Since winning singles tennis gold at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Singapore 2010, Daria Gavrilova has won WTA titles, reached the top 20 in the world rankings and played at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Here, she reflects on her YOG experiences, the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and her comeback from injury.
It’s been 10 years since you won gold at the YOG Singapore 2010. What are your memories from the event?
“Playing at the first Youth Olympics ever was pretty special. I was already creating a bit of history going there and being one of the first athletes to compete, and then winning it was even more special. It was crazy seeing that many athletes staying in the one Village; it was incredible. I made a lot of friends, and I tried to follow as many sports as I could. I know that there have been so many athletes that came out and did great things after Singapore in professional sports and it's pretty cool to be a part of that.”
Can you recall how you felt after winning the gold medal?
“It was a big thing, because I was representing Russia, and so many great athletes came out of Russia, and so many gold medals. When I was staying in the Village, it was pretty cool to have people saying congratulations to me. And standing on the podium with the medal was pretty surreal.”
Do you think winning the YOG title has helped you in your career since then?
“Yes, after that I was riding a high. I won the US Open junior title and that helped me to finish the year as the number one junior. Just knowing that I had won, and I was the first Youth Olympian in tennis to win a gold, is pretty cool. I'll definitely tell my kids that story. I think it also helps my tennis profile. Whenever I get introduced, people like to mention that I've won the Youth Olympics; that definitely helps my tennis bio.”
One of the most memorable moments from Singapore 2010 was when you were dancing on court with Tímea Babos during one of the rain delays. What do you remember about that moment?
“I think she just said, ‘I dare you to go out and dance,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I'm up for it.’ Then a lot more players came out and joined us. That was pretty cool. I think it went viral. I have to get hold of this footage. With tennis, we meet so many international players, and we're all friends. We're playing similar tournaments, similar schedules, and it's always nice. Every time I see her, I think, ‘Oh my God, we did that.’ Maybe we should do it again. Well, we should have done it when we were both in Rio for the Olympic Games, but maybe we can do it now in Tokyo.”
You mentioned competing in Rio, where you were representing Australia. Did your experiences at the YOG help prepare you for the Olympic Games?
“It's actually a very similar experience, which is awesome. I think just being part of such a big team, I knew what to expect, because with tennis it's such an individual sport, and then we just do our own thing. Also, staying in the Village is a bit different to what we normally do. Seeing so many athletes again, I still got the same emotions. I got overwhelmed. Just having the experience of being part of a bigger team was probably similar in Rio and in Singapore.”
You mentioned Tokyo as well. You haven’t been able to play since last year’s US Open due to an injury. Is playing at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 a goal of yours?
“I don't know if I can qualify. I have to do incredibly well, but it is one of my goals. I've written it in my diary. It's going to be tough.”
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your comeback?
“I've been out with an injury for almost a year now. I was at home doing rehab, and then I was literally meant to play my first tournament back the week everything was cancelled due to COVID. It was a bit frustrating, but we're still on the cautious side with my injury. We were trying to decide if it was the right move to play this tournament, and then the decision was made for us that you're not playing anything anymore.”
Is it important for you, as an elite athlete and an Olympian, to use your platform as a role model to promote causes that are important to you and that you're passionate about?
“Yes. Being an athlete, I think we're pretty lucky. We get heard a bit more with the way we use social media. I’m an ambassador for the Sports Environment Alliance because the environment is something that is very important to me. I think tennis is actually doing a great job in trying to become more environmentally friendly. There are a few tournaments in France that do that – for example, Strasbourg, they do a good job there. It’s not why I enter certain tournaments, but when events do things like that, I think all of the players learn so much just from being there. It opens your eyes to how you can do things better. It's not about being perfect, but if everyone tried to do a little bit better than what we do now, it would make a big difference.”