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By Blair Henley / Monday, August 26, 2013  


Despite an early loss at Wimbledon, Maria Kirilenko has played some of her best tennis in 2013. She spoke with Tennis Now about her father, her fiance, and her "angry" personality.

(Photo Credit: Philippe Wogazer/Reuters)

She is known for her craftiness, not her ability to crush the ball.

Unlike some of her contemporaries, her romantic relationship has had a positive effect on her career.

She is coached by her father…and they actually get along.

In other words, Maria Kirilenko is an outlier on the WTA Tour. And, after cracking the top 10 earlier this year, she has shown that she is also a U.S. Open contender.

Before getting knocked out by Laura Robson in the first round of Wimbledon, the Russian had been playing the best tennis of her career with two top 10 wins and a quarterfinal appearance at the 2013 French Open. But, at 26 years old, she knows how to handle a tough loss.

“You think to yourself; you talk to the coach,” she explained to Tennis Now. “You find the issue, what you did wrong, or what she did right. Of course you are going to be upset after each loss, but I understand that nobody has died. It’s my job, you know. I just need to be tough.”

A quarterfinalist at the 2012 Wimbledon Championships, Kirilenko’s early exit this year saw her drop to No. 17 in the WTA rankings. If she has it her way, she won’t stay there for long. 

“Losing a lot of points at Wimbledon, I went out of the top 10,” she said with a heavy Russian accent. “But it was my dream come true, and I just need to keep going and try to come back to the top 10. Maybe try to get to number nine!”

Though Kirilenko is coached by her father Yuri, her mother also joins her on tour. The tight-knit trio clearly has a good thing going.

“It’s nice! Mom, dad, and me, we’re a good family. We understand each other.”

From Dokic to Capriati, tennis history is rife with father/daughter coaching relationships gone wrong. On the contrary, many casual fans don’t know Kirilenko works with her father, which speaks to the strength of their bond. So, what makes their partnership so successful?

“First of all, he can play tennis,” she said with a laugh. “There are a lot of fathers that don’t play tennis at all. Also, when I was a little kid, he just talked to me like a big girl. He’s the kind of person who likes to read a lot, so he always talks to me about other things. He always tries to inform me about what’s going on.”

Kirilenko’s relationship with her parents isn’t the only one in her life. She confirmed her engagement to Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin in January. He has been spotted with her on tour during his offseason, and she has attended her share of hockey games.

“When you’re in love, you are just a different person on the court,” she said. “You’re more relaxed, you’re more confident as well. I think it’s important.”

Her cover girl looks have magnified her fame, but Kirilenko’s all-business approach to her tennis makes it difficult to read her personality. When asked to describe herself, she had this to say: “I’m kind of funny, and I like to joke. I think I’m angry as well, but I’m the kind of person that if I get angry, in five minutes, I’m okay again. I’m back to my normal mood.”

Her mercurial nature is something she shares with Ovechkin. Earlier this year Kirilenko told a Russian sports outlet that her fiancé destroyed the Capitals’ locker room after failing to spot her in the stands. He proceeded to score a hat trick once told where she was sitting.

Though she stands 5’9”, Kirilenko is slight in stature. As a result, she is forced to use prowess over power on the court. No doubt her unique style – which includes plenty of slicing and volleying – will be on display when she kicks off her U.S. Open campaign Tuesday against a tough opponent in Belgian Yanina Wickmayer.

“I was always the kind of player who was always thinking,” she said about her game style. “I’m not the kind of player who just hits the ball hard, but with my experience, I feel like I can beat a lot of good players.”

Though Kirilenko admits traveling the world gets tougher every year, she says her love of the battle keeps her going.  With any luck, she’ll have plenty to fight for over the next two weeks.


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