Good afternoon, YouthMundees! At YouthMundus, we aim to not only be a platform for music, film and global change, but for the artists and global changemakers who create them. Our Artist Spotlight series aims to create a space for discovery of new, budding global talent, while simultaneously offering you an exclusive glimpse into their creative process. Representing Canada at the international level, 17-year old Dasha Plehkanova is a high-profile athlete competing on the WTA International Tennis Tour. YouthMundus talks to Dasha about her relationship to tennis, and she shares how the pandemic forced her to leave her home country so that she could safely train.
What has been your favorite moment on a tennis court?
At eight years old I was playing my first international finals. The day before the finals I was telling my coach how I was lacking energy by the end of the first set of all my previous matches. My coach suggested that I try eating some chocolate when I feel like I am losing energy. As any eight-year-old would, I took his advice very seriously. A couple of hours before my match, my mom bought me two regular-sized M&M packets... you can probably imagine what happened. After I won the first set, I felt my energy dropping, so right before the second set, instead of eating just a few M&M’s, I ate half of the packet. Within minutes I was through the roof! At every changeover after that, I would eat about five M&M’s, not because I felt my energy dropping again, but just because I wanted more. I ended up losing the second set, and the third set was a super tie break till ten. By the time the tie break rolled around, I not only finished both packets of M&M’s but my sugar rush had ended and my energy dropped significantly. I do not know how I managed to push through and win my very first unofficial world championship. That was a big moment for my family; everyone was crying happy tears as if I had just won Wimbledon. That was the very moment I realized how much I love competing (and chocolate).
Do you find it difficult to handle the pressure of playing at an international stage? How do you overcome this?
Being number 1 in all of Canada in the age groups under 12, 14, and 16, I personally never felt any pressure when I was on the court, and I still do not. I love the adrenaline and the rush of match play so much that all of the pressure I may feel subconsciously disappears. I am not afraid to lose matches. I walk onto the court with one thought: “just play your game”. There is no losing, you either win or you learn and gain experience. Either way, it is a win-win.
Has your game and practice schedule changed with the onset of the pandemic?
Most definitely, yes! When the pandemic started, I was in the Dominican Republic playing a tournament. My partner and I were on the court waiting for the referee to come with the balls. But instead, he came on the court with news that the tournament was officially cancelled due to COVID-19, and that everyone should fly back home before all of the borders close. Everything happened very quickly after that. My mom and I flew back to Canada, and the country was on full lockdown. We quarantined for two weeks and the new safety regulations kept me from practicing. I did not have any tennis practices for three months. My fitness coach, @odmfit, and I worked 3-5 times a week to keep me in shape as best as possible. Once the restrictions were loosened, I started having tennis practices again once a day for a mere two hours. Then on December 2 of 2020, my mom and I flew to Florida because of rumors that Canada would go on full lockdown again. In Florida, I was back to practicing full time (on public courts) and getting ready for 2021. Because of this pandemic, we have not been home since.
When she's not on the court, Dasha explores her passion for medicine. She hopes to enter the medical field in the future, but of course, only after a successful tennis career. For now, as she balances academics, a social life, and her intense training schedule, she indulges herself on documentaries, personal research, and reading.
What is the best advice you have been given, and is there any advice you would like to pass on to aspiring young tennis players?
Two phrases have stuck with me since I was little. The first is: “do not dread on the past.” I do not remember who told me this exactly, although I am sure multiple people did. Since I am very competitive, no matter what activity I am doing, I am going to approach it as if it is a competition and try to win. In addition, I've always competed against older girls. Even though I see how this was good for me, it was hard to see that when I was little. For example, if I was playing a tournament and I thought my opponent had cheated me out of a point, I could not forget about it for many many many points after–sometimes even for the rest of the match. Once I felt that way, I would–not purposely, but rather carelessly–play the next dozen or so points to show how upset I was about that one bad call. If only I would have let that go, multiple matches of mine could have turned out differently and with more positive results. The second phrase is only useful after winning a tournament: “I am a champion today but tomorrow I am going to need to prove myself again”. I find this phrase to be very important because after winning tournaments players tend to relax and do poorly in the next set of tournaments. With this phrase in mind, you can obviously celebrate a win, but you would not stop practicing/aiming to become better. Yes, you won a tournament–but that does not mean you will always win them all from that point on. You have to reset and work even harder than you did before winning that tournament because now more players want to beat you specifically.
Thank you all so much for your continued support. We look forward to bringing you the voice of more inspiring artists and changemakers in 2021.