Above photo courtesy of Karl Mendoza at www.kamera8studios.ca.

News from the Winnipeg National Bank Challenger, July 8-16 at Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. Visit the tournament website: https://winnipeg.challengerbanquenationale.com/

Popovic Plays In Qualifying

Monika Popovic of Winnipeg competed in the women’s qualifying draw at the Winnipeg National Bank Challenger on Saturday for the first time, losing 6-2, 6-0 to American Alexandra Mueller on Stadium Court. Popovic found out a day earlier she had been granted a spot in the qualifying rounds.

“I saw all the girls here and they’re hitting very hard,” said Popovic. “She (Mueller) had a really different game – it was very deep (her ball) with a lot of spin so it was hard for me to adjust. I just tried to take it point by point.”

Popovic has had an outstanding season at Tennis Manitoba tournaments in 2017: she was the women’s Open singles champion at the WLTC Open and Deer Lodge Classic, in addition to winning the U16 girls’ singles at the Prairie Junior Championships and placing second in U16 and U18 girls’ singles at the Tuxedo Junior Open. This year Popovic has also played the Indoor Rogers Junior Nationals, two Saskatchewan junior tournaments, and International Tennis Federation (ITF) U18 tournaments in Vancouver, Ontario and Edmonton.

“I’m still trying to find my game since I was injured all of last year,” said Popovic, who was out for eight months with a shoulder injury. “I’m still not super confident in my shots but I’m finding a way to get through the points.”

Popovic will represent Manitoba this summer in the Canada Summer Games at Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club and at the Outdoor Rogers Junior Nationals.

After her match against Mueller, Popovic said she learned “how much harder you need to work, how many more balls you have to drill against anyone you can.”

Former World No. 14 Wins Opener 

Russia’s Elena Bovina won her opening match Saturday in women’s qualifying at the Winnipeg National Bank Challenger, beating Morgan Waller of Saskatchewan 6-2, 6-1.

Bovina, who partnered with Nenad Zimonjic to capture the mixed doubles title at the 2004 Australian Open, achieved a career high singles ranking of No. 14 in the world in 2005. She was a quarterfinalist at the 2002 US Open and reached the round of 16 at the 2003 Australian Open and 2005 French Open.

Bovina suffered a shoulder injury at the French Open in 2005 and was out of tennis for almost two years.

“It was really difficult to come back after that injury,” she said .”I had two more (injuries) – my hip and my back – so it took me another four years. It’s been a while since I’ve competed.”

With all of her injuries, Bovina’s ranking has fallen to No. 972 in the world.

“For any other tennis player who gets injured and loses the rhythm of competing and training, especially if it’s a difficult injury to recover from, it takes time and then you need to build up the rest of the body again to be able to compete and train,” Bovina said.

Bovina learned her tennis skills in Russia, a country that has produced an abundance of top international women’s players.

“Growing up in that environment you don’t really realize that it’s tough because all your childhood you’re being raised in that level of tennis competitiveness with all these great players,” Bovina said .”To us it was a normal thing – the standard was really high.”

Bovina started her tennis training in the same group as former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva.

“We started with the same coach when we were six (years old),” said Bovina. “We basically grew up together living in the same room at local tournaments.”

Bovina’s dad got her started in the sport.

“There has to be someone in the family obsessed with the sport to be willing to put your kids through a thing like this,” she said.

While Bovina is competing in Winnipeg for the first time, she has played several tournaments in Canada, winning a title in Quebec City in 2002.

“I love it here (in Canada),” said Bovina. “I actually spend a lot of time in Quebec City.”

Bovina next plays Mexico’s Marcela Zacarias at the Winnipeg National Bank Challenger for a spot in the main draw.

“I’m just gradually starting to play and see how my body holds up and go from there,” said Bovina.