Varvara Lepchenko, 24, is originally from Uzbekistan but moved to the U.S. in 2000, has been competing for the U.S. since 2007 and hopes to receive her U.S. citizenship this year. She is first hoping to make a splash in the main draw of the 2011 Australian Open starting this week as she shares her thoughts on the tournament and goals for this year exclusively with USTA.com.
I have a lot of big goals and a lot of potential and think I can realize it and make it come true. I've been improving every year and see myself up there. I've been changing a lot things and stopped playing as many tournaments as I used to. I'm trying to be ready for every tournament. One of the most important things for me is to keep mentally fresh. If I really want it, I play well and do well. If I'm not mentally fresh, I can still play well and lose. It's a learning process but unfortunately no one can tell you that and you have to learn it for yourself.
I went to L.A. for four weeks in the off-season and trained some at the USTA Training Center in Carson but unfortunately the weather was bad and I didn't get in much tennis. I've been trying to catch up here in Australia and I feel a lot better.
Last year I had a few three-set matches in the second round of the Grand Slams with top 20 players and I could feel my fitness wasn't there. I could compete with them, but not beat with them because I wasn't physically prepared. My goal was to get fit enough so I can play for three hours against the top players.
I was born in Uzbekistan and it's been almost 10 years since I began to live in the U.S. I came to the U.S. with my dad and my older sister, but my mom wasn't able to come and I couldn't see her for four years. It was sad but it made me tougher and made me grow up a lot faster.
At first we moved to Florida for three years and then we were on the road traveling a lot. My dad coaches me and I get some help rom the USTA when I need it.
Then we moved to Allentown, PA after we played a tournament there and I really liked it. I like the Four Seasons, the club I belong to, and it does matter where you spend your off time. It's very cozy and I like the quiet.
I'm hoping to get my U.S. citizenship in August and hopefully start playing Fed Cup for U.S. It takes a long time to get your citizenship. In 2003, we applied for political asylum and we were approved in 2006, but then you have to live in the U.S. with your green card for five years before you can get your citizenship.
We left Uzbekistan because we didn't feel we belonged there and we weren't getting help as they were helping their own. We felt like we were different In every aspect, not really the so-called true Uzbek people, as my dad is Ukrainian and my mother is Russian. My mother actually moved to Moscow before she eventually moved to join us in the U.S. because there were shooting and big protests. It was difficult, but a lot of people go through tough times and if you can pull through it can make you stronger. You see and value things different. It's good to have two cultures where you can compare and appreciate things.
I've never gone back to Uzbekistan and I never thought about going back. I really like the way things are now because I've lived so long in the States and I've adopted so many things that it's a distant memory. I'll never forget the good things, but I also remember the bad things.
I play French wildcard Caroline Garcia in the first round and I'd love to reach the third of Grand Slam for the first time, but I don't want to think ahead. The important thing for me is to focus on playing during my match and hopefully from there that good things will happen.