Tsvetana Pironkova is happiest when she is on a tennis court, particularly on grass. Her attitude to the game is typified by her response when I asked her about coming from a sporty background and how that affected her growing up. “I never thought that I would do something else, it was always tennis to me.”
Her mother is a former swimming champion, her father and coach, a former canoe champion. Sport runs through her blood she tells me, “it was always on the cards!”
Coached by her father Kiril, maintaining a father-daughter relationship and a professional working relationship can be tough, but Tsvetana would not have it any other way. “I think its good for me because it’s always been that way”, she said. “There are pluses and minuses you know, it’s not always easy, but he knows me the best!”
The Bulgarian number one is currently competing at the Aegon Open in Nottingham for the first time and has reached the quarterfinal stages following straight sets victories over Tereza Martincova and Kurumi Nara.
Reflecting on the win over Nara, she said: “I’m really happy with the way I played today. In the beginning, the first three games, I was a bit shaky, but then I quickly found my game and I think I played pretty well.”
The Bulgarian received a medical timeout during the match but she explained that it was just a broken toenail and that the strapping on her right shoulder was just for prevention. “I do have some problems with my shoulder, especially this time of the year, so I felt a bit sore and decided to wear it (the strapping) as a precaution.”
Tsvetana is in Nottingham for the first time, but even after just a few days she has grown fond of the place. “I really love the city and I had the chance to look around a little bit and the tournament is on grass and that’s my favourite surface”, she said. “Too bad that we only have four tournaments in the year, if we could have more I would be very happy!”
It is no surprise that the grass is where she plays her best tennis, it is where the best moments of her career have happened, particularly at SW19. In 2010 Tsvetana reached her first and only Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon, where she fell to Vera Zvonareva. The Bulgarian also reached the quarterfinals at The All England Club the following year and always looks back on those moments to use as motivation at this time of the year.
“It’s always nice to have that memory in my head when going back and to know that I am capable of doing it and why not go even further!” She explains: “Every tournament is different and I just go there with no expectations. I really enjoy being there, it’s a very special place for every tennis player and it’s a privilege I think.”
Currently ranked at 126 in the world, Tsvetana is disappointed with where she is at, but has made the cut off for the main draw at Wimbledon and is aiming high. “Obviously, I don’t love my ranking at the moment and I do feel like I belong in the top 50”, she said. “But I had maybe five, six, seven months of not the best tennis I was capable of and I’m really looking to improve that.”
Results have not been too kind to her on the WTA Tour this season, only reaching one quarterfinal in Doha prior to her run here in Nottingham. You could say that the grass court season has come at the perfect time for the Bulgarian to pick up her form, but she does not see it that way. “No I don’t think so. Looking at the results you could not say that it’s a good season so far, so every match is important. It doesn’t matter if you win, but obviously everybody wants to. When losing the only thing you can do is move on”, she said.
“You never know, sometimes you can lose five matches in a row and these five matches give you the hunger for more and to get back to winning. I think that’s what happened to me and I hope I can continue this”, she added.
Next up at the Aegon Open for the Bulgarian, a last-eight tie with fifth seed Lucie Safarova. With both of these players going well of late, Tsvetana is understandably cautious about her chances in the match. “It’s tough”, she tells me. “Both are playing pretty well, I see that Hsieh Su-Wei is in good form and Lucie is coming from a doubles title at Roland Garros, so definitely a tough draw.”
Judging by the way she is striking the ball at the Nottingham Tennis Centre so far this week, particularly on the backhand side, Tsvetana has the potential to go all the way here and cause some real damage at Wimbledon if she is to get a favourable draw. It will certainly be very interesting to see what lies in store for the 29-year-old in the weeks ahead.