Lesia Tsurenko is rolling merrily along at the Odlum Brown VanOpen tennis tournament this week, knocking off seeded players left and right, but she is doing so with a heavy heart.
The 25-year-old Ukrainian admitted to having a difficult time digesting what is happening in her country and its conflict with the pro-Russian separatists. She only left Kiev a week ago to fly to Vancouver so the situation is still very raw in her mind.
“To be honest, it is very difficult for me and I feel like I should be at home,” Tsurenko said Friday after she routed No. 1 seed Timea Babos 6-3, 6-1 in a quarter-final match on the Hollyburn Country Club’s centre court. “It’s a hard feeling when you understand that in your own country, which I really love, such bad things are going on. It’s a terrible situation. It’s, like, all bad. Everything is bad – and I don’t know when it’s going to improve.”
Tsurenko has an older sister but no brothers and she seemed thankful for that. She said many of her male friends and relatives are living on the edge, half expecting a call up from the Ukrainian military.
“A lot of our men are going into the army now so I’m feeling really sad for that,” she continued. “I just hope that it is going to finish soon. I don’t want my relatives or my friends – a lot of them are tennis players and coaches -- to go to the army. Nobody I know has gone yet. I’m just feeling really sad for my country and everything that is going on there.”
Tsurenko will remain in North America for at least another month, through the U.S. Open, so she isn’t certain what she’ll be returning to when she does go home. She’ll train in Florida for two weeks following the VanOpen and then move on to New York. She is a professional tennis player by trade, she noted, so she has to continue on with her life.
“I have to do my job,” she stated. “I know I have to play tournaments."
Tsurenko is doing her job well on the hardcourts of Hollyburn. On Wednesday, she punted sixth-seed Melanie Oudin out of the tournament in a three-set slugfest and was leading her second-round opponent, Romina Oprandi of Switzerland, 6-3, 3-0 when the latter retired from the match with an injury.
Her 6-3, 6-1 dismantling Friday of Babos was extremely impressive as she had the VanOpen top seed, a Wimbledon finalist in doubles just a month ago, completely off kilter.
“I don’t know why it is going so well this week,” Tsurenko said. “I have not had a very good year but I was able to win some matches in the last few months so maybe I got some confidence back. I don’t know about other people but, with me, confidence works like this: Sometimes I just cannot toss the ball because my hand is shaking and other times I just feel well and I am not afraid of anything. You just enjoy being on the court and hitting the balls.”
She felt her return of service Friday was the key to her victory.
“Probably the main weapon for Babos is the serve and I did some good returns, which I think she was not expecting,” Tsurenko explained. “At least that’s what I felt. I also played quite deep, which was also bad for her. My serve was pretty bad today so I just tried to give her more slices on the second serve and probably more direction. I will definitely need to work on my first serve for my next match.”
Tsurenko has done well on the secondary women’s circuit, the ITF, with six singles victories and eight more in doubles. However, she has been unable to break through in WTA play and is still seeking her first win of any kind there. Her career earnings prior to the VanOpen were $812,166.
VanOpen tournament director Ryan Clark has been impressed with Tsurenko’s athleticism this week. It is the first time she has competed at Hollyburn. Her current ranking is 165th in the world.
“She’s very athletic, moves very well and does hit a very big ball,” Clark said. “The other night you could see Oudin was going after her and she was able to match her from a movement standpoint. You can see she’s really balanced. When she walks out, you think there’s an athlete. No one would question that. Her backhand is extremely solid and she can kind of rip it off both sides.”
Tsurenko will meet American Asia Muhammad in her semi-final match Saturday. The other women’s semi will pit Madison Brengie of the U.S. against Jarmila Gajdosova, a Slovakian who now calls Australia home.
NET NOTES: Semi-final play Saturday begins at 11 a.m… The tournament concludes Sunday afternoon with the men’s doubles finals, women’s singles finals and men’s singles final. The first match will go off at noon.
Complete tournament results and match times are available at: www.vanopen.com