For some, being an American citizen is a birthright. For others, the American dream is many years in the making.
Varvara Lepchenko was born in May 1986 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then part of the Soviet Union, and moved to the United States as a teenager. She has represented America on the court since 2007, and she hopes to strengthen her ties with her new country by becoming a citizen before the end of this year.
“It’s a very big deal for me,” she said. “I’ve been living here almost 11 years. I would love to represent this country. A lot of people helped me out, and that’s where I feel like I belong. I can’t wait for that to happen. I will be so honored to represent the United States.”
Lepchenko originally came to the U.S. because she felt it was the only way to advance her career in tennis.
“I came to play juniors. It was really tough back in my country to continue playing because average monthly income is like $20. You can’t really do much with that. You can’t really travel. You can’t really get better and develop your tennis. You have to go outside and explore. The United States was the best place to do it.
“It just happened to be that I liked the country so much and I stayed. I love being here.”
The biggest barrier Lepchenko faced in adjusting to life in America, at first, was the language. Although she had studied British English at school, she found it difficult to understand people when they spoke, particularly over the phone.
“Because I had to plan a lot of things on my own — my dad didn’t know much English — planning everything was a disaster because I couldn’t really understand much,” she said. “You just get through it. You get adjusted. You don’t really have any other way. You try any possible way you can.”
Staying with host families gave Lepchenko an opportunity to practice and improve her command of the language. American culture, on the other hand, was never a problem.
“The culture didn’t really bug me so much because abroad, people from the former Soviet Union and other countries want to be in the United States,” Lepchenko said. “They want to move. It’s a lot of people’s dream to be here. Everyone is trying to see what the United States is doing, what the teenagers are wearing.”
Lepchenko represented the U.S. at the Citi Open only briefly this week, losing to Alberta Brianti of Italy in two sets after defeating fellow American Sloane Stephens in the first round. Nagging injuries have prevented her from training consistently, and a hip problem restricted her ability to get to get to balls in her match against Brianti on Thursday.
“It’s kind of frustrating because you know that if you’re not 100 percent physically, you can’t really expect much from yourself out there,” she said.
Since Lepchenko is uncertain how long her hip will take to heal, she said she may take a few days off to see how it feels before she makes plans for the rest of the summer. Wherever she goes, playing for America is an honor for Lepchenko.
“It’s a dream to be here,” she said.