Time of Change for Chakvetadze
CHANGE: Anna Chakvetadze's decision to play in Auckland next month is all about change.
Aside from the standard platitudes about really wanting to see New Zealand (although she at least doesn't throw in the usual lines about hobbits and our beautiful countryside), and getting an early start to the year because of the injury-disrupted nature of her 2009, what world No69 Anna Chakvetadze's decision to play in Auckland next month is really about is change.
As that perma-tanned motivational gibberer Anthony Robbins would have it: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got."
Two years ago, the 22-year-old Russian was fifth in the world, having won four of seven career titles and had made the quarterfinals of the Australian and French Opens and the semifinal of the US Open. But her ranking began to plunge the day a gang of masked men broke into her Moscow mansion, pistol-whipped her father, tied and gagged the whole family and stole $US300,000 in cash and valuables.
"I think I am completely over it," she tells the Sunday Star-Times on the phone from her training base in the Russian resort city of Sochi, where she has spent the past month hitting indoors with world No23 Elena Vesnina.
"I don't think about it at all. After a week, I really did not think about it," she says.
This is a rather staunch version of events. As a result of the robbery, Chakvetadze needed acupuncture to correct a loss of feeling in her hands caused by the tightness of her bonds, didn't sleep for three nights, moved house and acquired bodyguards. She couldn't train, but in an effort to clear her mind, went to the Australian Open.
"Physically, I was not ready," she says. "Mentally, it was also very tough, and that's how it started.
"It was very tough for me."
Of her tormentors, she says: "They are not in prison, I don't know where they are."
The two years since have been a procession of injuries and early exits from tournaments, the result, she says, of not being physically ready for a full tour schedule.
"Sometimes I had a tough time, I didn't want to practise, I just wanted to throw down my racquet somewhere and I didn't want to see it again," she says.
"I didn't want to see the court. Now I like to practise, I like to compete. That's why I am doing this and it is important to enjoy it and that's what I am doing now."
She has changed coach and her hitting partner and acquired a physical trainer to toughen up, saying: "I felt I had to change something."
But the one constant remains her father, Djambuli, who travels everywhere with her. Her mother, Natalia, is also a regular on the road. "Sometimes they try to coach me, but they haven't been professional tennis players. They just help me with support, I need the support of my family and I like to have them stay around me.
"My dad, he keeps talking to me during matches but I can't hear him. My mum – she is quiet, just cheering and clapping."
After a stress fracture in her foot ended her 2009 season back in October, Chakvetadze spent two months in Moscow, her longest spell at home since she was 16. "I had a great time, of course, but you get used to the travel and already, during the second month, I was saying `OK, I want to go somewhere'. I was getting kind of bored ... but I couldn't go to the nightclubs because I was wearing this big ugly boot. It was pretty embarrassing."
Now she's ready to hit the road again. Having completed a psychology degree last year, Chakvetadze would be well placed to assess her own mental fragility, and agrees it has helped her game, saying: "I feel I am a completely different person."
Auckland may be her chance to prove it. She will be one of the earliest arrivals for the ASB Classic, which starts on January 4 – missing New Year celebrations in Russia – and says: "Next year, I think I can change some things. It will be good to change some things ... every year is different."