Sofia Shapatava WTA Player discusses tennis and the implications of COVID-19


Good morning Sofia Shapatava, its great to have you here!  This is the second time I have interviewed you, the first time about three years ago! But for those that do not know, please introduce yourselves to our audience and tell us a little about your career to date.

Good morning! Thank you for having me. Yeah, we did an interview three years ago, a lot has changed in this time. So, my name is Sofia Shapatava, I am professional tennis player from Georgia.

I’ve been playing tennis for what feels like all my life, last 11 years was trying to do it professionally, my current ranking in singles is 360 and doubles 150.  My career high WTA rankings have been 180 in singles, and 130 in doubles.

I have had my share of injuries, also after our last talk I had two major injuries. Initially, I rolled my ankle which lead to breaking 3 ligaments and I also had an injury on my back. This has cost me a lot of time and a lot of ranking points. Last year I started to work my way up in the rankings, and it was going pretty well till of course last week. Now the tennis world has stopped so every tennis player is in unknown area for them.

Thanks Sofia.  Firstly I just wanted to mention that Sofia is part of a new project we are working on called TPP – Tennis Player Profile. Tell us a little bit about what we have done for you and what our aims are for it?

TPP is a great tennis community, it helps to connect players and coaches, with academies, sponsors and other tennis fans / investors. It is a fast and easy way to find connections in the tennis world, find some help and be aware of other players, coaches or academies in need of help, jobs or material support.

Could be great if this community goes larger, as it is very much needed especially right now. It has already put me in connection with a few good contacts.  And it is always nice to know that you are not alone, in good or in hard times.

The aim of the community for me right now is to find a temporary job, since the tennis world is stopped for 3 months or a sponsorship, that is the aim I guess for every player here.

But it is also great for coaches who are in need of a job, but don’t have enough connections themselves and it is a great way to spread the word. I believe that it can be very successful.

One of the reasons we set up our new project was to help tennis players find sponsors to help them fund coaching and travelling on tour. Realistically in this day and age, how difficult is it to find a sponsor / investor for a tennis player?

It was always very difficult to find a sponsor, as not that many people buy into the idea of investing in tennis players. This is very high risk somehow for people, because obviously we can have injuries.

My age is especially difficult as I am not considered young, so even when there is someone willing to invest, it will be investing in young people.

Nobody cares which goals you have or how fit you are.  Also the other problem is that people think that somehow tennis investing is millions, when sometimes some players need couple of thousand to just keep them going till next year or to gain some ranking points. It is sometimes nothing to companies, but means the world to lower ranked players.

Income in tennis is very low if you are not at the very top. And obviously it takes a lot of time and effort to get on top. It takes a lot of dedication and you have to be ready to work with enthusiasm towards your goal, and be ready to fail and face a lot of hardships.

How has COVID-19 effected you as a tennis player?  What are your goals and aims during the period of time that you are without tennis?

I am definitely considering coaching, as I love tennis. It has never been a job, job for me. It is my passion and love. I love being around the tennis court, playing, coaching or just watching tennis.  I know that it wont be easy to find a coaching job during this period, but hope that somebody will read this and have an opportunity for me!

Interesting that you mentioned coaching there Sofia…  Once your playing career is over do you consider coaching as your next career?

Tennis is something I want to do, and I want to be around all my life. It has been like this since I am ten and that never changes no matter how hard it got. I love when I see hard work paying off, I love to practice very hard myself, it is something I enjoy.

I also love to see when I help someone and my advice works. It is weird combination for me, but somehow when I am on tennis court everything else just vanishes. I do believe if you have a job, you should love your job, this is what I love and I am pretty confident that I will be always around tennis in my life. And I will always play for myself couple of hours a week even after I quit.

So, in answer to your question, I really do think being a tennis coach is the next logical step for me.

Finally, Roland Garros has just announced that they are moving to a week after US Open… What do you make of this decision?

It is very hard topic, cancellation of tournaments and moving of Roland Garros.

I have two sides of me fighting- one thinks that this panic is over reacting and it is media exaggerated and the other side tells me that health is very important and it might be the right thing to do.

I am not an expert, I am a hard believer that negativity always makes things worse and media is very negative lately. The coverage of good news is much less then of bad ones and people panic way too much.

Every single tournament is stopped till June 8, personally I think that it was way to early to cancel for that long, but also I know many people who don’t agree with me. For now honestly it looks to me that this whole season will be cancelled, I hope I am wrong, but it starts to feel more and more this way.

It will have very different impact on different players, while top 100 players can afford to take a rest and practice and get ready for next season, all the other players will suffer a lot, I already know many players who try to find a job as not many of us can afford just to sit and do nothing and be okay with it.

I am sure many lower ranked players will have to quit playing, cause even if they can afford food and surviving, for sure they will not afford getting back on the road after that break.

They cancelled the tournaments effective immediately last week, without even finishing the tournaments that were played till Friday. I don’t know if it is true, but I heard that ATP and WTA paid travel expenses to players who were on the tournaments while it was cancelled, but that was not the case with ITF and lower ranked players.

So it is very difficult topic, one thing is for sure, it is very hard time for majority of tennis players, we will see many quit, many out of shape and for sure it is very hard mentally for every single player.

It is always hard to come back after injury and compete 100% and now it is basically injury time out, just without the injury. I am looking forward to seeing what life will bring in the next two or three months. And hope people will find a way to come out of this crisis head held high.

On a very short note, going out of tennis, while we speak about tennis there are many people who struggle with health and there are far bigger problems in the world honestly than tennis matches. I understand that as well. And tennis left aside I want to take a chance to tell everyone to keep safe, wash their hands, stay positive. Life will go on and we will all go through this. Most important is health and peace of mind.

Have a great day and thank you for letting me join you again. Stay safe and good luck.

Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me today Sofia.  Please feel free to contact Sofia directly via email on shapatavasofia@gmail.com  Her TPP Tennis Player Profile can be viewed here and she has also set up a petition to help players with obtaining income.

Mark Wylam (Owner Sportsprosconnect.com)


March 20, 2020 Categories: Interviews