Was tennis always your first love?
I grew up in a small town in Ukraine, Lutsk. I started doing sports at a really young age, but not a lot of people played tennis there. When I was 4, my mom took me to gymnastics. It’s more like rhythmic gymnastics, the kind with the ribbon and the ball, not the one that is popular in America. In Eastern Europe, all the girls do it.
You weren’t a fan of the ribbon sports?
I wasn’t naturally talented in it or flexible enough. I had to work super hard. At the age of 8, we went on a vacation with my family, and I tried to play tennis with my dad. I just fell in love with it. I didn’t know how to hold the racket or anything.
How did you end up at UNT?
The tennis coach found me through a recruiting agency in Russia. He saw my video and reached out. I had a lot of different offers, but when he flew out to Ukraine just to meet me, that was a deciding factor. I really liked him, and he was very convincing. My parents met him, too, and they felt comfortable sending me to another part of the world with him.
What were your first impressions of Texas?
[laughs] Denton wasn’t really an exciting place. But I moved in August of my freshman year, so it was super hot. We had to do all these workouts in the sun. It was really hard for me to adjust: new people, new time zone, new language. Away from home, not knowing anyone. My first semester was my toughest one. But after that I had a great time. When I graduated, I moved to Uptown.
You also happen to be a model, a fact that I discovered when you canceled a tennis lesson on me to attend the annual Model Volleyball tournament in Miami Beach.
[laughs] When I was 15, my mom decided to take me to a modeling school so I could do something outside of tennis. I really enjoyed it and made a lot of friends. I was just doing it for fun, some photo shoots and runway shows. Then, when I came here, I was so busy with college and tennis that I didn’t have time for that. In my junior year, I thought I’d try it again.
You and your doubles partner, Aleksandra Malyarchikova, a former SMU player, just won the Texas qualifier for the U.S. Open and are headed to nationals in Connecticut. If you win there, you’ll be NYC-bound?
Just 16 teams will compete at nationals, one from each region. Texas is its own region because the state is so big; other states are combined. The team that wins will get a wild card to the main draw at the U.S. Open, which starts August 29.
Do you have outfits picked out?
No, we need to do that soon. I definitely want to match. I usually just wear shorts and t-shirts, but I may go to Lululemon or LoveTennis and pick out something cute.
Have you stopped to realize that you might play Serena and Venus in doubles?
I hope that’s not going to happen!
Not in the first round, anyway, although with any luck they’ll be tired from the Olympics. Maybe in the finals?
I’m just thinking about nationals first!