sashka was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2001. After the birth she was diagnosed with an inborn defect of a neck muscle. Doctors suggested to make a surgery, but there was a risk of being a disabled person for the rest of her life.

The family decided to go its own way: massages, aqua therapy, physical exercises… Finally, Sashka got healthy – well, almost healthy: you can still see the consequences of the defect if you know where to look at.

Sashka, 10 years old

Oleksandra “Sashka” Oliynykova, 10 years old

Sashka started to play tennis when she was 5. It happened almost by accident – nobody played this sport in her family, even as an amateur. Sashka’s first coach, July Davidyuk, managed to find that “secret key” to a child mind. When meeting new people, a small girl with a big tennis bag on her shoulders introduced herself in the following way: “Hello, I am Sashka Oliynykova, and I am going to be the world #1 tennis player & Wimbledon champion“.

At the age of 7 Sashka started to play kids tournaments. She quickly progressed on the city, regional and national level. Finally, in 2011 she won several national tournaments for girls of her age. Sashka entered national top-3 list for girls under 10 years old (U10). She was preparing to play National Masters U10 when big problems for her family arrived.

Part 2. Escape

Sashka’s father, Denis, was a public activist in Ukraine. He was well-known among younger, dynamic generation – entrepreneurs, students, IT & media professionals etc. – for his opinions & activities against total corruption, freedom of speech restrictions, unfair justice in Ukraine.  Denis openly criticized former Ukrainian president Yanukovich.

He also permanently advocated LGBT rights, which was quite unpopular and even dangerous that time.

In 2011, political repressions in Ukraine have grown to unprecedented levels. Hundreds of activists, from nation-wide leaders (like Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko) to regular, “small” people were sent to jail, physically or mentally threatened.

One day in September 2011, an order to arrest Denis and his wife Svitlana, was issued. Fortunately, Sashka’s parents were secretely warned about it by one police officer who sympathized them.

They had hours, not days, to make a decision – any given minute police could come and send them to a jail. So they put all they can to the family car and fled away from Ukraine.

In 6 p.m. of that day, 21 September 2011, they didn’t have any plans to go out anywhere – even to the neighbouring shopping mall. It should be a regular family evening – with a good dinner and some movie or tennis match watching. In 11 p.m. of the same day they crossed the state border. From that day till now, they have never visited Ukraine.

Part 3. New life, new challenges

Sashka’s family reached Croatia a week after its runaway from Ukraine. Initially they planned to stay in the country for a couple of months, so Sashka can practice and play several tournaments (instead of missed National Masters in her home country). The parents were shocked and depressed. Meanwhile, most of the family properties in Ukraine were confiscated, and their family business was destroyed – by government.

The family should start from the scratch. They spent almost all money they had on arrival. No friends, no support, no local language spoken. So they decided to ask for a political asylum in Croatia – and then try to re-build their life.

Sashka started to practice & play in Croatia.

Their request for a political asylum was approved soon. Sashka got an official status of REFUGEE. As she was not able to return Ukraine, but didn`t receive Croatian citizenship (as refugee status does not equal to obtaining citizenship), the special request was sent to International Tennis Federation (ITF) to allow her play for Croatia in individual & team competitions.

That became a beginning of successful junior perfomance.

Oleksandra “Sashka” Oliynykova is a Junior National Champion of Croatia (both in singles & doubles).

She won 9 European tournament titles in doubles for girls under 14 years old. Four times she reached singles finals on all-European tournaments of the same category. She also played for junior National Team of Croatia.

In 2015 she stopped playing tournaments of “light” youth tennis league (Tennis Europe) and concentrated on the most prestigious and powerful junior tour series, ITF Juniors. Her debut in ITF Juniors was unexpectedly good: on her first tournament in Denmark Sashka reached semifinal, and on the second one she played final.

Sashka reached final of ITF Juniors Sweden Open tournament in Kramfors, Sweden (photo from the award ceremony)

Sashka reached final of ITF Juniors Sweden Open tournament in Kramfors, Sweden (photo from the award ceremony).

Sashka also spent several months in the famous GTG Tennis Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, where her coach Mikael Tillstrom, the former #39 in the world and Grand Slam quarterfinalist, specially noted her ball feeling, ability to play smart and total devotion to tennis.

Everythings seemed to be good… But “the perfect storm” was already around the corner.

Part 4. Bankruptcy… and Miracle no. 1

In January 2016 Sashka father’s company went bankrupt. He lost his job & almost all savings he made during 4 years in Croatia. This time it was no politics around it, but a classic “corporate failure” – with wrong decisions, high spendings and fast-changing market conditions finally lead the business venture to the end.

But they all kept fighting. The parents borrowed some money from local friends and opened a tiny family restaurant. Now they can earn to live & cover basic tennis needs.

Sashka’s coaching team supports her by providing as much free resources as possible.

At last, Sashka herself became more concentrated & professional than ever before, just like in an old proverb: “Things which didn’t kill us, made us stronger”.

So the first miracle has arrived. In the beginning of 2016, Sashka stayed near 900th position of ITF Juniors tennis ranking. Now she ranked around 400-450th!

Travelling alone (without coach or parent!), saving every euro cent, sometimes struggling to find enough money to re-string her racquet during the tournament, she managed to add 500 ranking positions in less than a year!

In 2017, Sashka successfully continues her “pursuit for tennis glory”. On May 2017 in Firenze, Italy, she made her best ever ITF Juniors tournament achievement, reaching the 1/4 stage of ITF Juniors Grade 2 event (lost vs. ITF Juniors Top-100 player). She also debuted in $15,000 ITF Women event in Tucepi, Croatia, reaching the quali final.

Summer 2017 update: Oleksandra won her first ITF Juniors Grade 5 title in Stobrec, Croatia. She also reached her new junior CHR (career-high ranking) – 363.

Part 5. Looking for more miracles

So what’s next? Hard work of Sashka & her team. At the end of the day, the only thing which really means in tennis is your game quality.

To be continued…