Vlada and Maryna Hranchar, at the Rick Macci Tennis Academy.

Last summer, Mark Weinsier, a teacher in New York City’s Grace Church School, contacted TENNIS.com reporter Peter Bodo. Weinsier found me through a friend who follows tennis and wanted to help out. Weinsier asked Bodo if he could look into and perhaps help a family that had fled Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion.

The parents, Dmytro and Maryna Hranchar, had a daughter Vlada who was a tennis prodigy. By age 5, she had been ranked No. 1 in Ukraine in the 10-and-under division. Vlada already had over 100,000 followers on Instagram, which had resulted in a number of invitations to train in the United States.

After a harrowing escape from Ukraine, the Hranchars made their way to Vermont. But they soon realized that despite the kindness and charity of new friends, the state was off the tennis grid. With meager resources, they weren’t sure where to turn.

Bodo agreed to help. He established a relationship with the family (with help from Weinsier, a Russian-speaker) and began exploring possible options. Ultimately, he was able to convince legendary coach Rick Macci—who has worked with, among others, Jennifer Capriati, Williams sisters, Andy Roddick and Sofia Kenin—to take a good look at Vlada.

The tryout earned Vlada a scholarship to Macci’s famed tennis academy in Boca Raton, Fla. at the end of last year. Bodo recently went to visit and finally meet the family. This is his report. [Special thanks to Mark Weinsier in New York, and to Igor Mamut in Boca Raton, for help with translation from Russian.]


In five minutes I knew this kid could be a champion. No doubt. Rick Macci


BOCA RATON, Fla.—It is just past 8 a.m. on a lovely if atypical morning at the Rick Macci Tennis Academy. The air is Florida-soft and absolutely still, beneath a gray sky flush with hints of pink and towering, elephant-gray clouds. It’s drizzling, so the courts look lacquered. Surprisingly, they are being used, and a running commentary travels on the still air.

“Push your legs down, use your legs. Thank you. Go back. Push your legs down. . . Come and get it, girl. Same thing off the left leg. Good. Thank you. I’m watching you. . .”

The voice belongs to Tinesta Rowe, the director of the academy, who is feeding balls at a dizzying pace to Vlada Hranchar. The youngster keeps up, firing forehands and ripping backhands, advancing to volley at Rowe’s command.

“Forehand. You should be able to give me 20 in a row, Vlada. Push your legs down. Turn it. Come and get it. Go back. Thank you.”

They are speaking their own language, doing a series of drills—some of them baffling to an observer—at warp speed, punctuated with mostly happy cries. They only pause occasionally to collect balls, take a quick sip of water. Later, Macci himself will work with Vlada. Then she will drill with other talented kids. It’s a long day’s work for a prodigy—even one who is just 8 years old, thin as a twig, and barely taller than the racquet she already swings with equal measures of brute force and exquisite timing.

Vlada appears comfortable and happy at Macci’s academy, very much at home. That kind of stability has been elusive for the Hranchars, who have been hunting for a permanent home for the better part of two years. It’s probably a good thing that the family has almost nothing in the way of material possessions, because they have had less to haul around. But that’s small comfort for having been forced to leave everything behind in Ukraine, including Vlada’s brother, Vadym, their 25-year-old son.

“Vlada took some of her dolls because she wanted to save them. . . . of course she took her tennis racquet.”

“Vlada took some of her dolls because she wanted to save them. . . . of course she took her tennis racquet.”


Early on the morning of February 24, 2022, the walls in the Hranchar’s Odessa apartment began to quake. Maryna’s bed juddered. Crockery in her kitchen fell from shelves and exploded on the floor. The military base nearby was under bombardment. The Russians had arrived.

At the time, Maryna was in the midst of last-minute preparations to fly to the United States with Vlada for a family reunion. The family had been poised to arrive in New York weeks earlier for an extended visit—complete with a long-term visa for Vlada—arranged by the operators of a minor-league pro tour, the USA Tennis Tour. But Maryna and Vlada, traveling via Turkey, were turned back due to U.S. Covid restrictions. Then the first of two strokes suffered by Maryna’s father, and her own case of Covid-19, delayed them for even longer. Maryna’s husband Dmytro had gone on ahead to prepare for the arrival of his wife and daughter.

“It was scary,” Maryna told me. “On the 25th, Vlada and I got into our car and drove to Moldova, hoping to fly to the U.S. from Poland. We took with us only pictures, and the computer because it also had family pictures. It was for memories. Vlada took some of her dolls because she wanted to save them. . . . of course she took her tennis racquet.”

This was the beginning of a journey with too many anxious or bewildering moments to recount, starting with a 19-hour wait at a checkpoint in Moldova. But ultimately Maryna and Vlada met up with Dmytro in New York, and eventually the three of them found themselves shivering in front of a bus station in Albany, hoping that Vermont-based tennis pro Chris Lewit would, as promised, show up.


Lewit was one of the perhaps half-dozen tennis pros who had been so impressed by Vlada’s Instagram account that he offered to help the Hranchars. As they traveled through the frigid landscape on their way to his tennis academy in picturesque Londonderry, Vt., Maryna recalled, “We had many thoughts and concerns, It was very cold, we were completely shocked, wondering, ‘What kind of tennis can you play in such an environment?’”

The situation was not as dire as the Hranchars feared. In Vermont a number of experienced pros including Lewit, Rob Menzies (director of tennis at the Cliff Drysdale Tennis School at nearby Stratton), and Frank Bonte (who had worked with gifted players for the Belgian tennis federation) would instruct Vlada. But doing so pro bono on any committed basis proved unsustainable for them, embarrassing for the Hranchars, and career-inhibiting for Vlada.

There was no reliable “angel” sponsor, but the Hranchars did quickly develop warm connections with many people, including the Weinsier family and an older couple who became trusted advisers, Peter and Suzanne Bradford. They lived for a period in Lewit’s guest house, then the home of a local snowbird. Then elsewhere. Dmytro, a contractor by trade, looked for work.

“The people in Vermont donated a lot of money. They gave food, a place to live and other help,” Maryna said. “My opinion of Americans, from the media and movies, was that they were from a different planet or something. But I learned to love Vermont and the people who lived there because of their compassion. They have big hearts.”

The Hranchars were settling in nicely. Dymytry found work. There were friends, adults as well as children. Still, big hearts would not get Vlada the kind of intense training a young prodigy needs.

We knew nothing of tennis, but every week she said tennis, tennis, tennis. Vlada's mother, Maryna


By the age of three, Vlada Hanchar knew just what she wanted to do: play tennis. Her parents leaned on her to try ballet. Drawing. Music. Gymnastics. But Vlada was focused on tennis.

“Every week we tried something else,” said Maryna. “We knew nothing of tennis, but every week she said tennis, tennis, tennis.”

At five, Vlada was Ukraine’s top 7-and-under prospect. A year later, while Vlada hit balls on a public court near her home in Odessa, she caught the eye of an older girl. It was, improbably, Dayana Yastremska. She was so impressed by the squirt that she sought out Vlada’s parents, introduced herself, and took Vlada over to another court and worked with her for a few hours. Encouraged, the Hranchars tried to enroll Vlada in a training camp underwritten by Ukraine’s best player, Elina Svitolina.

Despite her impeccable credentials, Vlada was told that she wasn’t old enough to take part in Svitolina’s program. She was encouraged to return after she turned seven.

“That did not happen,” Maryna said. “Because came the war.”

Despite the severe disruptions that followed, Vlada flourished in Vermont. She charmed her new neighbors. The aforementioned coaches (Lewit, Bonte, Menzies) provided free instruction on a loosely rotational basis, but they had other obligations. Meanwhile, private financial support was waning. A move to warmer climes loomed inevitable.

“Watching Vlada train on a court next to 10- and 12 year olds it was obvious that, technically, she was more sound,” Menzies told me. “She has a drive not seen in others her age.”


Bonte told me, “The profound thing about Vlada is her way of being curious and joyful. She wants to learn, and does it in a joyful way. She has an eye for detail and a willingness to repeat what she has learned. She will do something a thousand times without complaining. She also has an extra gear when she needs to step it up a few notches, and does it without fear or doubt. A lot of talented kids have some of these abilities—Vlada has them all.”

Vlada’s appetite for competition was immediately evident to Macci. Soon after she arrived at his academy to begin training, I reached out to him to ask his impressions.

“She's like a little squirrel squirrel on steroids,” he said. “Her potential is huge.” He later he told me, “In five minutes I knew this kid could be a champion. No doubt. She was diminutive, but she played big—so when she grows up she will play even bigger. But it’s what I saw inside that sold me. She has the heart of a lion.”

As accomplished as Vlada already was, Macci—a master of rock-solid technique—determined that Vlada’s game needed some “reconstructive surgery.” Once a player has bio-mechanical flaws, he said, it becomes hard to change muscle memory.

“You try to put humpty-dumpty together at the right age,” Macci says. “All the tweaks we made were to make things shorter, quicker, faster. The WTA has been changing. You’re not seeing as many bubble loops, big backswings. I have to project what will be happening 10 years from now. Obviously the game won’t be getting slower.”

She has a drive not seen in others her age. Vlada's former coach, Rob Menzies


It seems borderline crazy to be talking in these terms about an 8-year old, but this prodigy’s rate of progress demands it. A changing physique, degree of dedication, hormonal activity—all of them may prove future obstacles. But what are the guardians of her talent supposed to do, ask her to play less? Tell her not to get so good, so fast? Stow her racquets and try to be more like the regular, happy kid that she actually is?

Vlada is the kind of child that just makes you smile. She has a great big grin (at the moment, still missing a few adult teeth). She is shy around strangers but chatty with familiars. She is spirited, fun-loving and expressive. She still connects with friends she made in Vermont via FaceTime. On some Sundays, when the Hranchars can make it to their Eastern Orthodox Chrisitan church, she sings Ukrainian songs and takes part in folk dance classes. An online student, she enjoys and is proficient at math. She laughs and trades barbs with Tinesta in the heat of training sessions, sometimes calling out the comically misused expression, “How dare you!”

“I enjoy passing on my knowledge to the future generation as I keep growing and learning myself,” says Tinesta Rowe, director at the Rick Macci Tennis Academy.

“I enjoy passing on my knowledge to the future generation as I keep growing and learning myself,” says Tinesta Rowe, director at the Rick Macci Tennis Academy.


During a break in one of her training sessions, Vlada was happy to share some of her lunchbox snacks with one of her friends, Sofia. She told me about some of her favorite things, which included borscht, swimming pools, pancakes, dancing, sushi and sledding with her father [no longer the option it was in Vermont]. She won't forget the Green Mountains, she said, “Because I saw one time a bear there, a bear with two little ones (cubs).”

She sometimes talks with her brother and other family members back in Ukraine, and described her ambitions as a simple desire to “be a champion. Number one in the world.” Her favorite players include Serena Williams, Iga Swiatek and Svitolina. Among the men, she likes Ben Shelton.

“Are you going to serve like Ben?” I asked.

“Faster!” she immediately cried out.