There was a moment on Friday in Nur-Sultan when the celebration of Yaroslava Shvedova’s retirement turned to wonder.
The moving ceremony, held ahead of the semifinals of the inaugural WTA 250 Astana Open in Kazakhstan, featured personal tributes and highlights from a 15-year career that began in 2006.
It was a video of Shvedova hitting tennis balls against a wall as a young girl that made her realize how lucky she was to be able to be successful around the world.
“He was an old man my parents found when I was banging against the wall and trying to figure out what was on my mind right now,” she said.
“I was transferring that to now and thought about how huge my tennis career and my life was in between.”
Read more: Ballet dancers, stolen bags and gold adornment: King and Shvedova remember
Shvedova, who played her last tournament at the US Open last month, felt calm when she arrived for the ceremony.
But the calm quickly evaporated when she realized the respect her family and friends, her peers on the court and others, including the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, had for her career.
“It was an incredible ceremony,” she said.
“Before I intervened, everyone was asking me, ‘Are you nervous?’ I was like, ‘No. I’m super relaxed and super happy. ‘
“But as soon as I stepped in I started having tears, seeing people around and understanding that they were all coming to support me and enjoy my moments from the past.
Shvedova will not be lost for tennis as she was named captain of the Kazakhstan team for the Billie Jean King Cup. The mother of twins Mirka and Stan does not bemoan the end of her playing days either.
A career that spanned the length of Shvedova’s tour will always have its share of ups and downs. But despite a few major injuries, she enjoyed a lot of fun on the pitch.
Shvedova reached three Grand Slam singles quarter-finals, including two at Roland Garros in 2010 and 2012 and the other at Wimbledon in 2016.
She is a two-time major in doubles (Wimbledon and at the US Open in 2010), and she was also a finalist in mixed doubles (Roland Garros in 2010).
Her success in the Wimbledon doubles event in 2010 alongside Vania King is her most treasured moment on the court.
A week before the tournament, her bags were stolen, meaning the former world No.25 played the tournament with two rackets purchased from a professional store.
Shvedova recalled that a trophy ceremony for her triumph in a WTA tournament in Bangalore in 2007 had to be delayed by several minutes as she cried tears of joy. But she said nothing compares to the thrill of Wimbledon.
“A few weeks later [Wimbledon], we are still pinching ourselves, ”she said. “We were like, ‘Do you understand we won Wimbledon? “
“We couldn’t believe in our heads that we had won Wimbledon because since you were a kid it’s so far away and inaccessible. Then when you get to it, you can’t figure it out and digest it, in a way.
European summer 2012 is another experience the 34-year-old still can’t believe.
She arrived at Roland Garros in despair, believing the chance to compete in the London Olympics had slipped away.
“I was playing qualifying and I was hoping to win just one round, praying to God, because in the last two months I had lost the first round,” she said.
“I had given up on the idea of qualifying for the Olympics, my first Olympics, in London. I thought there was no chance, but lap after lap I qualified and won laps in the main draw.
“And then play the defending champion [Li Na] when I’m qualifying, and the night before I found out that if I beat her I would qualify for the Olympics, there was a lot of energy there.
“This information pushed me to fight to the end. Like a bulldog, I never let her go, beating her. I was the last to participate in the London Olympics.
The good fortune continued. Shvedova wrote to the All England Club committee asking for a wild card for Wimbledon, which was greeted to her delight.
In the third round, she achieved an astonishing performance by winning a “gold set” against 10e Sara Errani seed.
“I don’t remember the song, but I was listening to music and I felt like a coward, and the coach was telling me what to do and how to play,” she said.
“Everything was going well and I felt so good. I was flying on the court. But I never realized that it was only going one way, because after every point… his coach and his team applauded him to cheer him up.
“When I won the set we started the second set and on the first point I made an easy mistake, a stupid mistake, and everyone started to cheer. I was [wondering] why people were so excited about a stupid mistake. After going through these emotions, I realized this was his first point.
Four years later, Shvedova reached the final eight at Wimbledon in a particularly busy week as she also reached the mixed doubles semi-finals and the women’s doubles final decision.
“I had 15 games and after the first week I felt like a cat with nine lives,” she said.
“After every game I felt like I was losing a life, but I would wake up and there would be a new life. I was so exhausted and tired that I didn’t know how I could go on.
Even when injuries sidelined her or precipitated a drop in the standings, Shvedova refused to bow.
“I was a fighter. I always wanted to come back, ”she said.
It was this attitude that motivated her to return to the tour after the birth of her twins in 2018. The pandemic has made it more difficult but the return of the crowds to the United States last month made the sacrifices worthwhile.
“I think I’m the first with twins, no, to come back. Except Roger [Federer]. He has two [sets of] twins, ”she said.
“It was tough. Especially with the coronavirus, the timing was tough. I was very excited to be able to get my mind back from the past at the US Open, in mixed doubles, to how I flew and I enjoyed it.
“This is what I have been looking for for many years. I was happy to be able to make it happen.