At the end of the draw ceremony, an online press conference was held by the director general of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy Alexander Medvedev and the tournament participant – Olympic champion Elena Vesnina.
– Alexander, what can you say about the results of the draw? How do you assess the chances of the Russian players, whom you not only wished luck, but inspired them to try to win the trophy both in singles and doubles?
– Alexander Medvedev: According to the results of the draw, their chances can be assessed as high. They also have a bye so they will get a day-off for them in the first round. Qualifiers and lucky losers are evenly distributed, which means if the Russian players start well they can make it to the semi-finals and finals. And I hope that our girls at this WTA500 tournament will not miss the chance to rise in the ranking. I would like to note that the pandemic changed the picture of world sports and affected football, hockey and tennis a lot. Tournaments are held almost everywhere without spectators, but in Russia, taking into account the results achieved in the fight against the pandemic and the launch of vaccinations, local branches of Rospotrebnadzor agency allow the presence of spectators. In St. Petersburg, the percentage of spectators is even higher than in Moscow – 75% (50% in Moscow). The tournament organizers comply with all the necessary recommendations and rules of the WTA, so both spectators and players will feel comfortable and safe. There are many young, promising and ambitious tennis players in the lineup who are rising in the ranking, and it’s a guarantee that the tournament will be very interesting to watch. Because of the pandemic last year’s ranking is no longer as important as it used to be when all tournaments were played. Due to the pandemic, a number of tournaments were canceled; some were postponed – for example, the tournaments of the Asian series. Many of the players who take part in our tournament were in the Top 10 and theTop20, and there is no such a thing as a former member of this “club”: everyone who has played at this level has skills that allows to compete for the highest position in the rankings. So there will be very interesting beautiful tennis matches between young and ambitious players and seasoned and titled masters.
– Elena, what are your memories from this tournament? And what are your feelings about returning to this tournament as a player? Could you also share your impressions after returning to the professional tour, as you have already played several matches in doubles?
– Elena Vesnina: I am always very glad and happy to return to St. Petersburg since I played here for the first time in 2016. In general, I have always loved St. Petersburg and immediately fell in love with this tournament. And I always tried to come back here, and it doesn’t matter if I come as a participant of the tournament or to play at an exhibition match, like last year. The organization here is always at the highest level – this is noted not only by me, but also by many other players. It’s great that we have such a tournament, and that there is an opportunity to play it during a pandemic, because the situation in the world is very difficult. The fact that we are hosting a tournament of this level in Russia is a great merit of Alexander Medvedev. We have this tournament thanks to him! We can watch live matches of our favorite tennis players, cheer for them, especially since you can come to the stands – this is very valuable!
After returning to the professional tour, I played several matches in Doha. Honestly, I enjoyed it big time on the court! I guess, I missed it. It was very pleasant for me to step on the court against such opponents as Victoria Azarenka and Elina Svitolina. It is twice as pleasant to play against such strong tennis players, to try my hand, and even beat them in such a tough match. In fact, it was difficult for me, but at the same time emotionally I felt an adrenaline rush and was all pumped up, so I wanted more. Therefore, I am looking forward to the start of the tournament here in St. Petersburg.
– Alexander, you have already mentioned in a few words the preparation for the tournament, and about the difficulties with holding the tournament in the context of a pandemic? Did the city help with the tournament? What was the response? And can you say a few words about the design of the tournament this year? The design concept is very interesting this year.
– А.М.: Regarding the design: we used to hold the tournament in February, so it was a winter tournament, but now it turned into a spring event. Therefore, this year spring colors were used in the design. Such spring colors indicate that although it is still fresh and even cold and there is a lot of snow outside, spring is just around the corner. Girls will melt the ice on the court.
– Е.V.: Beautifully said.
– А.М.: Preparations for this tournament began almost immediately after the end of St. Petersburg Open, which was held for the first time in the ATP500 category. The situation during the men’s tournament was even more difficult pandemic-wise, but we managed to meet all the ATP requirements – just like now we are meeting all the WTA requirements. Immediately after the end of the men’s tournament, we started to prepare for the women’s tournament. Unfortunately, we lost two players from Top 10 and even Top 5 who were going to play at our tournament: tennis player with Russian roots Sofia Kenin, who underwent an operation to remove her appendix; and the tennis player everyone admired here – Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens who suffered an ankle injury that prevented her from performing at full strength. She was knocked out in the first round in Qatar, and could not come here. I hope that next year we will see both Kenin and Bertens at this tournament. This year the lineup is still very strong, taking into account the previous achievements of the participants. Let me remind you that the same Elena Ostapenko won the Roland Garros. Therefore, the clash of ambitions and the desire to defend their positions will create the main intrigue of the tournament. And the city, as always, supported us very much both organizationally and in general. By the way, for the first time we use the nearest arena as a second court instead of the tennis center “Dynamo”, and tennis players can simply walk there. It is convenient for both spectators and athletes.
– Elena, you are very active on social networks, and always open to communication. You have recently started an Instagram account for your daughter. Aren’t you afraid of excessive publicity? Why did you decide to do it? Share your impressions of this experience.
– E.V.: Initially, I created an Instagram account for Lisa for my family and friends, who were always asking to send photos and videos of her, and I simply could not send all the photos to forty-five people a day, so I started posting all the photos on the Internet. Both grandmothers and grandfathers have Instagram now, everyone already knows how to use the Internet. Thus, we became closer to our family and friends, especially during the pandemic, when we all didn’t see each other. I didn’t want my account to have pictures of my daughter, because at some point I posted photos and videos only with Lisa, so we made a decision to create a separate profile for her. When she grows up, she will decide for herself whether she needs to keep it or not. Perhaps she will be angry with my posting too many of her pictures, but so far I like it. In fact, Lisa very often asks to show her some videos with her participation – just to kind of admire herself. In general, I’m not afraid of publicity yet.
– You and Vera Zvonareva you are both mothers. Will the children support you in the stands?
– E.V.: We did not take Lisa along to St. Petersburg. We decided to leave her at home with grandparents so that she could be in her usual atmosphere. She is still very small. When we were in Doha, my husband tried to bring her to the practice, but she immediately started to shout «Mom, I also want to play tennis». She was running on the court, took my racket, so our practice turned out to be not very effective. I apologized to the girl we practiced with. Lisa is not ready yet, but Vera’s daughter is here in St. Petersburg, so we will have support from the younger generation.
– Elena, could you, please, comment on the results of the draw. What do you think about the level of the players participating in this tournament?
– E.V.: There are a lot of strong players in the singles, regardless of their ranking. Because of all this situation in the world, I would not pay any attention to the ranking at all. I would look at the achievements of the players and their shape. When there are tennis players like Svetlana Kuznetsova in the draw, we can say that players of a very high level will play in the tournament. The girls in the draw are equally strong and each of them can win this tournament. As Alexander rightly put it, the main thing is to seize this opportunity to show great tennis. For some reason, I am sure that one of the Russian girls will be the winner of the singles tournament this year.
– Alexander, is a football-tennis match planned for this year with the participation of tennis players of the tournament and professional football players?
– A.M.: As we know the tennis tournament was postponed, and after the football match CSKA-Zenit, that will take place on March 17, the players of the national football team will go to the training camp. There are many national team players on our team (Zenit), including our main footballer-tennis player Artem Dzyuba. All of them will go to the training camp of the national team. That is why we will not be able to see Artem, but maybe we will be able to see some of the young football players. They are already joking – why are only some veterans involved in such activities? They ask to let them show their (tennis) skills. We have a Pro-Am tournament planned, similar to the one we had during the St. Petersburg Open 2020 – with the participation of 8 mixed doubles pairs. The competition is very strong, so it may be necessary to proceed to face control (laughter).
– Alexander, you are an experienced amateur doubles player, you have been playing in doubles for many years. Elena Vesnina returned to tennis with an eye on the Olympics in Tokyo and is going to play with Vera Zvonareva. What are the Olympic prospects of this duo from your point of view – as an expert and as a fan? Elena, and a question for you: did we understand your Olympic aspirations correctly? How is everything going in your duo with Vera? What combinations do you have, is there any “chemistry”?
– A.M.: I watched how Vera Zvonareva returned to tennis after the birth of a child. She started with doubles. She will also play in singles in our tournament. I saw her first victory after returning. It seems to me that Vera and Elena will be able to cope with those doubles players who will play here in St. Petersburg, although there are very strong doubles players in our tournament draw. But I think it is more interesting to beat strong players.
– E.V.: It is interesting and difficult. I always want to play against strong opponents. You grow when you play against such players. Yes, we are eying the Olympic with Vera. I hope the Olympics will take place. We are playing our first match with Vera here in St. Petersburg. This will be our debut, so we look forward to it. It is important to play together, to feel the way each other play. Typically it is enough to play two or three tournaments together to understand who is doing what on the court. Since Vera and I are quite experienced tennis players, we played in doubles together, we played Wimbledon final, but I don’t remember what year it was. We played quite well on the WTA tour, but we both had a break. I hope that experience will help us, but, of course, we need to play and train, to improve the game from match to match. It will not be easy and may take some time.
– Alexander, a question for you. Belinda Bencic and Elise Mertens withdrew from the tournament at the last moment. Did they have a reason for this? The second question: do you now consider Russian players to be favorites?
– A.M: Bencic withdrew from the tournament due to medical reasons. She really wanted to come and we were waiting for her. She played here more than once and played successfully. I do not yet have official information regarding the withdrawal of Mertens. But I think that before criticizing the athletes for not coming to the event, you need to take into consideration the situation in the countries where players were and where players are, as well as the need to obey the laws of entry to the country, although we did our best to ensure that these procedures were the shortest. But rules are rules, so being late is hard to make up for wasted time. Elena agrees with me that today the rankings do not play such an important role as it was before. If you look at the list of our players, there are players of the high level who have Grand Slam victories and victories in other tournaments under their belt. Many of our participants were in the Top20, so there is no need to worry about the quality of tennis. There will be interesting clashes on the courts.
– Elena, how long do you think it will take you to get on top of your shape in doubles and singles? Is the amount of time different?
– E.V.: It is easier to reach the optimal shape in doubles. I have already played some matches in Doha, so I had some experience. I will need a little more time to prepare for singles. I plan to start playing singles in the clay tournament series. Alexander Medvedev offered me a wild card in the main draw of the singles tournament, thanks a lot for that. But I decided that I was not physically ready to perform at the level at which I would like. Playing just for the sake of it – that’s not me. I want to prepare and be ready physically to play both singles and doubles.
– Alexander, can we hear your forecast for the final of the tournament?
– A.M.: I would like to see at least one Russian tennis player in the finals. I am sure it is possible. The draw helped a lot in this respect.