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Elena Vesnina & The Art of the Press Conference
The reigning Olympic doubles champion was candid about the Naomi Osaka media sabbatical after her comeback hit a new milestone at Roland Garros.
Published May 30, 2021
WATCH: Vesnina first returned to action in doubles at the Qatar Total Open in February.
For all the discourse surrounding The Press Conference—its necessity and its impact on the sporting economy—there was a comfort in seeing Elena Vesnina’s name light up the proverbial board or, in this case, WhatsApp group.
A master of media and communications, the reigning Olympic doubles champion is one of the best talkers in tennis, and brings a thoughtful yet conversational approach to a medium that some may deem arcane.
“Every single game for me was a win,” she said. “Every single shot for me was a win because I felt like I'm improving my game, and especially on clay, I'm not a clay-court specialist, you know that. For me even winning games and now winning a match on Roland Garros means a lot because it's not my favorite surface, even though I love Roland Garros, always loved the tournament, but for me it's a challenge.”
The challenge began in earnest earlier this year when she ended a three-year maternity leave to embark on a new chapter of her tennis career—this time with daughter Elizaveta in tow. Posting solid results as a doubles specialist, Vesnina expanded the comeback to include singles at the start of the clay-court season and made a triumphant return to Roland Garros on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-0 win over fellow tour mom Olga Govortsova.
“I really felt inspired today on the court,” she said of the 58-minute victory, her first in singles since 2018. “I felt great. I was not putting any pressure on myself, first of all. Of course, I was nervous because I was practicing, I was working hard on the court, and I played here three years ago, and it's a Grand Slam. It's always pressure, it's always nerves.
“But this time I didn't put that pressure that I had before. I told myself that I have to try to play my best, of course, but don't think about what's going to happen: if you're going to lose or how you're going to play. It was tough at the beginning especially, but then as the score was going, I was in a zone and I really wanted to keep that zone.”
After posting her most decisive win in almost a decade, Vesnina put on an encore performance for the press, fielding questions about former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka’s decision to eschew media requests for the duration of the fortnight and offering a nuanced perspective that speaks to her dual role of empathetic mother and business-minded athlete.
“Every single game for me was a win. Every single shot for me was a win because I felt like I'm improving my game."
“I think Naomi, she's doing a lot of stuff for the tennis, for the players, and she's thinking about mental health of the players. This is important, I think. I mean, she's young and of course, she wants to do everything straightaway, like most young people. They are brave, they are straight, and are all about, ‘the revolution,’ you know, ‘let's go.’
“Of course I think that your work is very important for us,” she added of the media, “and what you are doing for us, you are helping our sport to get better, to help people to know players better, to give the information to the people around the world about tennis, about Grand Slams, about the situation, and I think yes, after the tough matches it is tough to come to the press and to talk with you guys when you had a tough match and you had match points or something. Like times maybe you want to cry, right, sitting in front of you, but this is kind of a part of your job, and you have to accept it.
“I don't think that it's a good idea to default Naomi for that because she did it in a good way. She wanted to fight for her thoughts, her psychology of her life because she's this kind of a player, and we have to respect that, as well. Maybe she will change her mind on the next tournament, but right now, she tried. She wants to try to fight for the physical and mental part of the players after matches, but I think in the future she might change her mind because the work that you do is really important, and I understand that totally.”
Before switching to Russian for a second victory lap, Vesnina previewed her second round against Petra Kvitova and how her comeback may continue to evolve as the 2021 season unfolds.
“I see myself in singles and doubles. I first tried to see how my body will feel only with the doubles at the beginning, and then when I had a couple of matches in singles and doubles, my body started feeling better. Of course, I'm not a 17 or 18-year-old girl. I know that it's really hard for the body to recover when you have a tough match in singles and then you have to play doubles.
“The most important thing is how I’m going to feel the next morning. Right now, I definitely want to try. I feel like I can do that, but it all depends on the body, because if you're playing many, many matches, then maybe I will need to stop doubles or see what is going to work better for me, but right now I want to try singles and doubles, especially as this is the Olympic year, I will even play mixed doubles here!”
The Press Conference is undeniably a rigid apparatus, one that may stand to change in ways that better suit both sides of the question and answer coin. Whether that happens or not, may Elena Vesnina be there to give a quote.