the great premiere of Varvara Gracheva in Grand Slam under the French colors

Varvara Gracheva during a match at Roland-Garros, in Paris, on May 31, 2023.

In her last appearance of 2021 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which hosts Wimbledon, the third Grand Slam tournament of the season, Varvara Gracheva represented Russia. Two years later, the 22-year-old is back in the south-west suburbs of London, but as number 2… French, behind Caroline Garcia (5th in the world).

In two years, things have changed a lot for the one who went from 90ᵉ to 41ᵉ in the world – her best ranking. Banned from participating in the London major in 2022 after the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians from the tournament, in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Varvara Gracheva will tread again on Tuesday July 4 against the Italian Camila Giorgi, the Wimbledon grass. If the Russian and Belarusian players were allowed to participate again in the event, the problem no longer concerns her: she was naturalized French on May 25.

Happy timing for the tall (1.78 meter) right-hander who nurtured this project and who had started the process a long time ago, long before the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022 – which she never mentioned publicly. Benefiting from five years of residence in France and a letter of recommendation from the French Tennis Federation, she had submitted her naturalization file on March 5, quietly, and passed her French exam in November 2022.

Based in Cannes since 2016

“I like almost everything here”she told The Team in April. However, her debut in France and at the Elite Tennis Center in Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), where she has been training since 2016, did not bode well: “I complained constantly, I threw my racket. I thought I was going to be kicked out of the center. (…) It was hell. I don’t know how and why they wanted to keep me. »

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His first good memory? Winter preparation for 2018. An intense sequence that acts as a trigger. “I really liked it. It was from there that I started to feel like I belonged, she recalls. It was the first time I had done something so professional. I told my mother and it convinced her to stay here. »

After two years “in the same place and with the same people”which had never happened to her before, Varvara Gracheva is seriously considering moving to Cannes full-time, especially since her mother has bought an apartment there. “I started thinking: ‘This is my base here, I’m going to make my life there…’ So why not take nationality? », she says. The ex-Russian is gradually falling under the spell of France: “I appreciate its history, its architecture, I love walking around looking at all the details. It’s something I’ve never felt anywhere else. »

“Reserved and hardworking”

Born in Moscow, Varvara Gracheva was immersed in the world of the little yellow ball from an early age thanks to her mother, a tennis teacher, who made her hit her first balls in Zhukovsky, a small town near the capital. But the facilities are limited – only two hard courts – and, very quickly, before entering the junior circuit, she turns abroad to benefit from better conditions.

After a stint in Germany, she put her suitcases in the south of France, pushed by her mother who had had good feedback from the Cannes center: the son of family friends trained there, as well as her now illustrious ex. -compatriot Daniil Medvedev (3e World), who took up residence there between 2013 and 2020.

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Trained for the first four years by Frenchman Jean-René Lisnard, former 84ᵉ in the world, the “reserved and hardworking” player – as he describes in the columns of the Parisian – now evolves under the leadership of Xavier Pujo, also a former professional player. His initially flat game (straight ball trajectories) on both sides was enriched with a backhand slice and better defense. “ It’s a steamroller, details Lisnard. She plays fast, but without missing. She chokes you, she has strength. She knows how to activate the “robot” mode. »


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Finalist at the WTA 250 in Austin (United States) in March then eighth finalist at the WTA 1000 in Indian Wells and Miami with prestigious victories against the Russian Daria Kasatkina (10th in the world) and the Tunisian Ons Jabeur (6th), Varvara Gracheva is now aiming for the top 30 by the end of 2023. On June 26, she won on the grass of Bad Hombourg (Germany), against the Romanian Jaqueline Cristian (133ᵉ), her first match as a Frenchwoman. The start of a new chapter.


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