One of the Cinderalla stories of the 2012 French Open is Varvara Lephecnko. The 26-year-old grew up in Uzbekistan and since immigrated to the US last fall. Now the Lepchenko finds herself having the best tournament of her brief pro career, and she’s on the brink of making the US Olympic women’s tennis team with her No. 63 ranking only going upward.
Lepchenko ousted her second seed of the tournament beating former champion Francesca Schiavone today, that after upsetting former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the second round. Lepchenko now plays another lefty, Petra Kvitova, on Monday in her fourth round Grand Slam debut.
Piecing together her quotes from the week, here’s what we know about Lepchenko.
On her background:
VARVARA LEPCHENKO: I was born and raised in Uzbekistan, Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. When I was 15 years old I went to play juniors in United States and also Sunshine Cup, if you ever heard of that tournament.
So after we arrive it was me, my dad, and my sister came a week later. After we arrived to the United States, we didn’t come back, because there was no future for me, no future for my career, no I wouldn’t be able to make it as far as I am right now if I was back in Uzbekistan.
On making the Olympic team:
VARVARA LEPCHENKO: Well, of course it’s important. But I keep saying to myself it’s not important because, you know, I have to get away from those thoughts somehow because it’s going to obviously be in my way when I’m playing.
I don’t want to be standing on the tennis court and thinking, Oh, my gosh, if I win this match I’ll be qualified to play the Olympics.
You know, it’s everybody’s dream. I just try to put it away, put it aside for now, focus on the tennis, focus on my matches.
If God let’s me win and play at the Olympics, it will be amazing, of course.
On her help from the USTA:
VARVARA LEPCHENKO: Last year they, you know I had like a group of coaches coming and watching me. We were working really hard. I was almost dying, like right now (smiling).
They just told me, You got to believe in you. You have great strokes, great potential. If you worked as hard as you work right now, you will get you will reach top 50, you know.
After I played Australian Open I lost three tight sets to Hantuchova, and I went back and I was very hungry for more because I knew that I didn’t finish that match.
We had a conversation with Patrick. He said, We need more women in the second week of Grand Slams.
I said, You know what? I’m going to work even harder. Hopefully you’ll see me in the second week.
They, you know just the whole team has been believing in me so much and giving me inspirational quotes all the time, saying I can do it. And being there, always, you know, they fighting for me and they given me coaches, they given me everything that I need.
I’m just really lucky that it turned out to be New York and turned out to be that team. And I don’t know if I could have done that without them.
On moving from Tashkent to Allentown, PA:
VARVARA LEPCHENKO: My mom, she couldn’t arrive right away, because there is rules, certain rules at the immigration, so I haven’t seen her for four years, once I moved to the United States.
And then once we got approved with our case, she was able to join again by the immigration laws.
Then after that, how I ended up there, there was a challenger, a 25K, USTA challenger. I played that one, and there was a lady who was in charge of housing. She was super nice. Her name is Shari Butz.
Me and my dad, we didn’t have enough money to rent an apartment, so we were struggling, going from one place to another. She said, Listen, I know you guys are all the time on the road. If you ever need a place to stay, you can come and stay with me, because she had a huge house and had, like, a lot of room in it. So she said she became like my mom. She was with me at the time when my mom wasn’t there.
And then she organized pretty much everything for me. She set up a club for me to practice in. It was at no charge.
When my mom arrived after four years, we rented an apartment. I started to do better and started to make more money, and I was able to rent an apartment.
And now my whole family, my sister lives in Washington, D.C., and my mom stays back in Allentown. My dad also is there (dad is Peter Lepchenko and mom is Larisa Lepchenko). While I’m practicing in New York, on weekends I go back to Allentown to relax, because it’s more relaxing sort of place, but I also like to go out in New York, also.
On the meaning of her name:
VARVARA LEPCHENKO: Well, first one I forgot. Oh, Varvara. I don’t know if it means anything, but I know my dad, his grandma, she loved him so much that he you know, he named me that, Varvara. Her name was Varvara, as well. I think it’s a Greek name. It’s very rare. It’s not very common in Uzbekistan or in Russia. You won’t see many Varvaras.
On what her parents did back in Uzbekistan:
Then the second one, my mom was an accountant back they both graduated from the universities. My mom is in math and my dad was an engineer.
So my mom was an accountant, and my dad was coaching me. He played not professionally. He, you know, he was coaching me. He continued coaching me back there and in U.S. Then he still coaches me on the road, but, you know, I have a big team.
On her support team:
VARVARA LEPCHENKO: It’s a huge team. I mean, obviously my dad, Patrick McEnroe, Jorgé Todero. Jay Gooding, Jay Devashetty, Bret Waltz. I mean, those are the USTA. Then my dad. By the rules they can’t coach me on the road because I have my dad. But my dad is he’s a coach, but he’s also a big support of me. So I have someone very close that I can talk to and everything.
My mom stays back in Allentown, and she doesn’t travel that much, but she’s also part of my team.
Here’s a video from today:
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