(NOTE: excerpts from an interview with ESPN Radio's Jeffrey Cadavero. The interview can be heard in its entirety Tuesday on Mocs Sports Weekly from 6-7 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1370 AM)
Q: How many years have you been playing tennis?
A: I think I started when I was four years old, so it has been more than 15 years already.
Q: How would you describe your tennis experience while growing up in Russia compared to your time here in the United States so far?
A: I think growing up in Russia made me more competitive because there are more competitive girls there. I grew up in a competitive environment. That helped me a lot using everything I learned while growing up playing tennis in Russia, so it helped me a lot after coming here.
Q: Are there plenty of indoor tennis facilities over there for your use during the cold winter months?
A: Oh yeah, there are a lot of them. There are a lot of different tennis clubs and tennis courts available. That wasn’t a problem for me.
Q: Did you have one main coach in Russia or several coaches?
A: I usually had one coach at a time and I started with one coach. After a basic knowledge of tennis, I had another coach. I pretty much had three coaches for my whole tennis life back in Russia.
Q: How would you describe your experience at UTC, both academically and on the tennis court?
A: I think it’s been great. After looking back at everything I’ve done, I have really liked it and enjoyed it. I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I think I have put in all my hard work. It has been really exciting being around all of the girls on my team and being around Tom. He has helped me a lot. I think it is probably one of the best experiences of my life being at UTC.
Q: How does it feel to be competing in the NCAA Tennis Tournament?
A: It feels great. Especially since it is something nobody has ever accomplished before. It is hard to accomplish something that nobody has ever done. It is really great.
Q: How have you been practicing for the tournament? How many hours do you typically put in?
A: I would say that I have put in a lot of hours. I am not going to specify how many. Definitely a lot of hours in the morning and the afternoon.
Q: What is next for you after the tournament? Are you going to be playing any tennis during the summer?
A: I was thinking about it. I may play in a couple of tournaments. I am also taking summer classes. Maybe finally at the end of the summer, I’ll have some rest. That will probably be my whole plan.
Q: How are you feeling heading into the NCAA Tournament?
A: I can tell that I am not nervous at all. Maybe I haven’t had time to get nervous yet. But I’m really excited. I’ve never been there and everyone who I have talked to is telling me that it is a great place and a perfect stadium to play, so I’m excited to get there and see everything there.
Q: I understand you are coming back to help Coach Lowry with next year’s team.
A: I think it will be called a volunteer coach. We have a head coach but we don’t have an assistant coach. So it will probably be a volunteer assistant coach helping the team. As long as I’m here finishing my studies, I’ll be here to help the team.
Q: Any plans to go pro in the future?
A: I don’t know. It is a very hard decision for me because I’m in between either getting my master’s degree or going pro. There is also a financial reason to go pro, so I’m still thinking about going more toward getting a master’s degree.