Russian tennis is more than just Sharapova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who was knocked out of the quarter-finals of Wimbledon at the hands of defending champion Serena Williams, has rebuked Dominika Cibulkova for her claim that Maria Sharapova is “totally unlikeable”. The Slovakian Cibulkova, who was playing in her first quarter-final at SW19, said Sharapova “was not missed on the Tour” and was “arrogant, conceited and cold”.

But fellow Russian Pavlyuchenkova said: “We’ve always been good friends because I’ve known her a while in the Fed Cup. We’ve always had a lot of laughs. Even at other tournaments, we were always the only two chatting in the locker rooms. So I have no problem with her.” But the 25-year-old refused to comment on the former Wimbledon champion’s two-year doping ban for testing positive for meldonium, saying: “I can’t comment because I have no clue what’s going on there.”

Despite Sharapova’s absence, Russian tennis is in good health. Two Russians made it to the quarter-finals for the first time in history, and Elena Vesnina progressed to the semi-finals after victory over Cibulkova. She will now face Serena Williams.

“Right now everyone is practising every day, everyone is working hard. Everyone has got a good coach. Everyone is hungry and everyone wants to beat everyone,” 25-year-old Pavlyuchenkova said about the women’s game generally. “The times have changed and tennis has changed. Now there’s a lot of opportunities for everyone.

“We’ve always had a lot of good Russian women tennis players, that’s great for our country. That’s great for us and for me because we push each other. There is a lot of potential. I’ve always liked Elena’s tennis. She always had a lot of potential but maybe she just didn’t have enough belief in her game. Now she’s turning 30, she’s grown up. Maybe something changed in her mind.”

And for Pavlyuchenkova, reaching the quarter-finals for the first time has given her belief in her ability on grass. “I’ve always been saying I never liked grass and have been negative about playing at Wimbledon,” she admitted. “Right now I’ll change my mind. It’s always been one of my favourite Grand Slams, very special. It’s been five years since my last quarter-final, at the US Open in 2011. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, so it was very special playing against Serena on Centre Court.

“I was very nervous before the match because I didn’t want to go out there and just enjoy it, I wanted to win.”

Next up for Pavlyuchenkova are the Olympic Games. And not even the Zika virus will stop the young Russian competing at Rio 2016. “I was aware that it’s more dangerous for pregnant women,” she said. “But I haven’t really thought about it. All I know is that I am going and I am looking forward to finally participating in the Olympics, as unfortunately I didn’t make it to London four years ago, despite being in the top 30. It’s exciting for me.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.

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