by Lindsay Gibbs
The Olympics are here and there is one member of Team USA’s tennis squad who’s name might look unfamiliar to you: Varvara Lepchenko. The twenty-six year old has had a phenomenal year on the WTA tour, climbing from 127 at the beginning of the year to 41 now. Plus she has an inspiring tale that sums up the Olympic spirit! Here’s what you should know:
1. She was born in Uzbekistan.
She grew up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan but opportunities there were limited for her family - everything was very far away and the average income was too low to support a tennis career. So ten years ago when she was fifteen, she came over to the United States with her father. After stopping first in Miami they eventually settled in Allentown, Pennsylvania. A woman named Shari Butz took her and her father in when they were struggling financially and became her “American mom”. Varvara is thanking Shari this year with a trip to London!
2. She idolized Serena growing up.
She came to America in the middle of the “Serena Slam” and instantly looked up to the younger Williams Sister. Now ten years later she gets to count Serena as her Olympic teammate! Pretty cool.
Unbelievable.Hit with Serena today.She is such cool girl.And when we hang out and did some crazy and funny things together. #dreamteam— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) July 25, 2012
3. She officially became a U.S. Citizen in September!
In 2007 Varvara and her family were granted political asylum, meaning they could stay in the United States and she could play under the American flag. But not being an official U.S. Citizen still made things difficult, especially when it came to travelling for tennis! She couldn’t get the paperwork to legally travel, so she had to restrict herself to only playing tournaments in the United States, which really limited her opportunities.
But last September her travel nightmare came to an end, and her tennis career has completely taken off! She often takes to twitter to express just how proud she is to be an American.
I'm proud to represent USA!!!— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) May 29, 2012
4. She practices at the USTA East training center with Melanie Oudin and Olympic teammate Christina McHale.
Whatever they’re doing there, it’s working. And it looks like they manage to have some fun too!
5. She has a kitten named Wimby.
While the rest of us were watching Federer beat Murray in the Wimbledon Final a few weeks ago, Varvara was picking up a new addition to her family!
This is what I was doing while u all were watching finals :) twitter.com/Varunchik1/sta…— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) July 9, 2012
6. She loves Blue Clay
Varvara had great results in Madrid, going through the qualifying draw and then upsetting French Open Champion Francesca Schiavone along the way to the quarterfinals. She was even one of the few players to not complain about the blue clay! She said it was thanks to …umm…less than stellar court conditions at U.S.T.A. East.
"I've been laughing a lot because back in New York where I'm practicing, [there's] a surface exactly the same like this," said Lepchenko. "[The courts are] always very slippery...sliding and not stopping obviously it's a tough situation, but I've been practicing for three weeks like that before, so I wasn't really surprised."
7. She has some bad-ass taste in music.
She often takes to twitter to declare her love for Pink Floyd, and has been quoted as saying that if she could meet one person in the world, it would be Eminem!
Listening to Pink Floyd this morning make me want to go to their concert so bad !!!!— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) July 6, 2012
8. She loves Rafa, but has a big crush on Ernie!
The man we all adore so much RAFA!!! twitter.com/Varunchik1/sta…— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) May 6, 2012
Rafa is a big inspiration to all of us lefties.Way to go!!!— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) April 22, 2012
Pulling for Gulbis.The cutest guy on the tour:)!!!!— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) June 25, 2012
9. Her dad travels with her.
Her dad, an engineer, first got her involved in tennis when she was seven years old, and continues to be the main support system in her career. Though she trains with the USTA coaches when she is in New York, her father travels with her - though it looks like he makes time for some fun as well!
My dad doesn't waste much time :) twitter.com/Varunchik1/sta…— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) April 2, 2012
10. So many friends!
Varvara is clearly one of the most friendly girls on the tennis tour - according to her twitter, she is friends with everyone! And she seems to be using her status as an Olympian to add a few friends to that list…and we certainly can’t blame her!
And I had an amazing dinner with my friends here is the picture twitter.com/Varunchik1/sta…— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) May 21, 2012
And guess who I had a lunch and and very nice conversation with...Mary Pierce,great player,very nice person!!! twitter.com/Varunchik1/sta…— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) February 5, 2012
Just saw ATP SA draw and my freind Denis Istomin plays against Querrey.Everytime he plays in US he plays against him.thats pretty funny.— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) February 12, 2012
Lebron James twitter.com/Varunchik1/sta…— Varvara Lepchenko (@Varunchik1) July 27, 2012