Gallagher: Khristina Blajkevitch poised to start her own pro tennis career ahead of Odlum Brown VanOpen
Former VanOpen ball-girl hopes to be a centre-court regular, and follow a path blazed by her former partner and rising Canadian tennis star, Eugenie Bouchard
Khristina Blajkevitch says she’s not going to dip her toes into the WTA circuit to see how warm or cold the water may be, but she plans to be playing tennis for as long as she can stay healthy.
Totally stoked to get the news that Tennis Canada had given her a wild-card berth into the main draw at next week’s Odlum Brown tournament at Hollyburn Country Club, the 22-year-old University of Kentucky graduate is just beginning her professional career.
But she’s determined to make a serious run at making a living from the sport, and when it was suggested to her that she’s “going Sharon Fichman on us,” invoking the name of one of Canada’s most hard-working, grinding pros on tour at the moment, Blajkevitch begged to differ.
“I’m going ‘Khristina Blajkevitch’ on you; I’m in this for the long haul and I’m going to keep playing until this stops being fun, and I plan on making it fun for at least 10 or 15 years.
“I enjoy every single minute of it. I enjoy playing on centre court like I’m going to be next week, and I enjoy playing on a backcourt in Europe or someplace where nobody is watching and nobody cares.
“Of course, I want to make playing on centre court my everyday court, but next week, being a local and in the main draw, I’m just assuming I’m going to be on a feature court.”
They may owe her that much. She was a ball girl at the Vancouver Open for years, and has been to qualifying a couple of times before going fully pro.
That was what she was planning on doing this Saturday until she got the wild-card Thursday. She is just 824th on the WTA ranking list at the moment, so it’s a struggle to get into most any tournament as you’re generally scrounging for anything you can unearth in what can be a difficult and, at times, lonely life.
“I’m really looking forward to it next week because I know I play really well against the better players in the world,” said Blajkevitch, who grew up in New Westminster and now lives in North Vancouver.
“Just last week in Granby I played somebody who is 159 (Japan’s Eri Hozumi) in the world and I was really close to winning that first set, and I know I have the game to be taking on players like that.
“So it’s exciting to be playing against some of those top players next week. Tennis Canada showed the faith in me in giving me this opportunity and it’s up to me to make the most of it.”
Her determination to make a long-term go of pro tennis will, of course, be tested many times, particularly early on as she tries to make her way through the thicket of talented players who are trying to do the same thing — get points and climb the rankings.
She is certainly bright, having done both Grade 11 and 12 online over a nine-month period when she tried playing professionally earlier on. Then she did her communications and political science degree at Kentucky in three years with a 3.9 GPA. So she has some sense of what she’s up against.
“Doing high school like that was really hard, and I found it so much easier when I got to university and could just listen to a teacher or professor explain things,” she said. “Being in class was a lot easier than trying to teach yourself algebra.”
She may find this life even tougher, but she claims to be ready for all it can dish out. She’s played against and with Eugenie Bouchard at various times growing up, including an under-14 junior national doubles title they won together, and she sees the Canadian star as someone who has demonstrated that you can have success in the sport coming from this country.
Like all players in her position, the Ukraine-born but thoroughly Canadian player is going to need a lot of help, particularly in the money department.
Along with her parents Oxana and Orest, she has some financial help from one backer at Hollyburn named John Eymann.
In the corporate arena, Wilson does all her tennis equipment and shoes, and Lululemon does her clothing off court.
Vadim Korkh is her coach these days locally, although she can always get help and advice at the national training centre in Montreal when she needs it.
“I’m not really in a position to pick and choose which coach I might like at the moment, but I can say that no matter how I’m doing, these guys I’m working with now are terrific and will always be in my life. They’ve been a huge help to me.”
ODLUM BROWN VANOPEN
Singles qualifying for the Odlum Brown VanOpen goes all weekend at Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver.
Matches start at 9 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday; free admission all weekend.
The first round starts Monday, with first matches at 10 a.m. and evening feature matches starting at 6:30 p.m.
Ticket information at vanopen.com.
© Copyright (c) The Province