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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, August 23, 2017

 
Vera Zvonareva

"Everything together—the physical, the mental, the execution—all of these elements and putting them together that is the most difficult part," Vera Zvonareva said of her US Open comeback.

Photo credit: Connecticut Open Facebook

In the shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Vera Zvonareva took a sweaty first step toward her first US Open main draw in six years.

Draping two ice towels around her neck during changeovers to combat the sticky New York City swelter, the 2010 US Open finalist rallied from 2-4 down defeating 17th-seeded Chinese Xinyun Han, 7-6 (4), 6-1, in her US Open qualifying opener on Tuesday.

Watch: When US Open Heat Proves Too Tough For Players

It was Zvonareva’s first Flushing Meadows appearance since 2011 when she fell to eventual-champion Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals.

Much has changed for the two-time Grand Slam finalist since then— last year Zvonareva married and became a mom—but she's retained her baseline acumen and tenacity.

The former world No. 2 banged her trademark two-handed backhand down the line to seize the first set.

When the searing heat hit Han hard leaving the lefty looking dazed and nearly immobile during some second-set points, prompting a medical time-out, Zvonareva remain firmly focused on the court beneath her familiar Fila visor.

The 32-year-old Russian won the ITF tournament in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt last month in preparation for her return to American hard courts.




Since her junior days, Zvonareva has played some of her most dynamic tennis on North American hard courts.

A 15-year-old Zvonareva won the 2000 Orange Bowl title at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne then successfully defended her title the following year edging her talented young compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova, in the 2001 final.

Zvonareva partnered Nathalie Dechy to the 2006 US Open doubles championship.



In 2010, she reached the Montreal final in 2010 losing to Caroline Wozniacki. Zvonareva avenged that defeat beating Wozniacki weeks later to advance to the US Open final where she fell to Kim Clijsters.

Now she’s back in New York and will play Ossining, New York native Jamie Loeb in the second round of qualifying.

We caught up with Zvonareva for this quick Q & A as she walked from Court 10 to the locker room dripping sweat on a sweltering New York City afternoon while looking buzzed to be back at the Open.

Tennis Now: You’re back at the US Open seven years after you played the final. How does it feel to be back? How did you feel about the match?

Vera Zvonareva: You know, it was difficult conditions. It was very difficult to play good tennis. I just focused on trying to win, on trying to get through these conditions. I think I did well. It’s really nice to be back playing in the US Open.

TN: You won a Challenger last month. You look fit. How do you assess your game?

Vera Zvonareva: It’s getting better day-by-day. I still feel I have huge room for improvement. But I’m getting better every day. I feel better today than two months ago so it’s a good step forward for me.

TN: What is the toughest aspect of your comeback? Is it the physical, the mental, getting accustomed to competing again?

Vera Zvonareva: Everything together—the physical, the mental, the execution—all of these elements and putting them together that is the most difficult part. You can get better mentally, you can get better physically or you can get better on the court. But putting them all together—putting all of those elements together—that is probably the most challenging part.

TN: You are playing with a Head racquet now. You played with Prince previously. Why did you make the racquet change? What were you looking for in a racquet?

Vera Zvonareva: I was exploring different racquet options also because of my shoulder—I’ve had shoulder problems in the past. I was trying to find something that would maybe help a little bit. I think this racquet fits me well.

TN: What is your goal for the US Open and rest of the season? Are you planning to play Challengers and qualifying rounds?

Vera Zvonareva: Well, you know, it’s a pleasure to be back playing here at the US Open. I have no real faraway plans. I’m trying to stay fit. I’m trying to improve every day. That’s probably the plan and then we’ll see. I have a family back home to go back to as well. I will try to manage both. So we’ll see how it goes.


 

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