Last year, the Vihrova family packed their bags and left their native Latvia to move to the United States. The eldest of the family’s two daughters, Elina, had accepted a scholarship ingymnastics to Penn State University, and the Vihrova’s followed her to the States so the family could remain close. That meant finding a new place for younger sister Milana to continue playing her tennis.
Milana had begun playing when she was about eight-years-old back in her native Latvia, falling in love with the sport and beginning to compete in U10 tournaments.
“I started playing tennis about four years ago,” said Vihrova. “The first year, I just tried it out for fun, and then after that I began playing at a tennis club in Latvia which had stronger and more intense practices. And I continued to love playing.”
Upon arriving here in New York, Vihrova started playing tennis at Carefree Racquet Club in North Merrick. It was a bit of a transition for her, as one would expect. Between being in a new country where she didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone, it was challenging.
“I missed my friends, and while I studied English in Lativa, I didn’t speak it that well at first,” she said. “But after coming here, it continued to get better and better with the more practice I have.”
And as Carefree’s Tennis Director Ben Marks explains, despite those speed bumps, her passion for tennis shined through right away.
“Milana came to us within her first month of arriving in the states. It was obvious right away that she loved tennis and was a great student,” said Marks. “The language barrier was there with me not speaking a word of Russian and her not speaking English either, so a lot of our lessons were me showing rather than telling her what I wanted her to do. I also took advantage of my fiancée and fellow tennis coach, Alina, speaking Russian and used her as a translator when needed.”
In the year since moving here, Vihrova’s tennis has taken a giant leap, and her assimilation into living the United States has been going well. She still takes time to talk to her friends back home in Latvia, and of course remains in touch with her older sister, Elina, in Happy Valley.
“We are very close, and were always together before she went to school at Penn State,” said Vihrova. “We talk a lot on the phone, and she comes home on holidays, so we are definitely still extremely close.”
Vihrova comes from a family of athletes, and that foundation has helped her tennis thrive over the last few years. As mentioned, her sister is a gymnast at Penn State, and their father, Vihrovs Igors, is a famed gymnast. At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, he won the Gold Medal in the Floor Exercise category.
Having a Gold Medalist as your father is a unique thing for a young person to have, and it has a profound impact on the young Milana already.
While her older sister followed in her father’s footsteps to become a gymnast, Milana never felt that pressure and was encouraged to pursue what she is passionate about.
“I did gymnastics for about three years when I was younger, but then I got into tennis,” she said. “My father knows a lot of things about sports, and what it takes to be great, so he motivates me a lot. When I chose to play tennis he was supportive and continues to motivate me.”
That support and her athletic genes, combined with her love of tennis, presents a bright future ahead for Milana as she continues to pursue her tennis career. All of that has created a dedicated young player who embraces her coaching, and is willing to do what it takes to constantly improve.
“My biggest memory of those first weeks with her was when we were working on her serve. I showed her something in her set up that I wanted her to try differently,” recalls Marks. “A week goes by before I next see her, and as we begin serving again, she is doing exactly what I asked, perfectly remembering every single detail.”
Marks was a bit surprised by this, but was left more than impressed. “I asked her, ‘You remembered?’, and the response I got, in the few English words she knew at this time, was, ‘Yes, you told me to do it.’ That has been a characteristic of hers in each and every lesson. You only need to tell her something once and it’s locked in her brain forever. It’s a pleasure to work with someone that is so focused and zoned in each time I am helping her with something.”
As Milana continues to play tennis and move through the different levels of the development pathway, she is excited for what’s next to come in her young life and to try and achieve her goals.
“My goal is to be a good tennis player, and do my best to play well and win matches in tournaments,” she said. “I would love to play in a Grand Slam one day, and I am hoping to be able to get a college scholarship just like my sister!”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com.