IT is a long way from Wimbledon’s centre court.
But former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva said this week’s City of Playford Tennis International was an important step on the path to rebuilding her glittering career.
The Russian hit the practice courts at Elizabeth East on Tuesday as she prepared to open her campaign at the $25,000 ITF Futures tournament.
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Zvonareva, 33, was relishing her to return to action after taking two years off to recover from injuries, get married and have her first child.
“It’s great to be playing outdoors and I’m really enjoying my time,” said Zvonareva, who left freezing conditions in Moscow to kickstart her season in SA.
“I kind of tried to come back (last year) and I had a series of injuries, so I thought I would get a chance to play some matches here.
“Obviously you don’t get that media attention like on those big (Grand Slam) centre courts, but it’s still very nice.
“I see girls here maybe ranked 200 or 300 in the world, but they all play very well.
“It’s a tough competition out there and I’m enjoying it.”
Zvonareva faces America’s world No. 388 Allie Kiick in her first round singles clash at the new $55 million Playford Tennis Centre on Wednesday.
It would be a far cry from the bright lights of the sport’s biggest stages, where she was runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010.
The right-hander, now ranked 202, hung up her racquet in April 2015 following persistent injuries.
She was married and gave birth to her daughter, Evelyn, the following year.
“I hadn’t planned on coming back,” said Zvonareva, who had earned $17.2 million prizemoney throughout her career.
“Once I got married, I was expecting a child and I was pretty sure I will not be back competing.
“But my main motivation was to get back in shape after giving birth.
“By playing tennis, I motivated myself to go to the gym to get stronger and to get better.
“I love tennis, I love to play … and I have a passion for it.
“As long as I am physically fine, as long as I am injury free and I still have the desire to be out there and compete and fight, I think I would give it a try.”
The four-time Grand Slam doubles champion, who had six WTA singles title to her name, hoped a strong run at Playford would set her up for this month’s Australian Open qualifiers.
But Zvonareva said her perspective on the sport had changed.
“Family comes first,” said Zvonareva, whose daughter had remained at home in Russia.
“If my husband supports me to travel and I can manage it between my family and playing tennis, I will keep on doing that.
“If it’s not working out, I’ll probably have to stop playing tennis and stay back home.”