Tashkent Sept 25-Oct 2
From Seoul it was off to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I had my reservations about going since the countries surrounding Uzbekistan are in turmoil. As soon as we got to customs I could feel that I was in a third world country. There was no organization and no actual line to get to the officials. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of the hoard of people to capture the moment of people trying to push their way to the front, but I didn’t want to get into trouble. I had to push my way to get to the window in order to hand our passports and letter in order to get our visas before going through customs. With visas in hand, we went through customs but my coach, Joel, had a tough time getting through. The man who had just done our visas disappeared without signing Joel’s visa, so he was detained for another 30-40 minutes until they found him. It was stressful because I was worried they wouldn’t let him into the country.
Luckily this was the worst of what we experienced in Uzbekistan. I didn’t make it into the singles draw, but everything else was good. The hotel was nice, the food was good, and it felt safe. It wasn’t what I imagined it was going to be since I didn’t realize how big of a Russian population the country had. Most people spoke Uzbek and Russian as their main languages.
My doubles partner, Emily Webley-Smith, and I practiced the couple days leading up to the doubles sign in. We knew it was going to be a tough cut for doubles, so we patiently waited for the sign in deadline. My stomach was in knots on Sunday since the deadline was at noon on that day. I was worried that we weren’t going to get into the doubles since people kept on walking into the office to look at the doubles list. At the last minute two teams signed up with us at 13 out of 14 teams in. One of the teams was ahead of us in the rankings, but luckily the second team was behind us so we were last into the draw. I was so relieved we made it in because we were playing well together and meshing a lot better than in Seoul. In addition it meant that we received hotel nights since it is a WTA.
In the first round we drew Agkul Amanmuradova from Uzbekistan and Vitalia Diatchenko from Russia. Diatchenko was ranked in the top 100 of doubles a couple years back and Agkul is a giant with good hands who was top 50 at one point. We started off slow and lost the first set 6-2. Diatchenko hits a huge backhand, which we weren’t prepared for. We would lose pretty much every point that we got into a backhand rally with her. In the second set, Joel came out and gave us some tips on how to play the team from what he observed. We took away the Diatchenko’s backhand by hitting it at the net player on the returns, and by playing “I” formation with our noses on the net. She had a hard time hitting it down the line and we were able to come back and win 6-4. In the super breaker we didn’t play quite as well as in the second set. We ended up losing 10-7 after losing a few points that we should’ve won. It felt like a lost opportunity.
After the tournament, we stuck around a couple more days and practiced. I was able to check out the biggest market in Uzbekistan. It was overwhelming since it was the largest market I’ve ever been to. There were people selling clothes, trinkets, rugs, jewelry, meat, fruits, vegetables and spices. It seemed endless… We even had some of the street food from the market which was amazing. The food there had a Middle Eastern feel to it. All in all, Uzbekistan was actually kind of cool.