Tennis / Sports

Theres No Place Like Home

Aug 15 6:00am - Features
Varvara Lepchenko walks hurriedly across the grounds of the USTA National Tennis Center, passing Arthur Ashe stadium on her way from the indoor training center to the fitness room in the U.S. Open’s player lounge. She sees Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand courts, the TV booths, the food court with its signs hawking everything from hamburgers and hot dogs to taco salads and crepes. She saunters past the giant reflecting pool with the fountain that spouts water high in the air, the giant Unisphere from the 1964 World’s Fair shining in the distance, beyond the shuttered turnstile gates that burst with energy for two weeks near the end of every summer.When Lepchenko takes this walk, there are no fans pressing giant tennis balls into the faces of players on the practice courts, no quartets atop platforms playing jazz and no water in the pool outside Ashe stadium. For Lepchenko, a 26-year-old native of Uzbekistan who now plays under the American flag, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is her home port, where she trains with Christina McHale, Melanie Oudin and other young Americans when they aren’t playing tournaments. Walking the grounds in the quiet of the U.S. Open offseason is both cathartic and reassuring.“It’s like my home here,” says Lepchenko, who has, between the qualifying tournament and the main draw, played every U.S. Open since 2005, winning one main draw match along the way. “I now feel like all the other people there are my guests.”For Lepchenko, who received her U.S. citizenship just last September and in June snagged the fourth and final women’s singles spot on the U.S. Olympic team, the ascent to the upper echelon of women’s tennis has been both slow and methodical, and meteoric at the same time. Ranked No. 110 at the start of 2012 and forced to play qualifying at most WTA tournaments, she jumped to just outside the Top 50 by Wimbledon. Her rise was bolstered largely by a round-of-16 run at the French Open, where she upset former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic and 2010 French champ Francesca Schiavone, 8-6 in the third set, before falling to the No. 4 seed, Petra Kvitova. She also reached the third round at Wimbledon before falling to Kvitova. Though she has more than halved her ranking this year, Lepchenko, whose friends call her “V” or “Big V”, did not exactly burst on the American tennis consciousness.B...
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