Elena Vesnina battled her opponent (Hungary's Timea Babos) and the elements (on-court temps soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday to reach the Round of 16 via a two-hour, 16-minute 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 win. BNPParibasOpen.com sat down with the No. 14-ranked Russian -- a gold medalist in doubles at the 2016 Rio Games and a three-time Indian Wells doubles champ with three different partners -- just moments after her victory.
Q: What are these conditions like compared to Australia or New York in the summer?
Elena Vesnina: Australia can be really hot as well, but I felt like it was very dry and burning. I was having some issue with my stomach the last couple of days. The doctors said I was maybe not eating and drinking enough before the match. I felt like it was heat illness. It was almost cramping, but that God it didn’t come. It wasn’t maybe the prettiest match, but a win is a win. With these kinds of conditions and when you’re not feeling well, you stick to one plan.
Q: Talk about 2016. It was your first time cracking the year-end Top 20. You reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals, won the Olympic doubles with Ekaterina Makarova in Rio. What’s been coming together for your game at this point in your career?
EV: It's all the work together. I got more mature. I've been very professional the last couple of years. I was working a lot on my fitness. I was working a lot on my serve. And women's tennis is all about the mental side. When you're getting more wins, you're getting more confidence. I always believed I could do better. When my ranking was No. 116, I felt that it was not mine — not my spot, not my place. I knew I could improve and get even better. When you believe in yourself, something can happen.
Q: Are you a late bloomer at 30? Or is it just a matter of maturity?
EV: It's maturity. You appreciate more what you have. You even appreciate more the hard work. You understand that it's tough, it's hard. You’re losing matches every week, playing tournaments all over the place. You can’t be a winner everywhere. You’re going to have some tough losses. I’ve kind of found the solutions, how to manage this life on the tour.
Q: It's a tricky thing: when you're 18, 19, 20, each loss feels like the end of the world. You can’t see the bigger picture.
EV: Yes. When I was young, I was also feeling like it was the end of the world. To be honest, when you're 18, 19, you don't really understand how you're winning. It seems easy. I had the same. At 18, 19, it looked so easy. I made the fourth round in Australia when I was 19. But then it got more and more difficult — tough draw, not defending points, a drop in your ranking. A lot of juniors have this in their mind. They're scared to lose their ranking. They're always counting their points. "I'm going to be No. 32 or No. 35." I think that’s not right. Now I can say that. I was also like this. "I want to win the big tournaments right away." But you have to get through the tough losses, through the injuries. You need to defend a lot of points. You’re struggling with your confidence. It's just experience.
Q: That why you need to talk to us! The journalists see players when they first come up and all throughout their careers. We see the entire arc.
EV: You don't want to listen to anybody. You think you know everything. And then there are the injuries. Tennis is so athletic now. It's a lot of physical work. Everybody's working with a fitness coach. We try to be strong in every part of our body. Before — let's say 15, 20 years ago — it was not like that.
Q: When you hear, "Elena Vesnina: Olympic Gold Medalist," how does that make you feel?
EV: I still have goose bumps. Even on the court, when they announce that I'm an Olympic champion, it just gives me so much positive energy. It gives me good feelings, even if it was almost a year ago. I still carry this moment in my heart. When you play Fed Cup, the Olympic Games, you’re representing your country. It's not like at the tournaments, where you play basically for yourself. There, you're playing for your country, for your fans. More people are watching you. More people are supporting you. It's only one time every four years. All the best athletes are trying to qualify there, just to go there and feel the atmosphere. I was the same since I was five. That was the dream of my life. Just to get there. Of course, when I got there, I was, "Okay, I want to get the medal." On my third try, we got the medal. A dream came true.
Q: How do you balance the singles and doubles? Have your priorities changed as you begin your 30s?
EV: Singles is my priority, but I'm very lucky that I have a very good partner who understands and has the same situation as me. We always talk before the tournaments. If somebody isn’t feeling well, we're never going to put pressure on the other to play doubles. We'd rather not play that week. If we’re going on the court and somebody is injured, we know we can just retire and take it easy. We’re basically only playing the Grand Slams and the big tournaments. Singles is a priority. I have some goals in singles. But we’re playing well in doubles. We’ve had some good results. Why not play doubles? We’re good friends on and off the court. And we’re really having fun.