Gear Talk: Varvara Lepchenko
In March, I spoke with Varvara Lepchenko at the Sony Ericsson Open. The 26-year-old recently reached the fourth round of Roland Garros and is in contention to represent the United States at the upcoming London Olympics. Originally from Uzbekistan but now an American citizen, Lepchenko talked about her equipment idiosyncrasies, as well as her training methodology.
Lepchenko’s Racquet Specs (Strung)
Racquet: Wilson [K]Blade 98 (uncustomized)
Weight: 11.1 oz.
Balance: 3 pts. HL
Grip: Size 3
Justin diFeliciantonio: What type of string are you currently using in your racquet?
Varvara Lepchenko: At the moment I’m using Luxilon Alu Power.
JD: What attracts you to that string?
VL: I’ve been using that string for awhile, for about five years. I’ve tried a number of strings, and these are by far the best for me. I’m also sponsored by Wilson.
JD: What do you feel Luxilon strings give you that the other strings don’t?
VL: Honestly, I just play with them, and I like them, and that’s it. [Laughing] It gives me more feel. I feel comfortable playing with it. Before they [distributed] Luxilon, I used Wilson strings, which were close to Luxilon.
JD: Did you grow up using polyester? Have you tried any other strings?
VL: Yes, yes. It’s been polyester. I’ve used gut, but I’m not a fan of gut. It’s a completely different feel, how it plays. It’s different for every player. But for me, where[as] the polyester goes nicely, smoothly, with gut [the ball] was going too low. And I didn’t feel like it was generating enough power for me. I don’t know, I don’t feel right [using it]. That would be the right answer. You know, it’s like putting clothes on, you feel good and comfortable. And then, you put on something different, and it doesn’t look good on you, and you don’t feel so good and comfortable. So you go back to what you like.
JD: What do you typically string at, tension-wise?
VL: Honestly, I’m not quite sure, because my dad does that for me. I think it’s around 56, 58 lbs. Because my dad is in charge of stringing. So I’ll tell him, “Oh Dad, it feels a little bit loose. Can you go up a pound or so?” Or, “This feels a little too tight. Can you go down a pound?”
JD: So your dad helps you out with your equipment?
VL: Yeah. And he also strings my racquets back when I’m home. He strings like 10 racquets before I go practice in New York. I just tell him how it feels. He knows what he’s doing, he’s been doing it, like, forever. [Laughing.]
JD: How about your racquet? What model are you using?
VL: Racquet, I’m using Wilson at the moment. It’s the [K]Blade 98. I love my racquet. I’ve been playing with it for almost three, four years. I’ve had my best results with that racquet. Same with the strings. [Laughing] I just like it.
JD: So you’re pretty comfortable with the [K]Blade.
VL: Yeah, yeah. I used a Prince before. And then I tried Wilson. I felt great. I won a few tournaments with Wilson. And then I said, “Ok, I’m switching to Wilson.” There was some change. But I felt it suited my game perfectly. I’ve tried different Wilson racquets, different Wilson frames. That particular Blade is my type.
JD: On tour, the balls and playing conditions are always changing. Do you have a favorite ball or surface?
VL: I don’t know what to say. You know, they’re all—I don’t really care about the balls and the courts, honestly. It really doesn’t matter to me. Because as long as you play well, it doesn’t matter what surface you’re on, or what [type of] balls you’re playing with. Except for the racquets and the strings, which really do matter.
JD: So you’re not too finicky about the conditions.
VL: No, no. If I feel the ball is going well off my racquet, and I’ve been practicing well, and everything is going my way, I don’t care. If it’s windy, if it’s raining, if it’s cold, if it’s grass, if it’s a hard court, it doesn’t matter, when you’re playing well and hitting the ball in the sweet spot.
JD: How about when it’s not going so well?
VL: Well, there are different factors involved. For example, getting sick or not feeling well. Not having enough practice down. These type of things can affect your performance.
JD: Do you sometimes play poorly but you’re not sure why?
VL: No, I always know why things happen [smiling].
JD: So there’s always a cause.
VL: Yes, there is always a cause and facts behind playing poorly. It’s not like, “Oh, I forget how to return,” or something.
JD: On to training: What kind of equipment do you travel with to help you get prepared?
VL: Thera-Bands. I also travel with a jump rope. I warm-up and exercise with them. Everything else I use, like medicine balls, they have in the [tournament] gym. Whatever they have in the gym I use. I don’t cary anything with me [that’s too] special.
JD: Do you do any non-physical training? For your mental toughness, perhaps?
VL: No, there’s not anything specific that I’m focussed on. I don’t have a psychologist, no. [For my mind] I pick up my own things, how I feel, how I see. It's not like I have a list of things that I do. I read some stuff, you know? And I try to use it.