From tantrums to Tolstoy: Zvonareva's many facets

Last year's runner-up tells Paul Newman about smashing rackets, studying diplomacy and why she's not jealous of Serena or Venus

They are not the first characteristics you would expect of a student at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vera Zvonareva has famously cried on court, suffered meltdowns in matches and sees nothing wrong with smashing a racket or two.

Last year's beaten Wimbledon finalist is a woman of many facets. The 26-year-old Russian reads Tolstoy, is a "promoter of gender equality" with Unesco, works with the International Rett Syndrome Foundation to raise awareness of the disorder of the nervous system, has a degree in Physical Education and is studying International Economic Relations. She is in the process of writing a 30,000-word thesis on "how to increase the competitiveness of Russian products on the international market".

Zvonareva knows a thing or two about increasing competitiveness. Until two years ago she was regarded as little more than a journeywoman player who, in 24 Grand Slam tournaments, had managed just one quarter-final appearance. A run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2009 hinted at better things to come and last year she enjoyed her most successful season yet, reaching the final at both Wimbledon and the US Open, losing to Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters respectively. With the withdrawal of Clijsters from this year's Wimbledon, she is the No 2 seed at the All England Club.

Nevertheless, the last time that Wimbledon saw Zvonareva she was in an all-too-familiar state. Having held things together when she was outplayed by Williams in the singles final, the Russian could not hold back the tears in the doubles final alongside her compatriot Elena Vesnina as they lost to Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova. She began crying after losing the tie-break at the end of the first set, burying her head in her towel as her partner tried to console her, and was in a similar state at the end of the match.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Zvonareva can also be a racket thrower. "If I'm not happy in the middle of the set I break my racket," she said in a matter-of-fact way. "That's fine. It's nothing. I'm an emotional person. That's OK, so long as I use my emotions to my advantage. I think it's stupid not to be emotional when you play sport. Fans are emotional. There wouldn't be such a thing as sport if there are no emotions. Sport is about emotions.

"If one day I feel like I'm so frustrated that I need to break my racket to let it out and focus on my game I will do it. I don't care what people say. Of course I don't want to break all my rackets, but if it happens it happens. I don't care. Sometimes it's the opposite. You have to calm yourself down and tell yourself: 'It's OK. Today you're tired or whatever. Take it easy. Try to focus on one point at a time. If it works, OK, if it doesn't work today that's OK too.' You just have to learn about yourself."

At just 5ft 7in tall and weighing just over nine stone, Zvonareva has worked at improving her physical as well as her her mental strength. "I don't have weapons like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova," she said. "I can't just wipe my opponent off the court with one winner and a great serve. I have to play and find another way to win matches."

She believes she can build on her successes last year. "It was definitely a great experience to be out there and to play in front of such a great crowd at Wimbledon and the US Open," she said. "I think I learned a lot of things just playing a lot of matches in the two weeks. I learned a lot about myself. I learned how to prepare myself the best I can in order to get to the last stages of the tournament in the best shape possible. It's tough because I've never really played seven matches in a row before."

There have probably been fewer world No 3s – she even reached No 2 at the end of last year – with such a low profile, but that does not worry her. "I think Serena and Venus deserve the attention they get, because they're great champions," she said when asked about all the interest in the returning Williams sisters.

"I don't really pay attention to what is going on around the court. I always try to focus on what is going on on the court, always try to focus on my game and always try to prepare myself the best I can so I can play my best tennis. That's all I'm thinking about."

Zvonareva admits that juggling her tennis with her studies can be a challenge. Having graduated in Physical Education, she enrolled at Moscow's Diplomatic Academy, where she is able to combine her interests in economics and international affairs. "As a tennis player I've travelled around the world, met people from different cultures and outlooks," she said. "The Diplomatic Academy seemed to be the perfect choice for me because I could use my tennis experience to help my studies."

Although she is able to do some of her academic work by correspondence, whenever Zvonareva returns home she goes into classes at the academy where she rubs shoulders with present and future diplomats and ambassadors.

Did she see herself as a future member of her country's diplomatic service? "Maybe not an ambassador but I'd definitely like to represent my country in some international organisations. That definitely interests me a lot, though I think it's a bit too early to think about that. The most important part for me is to get knowledge. At the moment I'm just trying to learn as much as I can."

She added: "I think I'm a diplomat in a way because I always try to understand people. I think a lot of conflicts in the world are because of misunderstandings. Sometimes people don't talk the truth or maybe they don't explain things properly. I think I'm a diplomat because no matter what a person has done I try to understand their actions."

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker