WATCH: Potapova scored her first win of the summer hard-court swing over Shelby Rogers in Montréal.

Advertising

“When I do anything, I give it 100%. if I can’t, I start to feel like there’s no point in doing it at all.”

Anastasia Potapova has always been “go big or go home,” and our post-match interview at the Omnium Banque Nationale is no different. The Russian breezes in for the Zoom chat fashionably late from a decisive win over American Shelby Rogers—her first in a WTA main draw since the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham—and commits so quickly to this encore performance that she forgets to remove her comically large surgical mask.

Though her eyes frequently dart about as if in search of what to say, Potapova is an unflappable and vivid storyteller, often extending her answers to anticipate follow-up questions—and incorporate sound effects.

“It was like everything just hit me in my head in one second,” she describes at one point. “Like, ‘Woosh!’ and that was it.”

The 20-year-old is tennis’ answer to hyperpop, pairing exaggerated swings that take the sport to its logical extreme with a radical candor she delivers with electric charisma. The latter is on display when it comes time to explain an erratic 2021 season, one that has seen her endure both burn out and a coaching change in the three months that followed an emphatic start and career-best results in Australia and the Middle East.

My heart was telling me I needed something different. I really did enjoy the work with Iain, because he’s an amazing coach and person—in our time together, he became like family—and it was really important to have someone like him around me...I think at some point we were tired of being together all the time and we decided it was the time to make a change. Anastasia Potapova on her coaching switch from Iain Hughes to Igor Andreev

“I started to feel deep down in a depression—nothing serious, but it felt like it at the time. It may have been because of the bubble, because it’s not easy for a young girl to be so far away from her family, and being in a bubble doesn’t help. I hadn’t been home for nearly seven months because I was constantly on the road; I started to feel like I was in jail.

“I was surprised but only because it came out of nowhere and all at once where I just felt like, ‘I’m done and I can’t do this anymore.’ I suddenly felt so sad and I didn’t enjoy being there, playing, or doing anything. All I wanted was to buy a ticket and go home, so that’s what I did.”

Potapova returned to Moscow after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, which allowed her to enjoy an uninhibited early spring at home.

“I felt so free because there weren’t any restrictions in our country at the time. Everything is open, so you can do whatever you want. It felt like I was able to live a normal life, back to 2019!”

Still, she struggled upon re-entry to the clay-court season. Having already gone home, she opted this time to go big, parting from longtime coach Iain Hughes to hire Olympic team captain Igor Andreev in time for a quarterfinal run in Birmingham.

Advertising

“Nobody knew because I never made an Instagram post or comment about it, and I was getting questions from some players, like, ‘Where is Iain?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know…’ so maybe this is the time to say it officially,” she laughed.

“My heart was telling me I just needed something different. I really did enjoy the work with Iain, because he’s an amazing coach and person—in our time together, he became like family—and it was really important to have someone like him around me, someone who’s a really good coach but someone you can talk to and go for dinner with. You need to be able to enjoy your team’s company, especially in the bubble situation. I just think at some point we were tired of being together all the time and we just decided it was the time to make a change.”

Potapova speaks reverently of Andreev, of his on-court experience as a former Top 20 player and the simple mantra they’ve shared since partnering this summer: Be Positive.

Potapova came through a tough qualifying section that included former No. 10 Kristina Mladenovic to reach the second round of Montréal's main draw.

Potapova came through a tough qualifying section that included former No. 10 Kristina Mladenovic to reach the second round of Montréal's main draw.

Advertising

“It’s the only thing he tells me,” she jokes. “He’s not trying to put any pressure on me or weighing me down with motivational speeches. He’ll say things like, ‘It’s all good, even if you did 100 double faults, at least you know you can’t do worse!’ He tries to teach me to find a good thing even when everything looks bad. If I can find that positive thing, he wants me to hold onto it with everything I have, and it’s something I’m trying to use.

“Positivity can be so important, especially, I feel, when it comes to coaching women athletes…so we’re not feeling like we’re being dug even deeper underground!”

On her own at a tournament for the first time in her career, Potapova has employed relentless optimism through three matches in Montréal, including a near-disastrous qualifying opener against Canadian Layne Seeth. Her win over Rogers earned her a US Open rematch with Coco Gauff, to whom she narrowly lost in a titanic 2019 first round.

“It’s funny because it’s my first time alone but it’s not a bad result so I’m thinking maybe you should all stay home because it’s working like this, having a virtual coach.”

Andreev will join Potapova in the U.S. for the peak of the summer hard-court swing. Working with a Russian coach also allows Potapova more opportunities to return home and recharge, something she deems crucial to maximizing her time on tour.

“You can’t do this,” she says with a flourish, “all the time. This life requires a level of focus that no one on this planet can maintain indefinitely, so I think it’s important to know when it’s time to take time away from competition. I don’t mean for a month or a year; I’m talking a few days for your health, where you can go away for a little holiday with your friends and have some time off before you come back again, refreshed, and ready to start to again.”

Boom, clap, and Potapova flashes a smile through her mask before she bounds off to her next engagement—within a bubble she’s at last learned to conquer.