Anastasia Yakimova still knows how to swing a tennis racquet. This year she won the Leschly Cup with a win over Karina Ildor. The Belorussian’s day job is coaching for Fruens Bøge Tennis Club in Odense, Denmark.
26 and a forced into retirement
For most people, it’s a horror scenario, but for Anastasia Yakimova, the narrative has more to it than an unfortunate career retirement. It’s been six years since her body told her to stop, and the Belorussian player, who had a whole life built in and round tennis, was forced seek other opportunities. It became quickly clear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: tennis was, and will always be, a part of the Belorussian’s life.
“Not being 100% and playing at the top of international tennis isn’t sustainable. I’d played on the WTA Tour for 11 years, and my body could feel it. I wanted to take a small break from tennis to discover what coaching abilities I had. It was a great experience from the beginning, and it motivated me so much that I never thought about resuming my playing career. I’ve never regretted my choice,” relates Anastasia Yakimova. Her highest WTA ranking was 49 in singles, and her best Slam result was was in 2007, when she made the third round of the Australian Open. Yakimova managed to end the year in the WTA Top 100 for three seasons.
Denmark by happenstance
In Spain she got the chance to become co-owner of a tennis school, which, among other things, arranged an yearly international youth tennis tournament. Head tennis coach Frank Petersen from Sønderborg was a steady participant with a group of Danish juniors. Relations were established and Yakimova was invited to Denmark as a guest coach at a summer school for elite players.
“My first visit to Denmark was around five years ago, and I came every summer since. When the opportunity for a coaching job in Danmark came around, I grabbed it. It was Frank who encouraged me to do it. It suited me perfectly, as it came at a time when I was looking for new challenges,” relates Anstasia Yakimova.
Besides being a part of the first team in Fruens Bøge Tennis Club and playing a series of international club tennis tournaments, the Belorussian is also functions as coach for the clubs top players. It’s a unique opportunity for a provencial club to attract a coach with so much international experience as Anastasia Yakimova.
A world of difference
One thing is how we see ourselves. That would never be a 100% accurate. We think as Danes that we do pretty well, not the least in giving our children the best opportunities, and making sure that all became part of society.
For Anasasia Yakimova, the Danish experience has been interesting in this area. It’s taught her some things about how to approach life, things that weren’t part of her growing up in Belarus.
“When I started as a small child in Belarus, there was no opportunity to play tennis ‘for fun’. It was all about becoming professional and earning money. That’s a contrast to the experience in Denmark. Children have a lot of opportunities, which means they can prioritise tennis at exactly the level they wish. That’s the big difference between my former and present countries. There are a lot more here in Denmark who play tennis because they enjoy it. It’s a lovely experience for me to see that you can enjoy tennis without striving after results. I work daily, though, with the serious players, those with ambitions. They’ll always be the ones closest to my heart,” Yakimova explains.
Even though there are big differences between Belarus and Denmark, there are also many similarities. According to Anastasia Yakimova, it’s that tennis gives a good start in life for most youths. It can help them move on in life even without racquet and balls.
“Playing sports keeps you going, you’re active. Competing and solving problems on your own gives young people important tools, tools they can use later on in life. Because when you’re out there on the court, there’s only you who can find the solutions. No one can do things for you. It’s helped me a lot, also off the tennis court,” relates the Belorussian.
She admits that it’s still misses the WTA and tennis at the highest level, the travelling around the world, and the experience in first class. On the other hand, Anastasia Yakimova stresses that she really sees tennis as life education, an education at the same level as what a university can offer. It’s an education that has led her to Denmark.
Can the local tennis players in Odense be inspired by Yakimova’s story? It’s to be hoped.