by David Cox
Imagine competing in the third round of Wimbledon for the first time. You’re up against an in-form player who’s just made the French Open final, weeks earlier. But you start brilliantly, so brilliantly in fact that you win every single point during the first set.
This happened to Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova earlier this summer. She recorded just the second ‘Golden Set’ in the history of tennis against Italy’s Sara Errani. The achievement is nigh impossible to comprehend. Going through a set without making a single unforced error requires near superhuman feats of concentration.
So just how did Shvedova manage it? Amazingly, at the time she wasn’t even aware it had happened! “It's funny because I didn't even know I did it till my coach told me after the match,” she reveals, laughing. “I had no idea. I was just playing every point and every game. I didn't feel like every game was 40-love. I was just playing one by one. I was so focused, in such a zone.”
“I remember the first or second ball of the second set which she [Errani] won. All the people started to clap and scream. I was like, ’What's going on? Ok, they must want to see a good match!’”
“I just felt like I played a good set. I was just focused on playing each point and I knew I was playing good points but I didn't know I won every point until my coach told me. I was in the gym after the match, cooling down and he came and he’s like ‘Did you know someone told me the stats about you and not losing a point.’ Even then I didn't believe him until I spoke to my manager later and she said it was true.”
It’s certainly been a golden summer for the Kazakh who continued to make headlines at Wimbledon 2012. One round after crushing Errani she came desperately close to beating eventual champion Serena Williams in an epic fourth round clash out on Court Two which saw Serena drop her only set of the Championships before winning 7-5 in the third.
“It was a great match against Serena,” she says. “I was a little bit nervous at the start and didn't really have my rhythm but in the second set I relaxed and could play my tennis and then it was a good match. I wasn't surprised she won. She has won lots of Grand Slams and she always plays well on the important points.”
However Shvedova’s memorable summer all started with a run to the French Open quarter-finals as a qualifier in her beloved Paris. After a 2011 season which was blighted by injury, her chances of making the cut for the London Olympics were firmly in the balance but she made sure of her place with a stunning fourth round victory over defending champion Li Na.
Shvedova has two Grand Slam titles to her name (she won the Wimbledon and US Open women’s doubles with Vania King back in 2010) but in a way, was it even more special to qualify for the Olympics after the ups and downs of the past two seasons?
“That's a difficult question!” Shvedova smiles. “ They were both special. I love playing at Roland Garros, the clay there is just perfect to play on and I love Paris too and always have a good time there. And winning any Grand Slam title is special and with Vania we won Wimbledon and US Open in one year so that was incredible. But singles is most important to me and when I beat Li Na to get to the quarter-finals in Paris I knew that I would be in the Olympic singles which was incredible. I can't choose, they both mean a lot to me.”
Shvedova’s Olympic campaign didn’t last long. After beating Romania’s Simona Halep she lost a close second match to Wimbledon quarter-finalist Sabine Lisicki but how was the experience of being part of the Games?
“It has been incredible to be here. It's like a dream!” she says. “It has been my goal for so long and then after my injury last year I was thinking maybe it wouldn't happen but after Paris I knew I had made it and I am super happy. It's been very special to be here with all the athletes from all over the world. For me it's very important to represent my country at the Olympics. I love to play in the team competitions. On the court it's still up to each player so not too different to what we’re used to, but it's nice and fun to do well for your country.”