Anna Tatishvili has a story shared by a lot of the top players in women’s tennis these days.
The Georgian-born right-hander — who easily pushed aside North Vancouver’s Khristina Blajkevich in first round action at the Odlum-Brown Vancouver Open — moved to the U.S. along with the rest of her well-educated family at age 11 to pursue a tennis career she finds herself wrapped up in these days at age 24. She’s made over $1.1 million US in prize money so far but with the attendant expenses of having her dad or a coach travel with her to stave off the loneliness which can plague the life, she certainly wishes it could be more.
Having played under the banner of her native Eastern European country for years, she’s switched to the U.S. for ease of travel as she seeks to find that one consistent gear and health level which will lift her to a longer term stay in the 50s area of the rankings, where she has been for cups of coffee after spending a fair bit of time in the 80s.
That little bit higher up is where the money and the experiences they live for are located. When you reach that level you’re straight into the main draw at tournaments like Wimbledon with a shot at a winnable first round.
This June Tatishvili found herself playing that first-round match on centre court against Serena Williams for the tennis experience of her life, a mixed blessing to be sure. Not surprisingly she didn’t fare well with the unfortunate draw but that match paid her 27,000 pounds or about $46,000 to get her butt kicked, whereas clawing her way through the thicket of players trying to do exactly what she’s trying to do this week won’t pay her even close to half that, even if she wins.
“Last year was kind of hard on me because I got injured with my left ankle,” says Tatishvili of her recent struggles that have brought down her ranking to it’s present 108.
“Serena was my first time coming back at 100 per cent healthy this year and it was a little bit of an unlucky draw in a way as I’d prefer to play her in the third or fourth round, obviously. But there were a lot of positives. It was a huge experience for me as I’ve never played centre court at Wimbledon before and I played her for the third time.
“ I played her twice last year, once at the French Open and another in Sweden in a tournament, so playing at Wimbledon was a little bit different atmosphere obviously.
“It was nice, so I’ve got to work harder to be there more often. But I wasn’t intimidated. I was nervous before the match but once I got out there it felt normal and that’s good.”
In many ways Tatashvili has been queen of the bad draw, since every time she gets herself into position to get a couple of big wins in major tournaments, to really make headway to remain near her highest ranking (50), she seems to draw someone like Serena in the first round.
Or, as was the case last week in a $250,000 tournament in Turkey, it was the 24th ranked Roberta Vinci of Italy. But she tosses that aside as an excuse.
“It’s not easy, but if you play WTA tournaments you have to be ready to beat everybody. Like I said, I’m coming off my injury, so time-wise no, it may not have been perfect. But any other time in my best form, it might even have been a good draw to play her in the first round. At the time when I played those matches ... yeah, it was unlucky but it’s part of the sport and you take what you get.”
Like quite a few of the Eastern Europeans who dominate women’s tennis these days (37 of the top 100 hail from that small area of the world, and even more if you count those who have become U.S. citizens) Tatishvili has gone the American route to make life easier. And having lived in Boca Raton since moving to North America, she’s full value for the change of banner.
“It did it for a lot of reasons,” she says. “With a U.S. passport, it’s more convenient. When I travel you don’t have to get visas. With a Georgian passport you always had to get visas for Australia and Europe. It was never a problem, just time-consuming. So I was just going to take the passport, I wasn’t thinking about changing. I played for Georgia in the Olympics but it’s also more beneficial for my sport as well. I live real close to the USTA and you have to be a member of the USTA to go there and use the facilities. I lived there but never went there. So now, me and my coach can go there all the time when I’m home. Plus, I have lived in the U.S. so long now and I love it.”
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