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Boston Globe on Pironkova: 'Star' Now Has Bright Future

Date: 01.07.2010

From The Boston Globe
By Kevin Paul Dupont

Not since the Maleeva sisters — Manuela, Katerina, and Magdalena — has Bulgaria had much to boast about on the tennis court. The country of some 7.5 million turns out players more by happenstance than design.

These days, Bulgaria has Grigor Dimitrov, a 19-year-old up-and-comer on the men’s side, along with Tsvetana Pironkova, the 22-year-old righthander who yesterday advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals with her 6-2, 6-3 upset of world No. 2 Venus Williams.

“Tennis is really a popular sport in our country,’’ explained Pironkova, who grew up in Plovdiv, second in population to Sofia. “Lots of kids are playing. Lot of kids are trying to get in the big [sic] tennis. But so far, right now, the rankings in the top 100 is just me. We have a few other players who are around 200. We have one star, [Dimitrov] — he won the boys’ singles here, I think, two years ago. He has a good future. I really wish him the best.’’

The 5-foot-11-inch Pironkova, who never before advanced beyond the second round of a major, took up tennis because her father, Kiril, a former canoeing champion, was a tennis coach. Both her father and mother, Radosveta, a competitive swimmer in her youth, were courtside to see their daughter’s brightest moment to date.

“I started ever since I was a baby, actually,’’ said Pironkova, who tomorrow takes on Russian Vera Zvonareva in the semis. “Maybe the first time I hit the ball I was around 3 years old. Later on, I started to play more seriously.’’

According to Pironkova, there are no academies (i.e. tennis factories) grooming potential young stars in Bulgaria. The feeder system remains clubs and coaches, with limited help from the country’s tennis federation.

“If a kid is good, the coaches start paying a lot of attention,’’ noted Pironkova. “That’s pretty much it.’’

Bulgaria’s tennis federation is doing more to promote the game these days, said Pironkova, the recipient of very little aid on her way up the worldwide totem pole.

“We have Stefan Tsvetkov, who is the manager of our federation,’’ she said. “He’s doing a lot right now for the tennis. He’s trying to keep it alive. He’s making lots of tournaments, trying to find sponsors for our players.’’

Pretty good response

Venus Williams didn’t play her best — far from it — in losing to Pironkova. But she made clear that any thought of the 30-year-old star winding down is a waste of mental energy.

“Why wouldn’t I want to pursue this?’’ she said. “I’m pretty good at it most days. Today I didn’t seem to be the best tennis player, but for the most part I rock ‘n’ roll this game. I’ll give it up when I’m just terrible. It would take more than just a few bad days in a year to make me quit tennis. So that’s not even in the equation.’’

The five-time Wimbledon champion is ranked second in the world to sister Serena. She has not won a major since her title here in 2008, but her game is still quite strong and she has pushed her career earnings this year to more than million.

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