In 2011, Varvara Lepchenko became an American citizen.
In 2012, she jumped from outside the top 100 to No. 20 in the world in women’s tennis, and represented America in the Fed Cup and the Olympics.
The milestone events are not unrelated, Lepchenko said Monday after a first-round victory at the Family Circle Cup.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Lepchenko said after a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 Stadium Court victory over fellow American Christina McHale. “I’m so lucky to be in the position where I am right now.”
Lepchenko, 26 and a native of Uzbekistan, was 15 when her family moved to the U.S., where they were granted political asylum. She switched her nationality to the U.S. in 2007, but was not able to become a citizen until 2011.
“Ever since we came to the U.S., I always felt like an American,” Lepchenko said. “The more time I spent here, the more friends I acquired. But when people would ask me, ‘What are you now?,’ I really didn’t have an answer.”
When her citizenship came through in 2011, a weight lifted off her shoulders. More practically, visas and passports and travel became much easier; able to focus on tennis, her career took off.
“Everything bloomed from that point,” she said.
In 2012, she made the fourth round at the French Open and the third at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She also made the Fed Cup and Olympic teams, playing alongside Venus and Serena Williams.
“I was just talking to Venus about how great it is to play on a team,” she said. “You cheer for each other and you are a normal person for a while, a team player.”
Lepchenko was not the only American to have a good day. Qualifers Mallory Burdette, Jessica Pegula and Grace Min all advanced, Pegula and Burdette in three-set victories and Min with a second-set walkover. Wild-card entrant Bethanie Mattek-Sands also scored a three-set win, and will take on rising American star Sloane Stephens on Stadium Court tonight.
Tonight is USC Night at the Family Circle Cup, as teenage star Sloane Stephens plays the featured night match on Stadium Court. A pair of Gamecock players, Jaklin Alawi and Dominika Kanakova, will play American Megan Moulton-Levy and Shuai Zhang of China in a doubles match. USC students with ID can buy a ticket for $20.
Venus Williams played an exhibition match Monday to promote her EleVen by Venus line of apparel.
“We’re small, but we’re growing” Williams said of her company. “I think that’s the best way, to grow strategically. But I think people really like the clothes, and that’s half the battle.”
The Family Circle Cup reported attendance of 6,032 and 5,884 for Saturday and Sunday’s qualifying matches, and 6,348 for Monday’s opening day of main draw play. That’s the biggest Monday crowd since 6,732 in 2004.