A winner of her first two career singles titles on the ITF Pro Circuit in 2013 and currently enjoying her highest ever WTA ranking, Russia's 18-year old former Junior Fed Cup player, Polina Leykina, took some time out to answer some questions.
ITF Pro Circuit: Can you tell us where were you born and maybe describe the area where you grew up?
Polina Leykina: I was born in Moscow, Russia, in the city. I can’t say anything special about the area!
Do any other members of your family play sport?
Yes I’m from a sport family. My mother did gymnastics and ice skating and my father is a former road racing cyclist.
So how did you get started in tennis?
I liked to do any kind of sport! I tried everything but when my dad first took me to a tennis club (Belokamennaya Club in Moscow) at the age of 7, it was love at first sight! I immediately started doing well for my age and I never stopped.
What can you tell us about your current coach?
His name is Velimir Zovko and he is Croatian. He has his “tough coaching way” so I have to work very, very hard, day in day out. I like!
Who were/are your tennis idols?
Among former players my idols are: Andre Agassi,Novak Djokovic and Amanda Coetzer. I also admire Dominika Cibulkova (right), she’s probably my favourite active player.
What is your greatest tennis memory either as a player or as a fan?
That is for sure junior times when I was playing Grand Slams! Both as a player and a fan! It was amazing being among top pro players all the time, being on court with that big crowd and with a lot of support from tournament staff! I wish I’ll be there again soon! [smiles]
Who has been the toughest opponent you have faced on court?
There are a lot of good players. Every match is tough [smiles] but I must say Valentina Ivakhnenko and Agnes Bukta. Those were the toughest I remember at the moment.
In your opinion, what would you say are the best and worst aspects of being a professional tennis player?
It’s really great to be a professional player! I love the feeling when I improve everyday, when I have good results. I love travelling and getting in touch with different people from different countries and cultures.
There’s maybe just one bad thing; I dont see my family that often so I somehow, sometimes, miss them but it’s worth it.
Have there been any amusing on-court incidents that you can share?
There was one funny moment, a long time ago. My first racket broke during the match and then I broke the strings of the other one. I was very young and I didn’t have any other frames left in my bag! So I had to finish the match using one of the rackets that my opponent kindly gave to me. It was really tough but in the end I won and it’s really funny to recall about it now.
What is the best experience that you had on the ITF Pro Circuit?
Despite my young age I actually have a lot of great memories. So I could tell you about the first tournament I won in Netanya (Israel) or the day I became a ranked player, but I honesty think that I’ll never forget the day I got my first point! It was in Doboj (Bosnia) and I played against one tricky player; Katja Milas.
I was so nervous before and during the match and it was so hard to win….but in the end I did it and I will never forget how happy I was. I think the best is yet to come!
Which player(s) are you friends with?
It’s really hard to have friends now because we don’t see each other that often.
I consider my compatriots Katya Nikitina, Anna Kushhova and Daria Gavrilova my best friends! Fortunately we have a lot of technological aids, like ‘Facebook’ and ‘WhatsApp’, helping us to keep in touch.
How do players relationships with each other at tournaments compare on the ITF Pro Circuit to other Circuits you may have played (i.e. ITF Juniors/WTA Tour)?
Depends on the players, not on the circuit. Some players are absolutely “focussed” and sometimes pretty unfriendly when they are at tournaments. It doesn’t matter which circuit it is!
How has playing on the ITF Pro Circuit helped you as a player?
When I turned Pro I started having a different approach. It was a big challenge for me as for every player. I had to improve a lot of big and small things. I worked, I’m still working and I will always work, on myself as [much as] on my tennis skills.
I can say that now I feel really more confident. I can understand a lot of things, mainly small things that I never considered important during my junior career. Those things are helping me to be a better person and a better player.
Would you recommend that juniors go on to play the ITF Pro Circuit?
Yes! On one hand they can do well because they are young, fearless and almost unrespectful (in the good way). On the other hand I think that is important to play pro [tournaments], as soon as possible, to learn a lot of things.
The biggest difference I faced was that in the Pro Circuit girls are mentally stronger and they never give up. So the sooner your start the faster your learn!
What aspect of another female player's game do you most envy?
Everyone has something special but I’m not envious of any other player's game. I have my game and I’m improving.
Speaking of other female players (both past & present), whose attributes would you combine to create your own female super player?
Serve: Serena Williams
Return of Serve: Na Li
Forehand: Kim Clijsters
Backhand: Kim Clijsters
Volley: Justin Henin
Positioning: Victoria Azarenka
Speed on court: Dominika Cibulkova (and Amanda Coetzer)
Concentration: Vika Azarenka
Fighting spirit: Dominika Cibulkova and Maria Sharapova
If you could only have one Grand Slam title, which would you choose?
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given?
Always know what you want, work hard, fight till the end and be positive, always, no matter what happened.
Away from the tennis court do you have any other interests?
I like reading and watching movies, I like to watch tennis and work on myself!
Do you have a favourite holiday destination?
I didn’t really have holidays for a long time! But Miami would be a nice place…
If you had not become a tennis player what career path would you have liked to have followed?
I never thought about that. It’s like I always knew that trying to be a tennis player is “the right path to follow”.
Have you set yourself any specific goals for 2013?
My agent always tells me that revealing goals brings bad luck. But he’s Italian and I’m Russian so I can tell you that I want to finish this season in the Top 300. That’s the main goal!
Finally, tell us something about yourself that not many people may already know?
I’m a very open and honest person, and I’m a fighter! Everyone who knows me deeply knows that [smiles].
Polina, thanks for your time and all the best for 2013.