The symbolism of the moment was pretty hard to miss last week when Khristina Blajkevitch, in her new role as tournament director of this summer’s Leith Wheeler Stanley Park Open, so effortlessly hoisted an over-sized tennis racquet over her shoulder.
And that’s because, over the course of a playing career that has taken her around the globe and back as a top youth amateur, an NCAA collegian, and finally as a touring professional, her racquet has at times felt as heavy as an anchor and as light as a feather.
Thankfully, for The Province’s 2010 Head of the Class honouree, she’s learned that these days that she doesn’t have carry the weight of the world.
“I have definitely learned to let go and take things as they come,” says Vancouver-native Blajkevitch, featured in these pages five summers ago as an 18-year-old preparing to embark on her college tennis career at the University of Kentucky and revisited today as part of our HOC Spirit Week.
“As for end goals,” she continues, “there aren’t any anymore. The main thing is keeping all doors open and enjoying it because you never know how things can change.”
Well, actually Blajkevitch does know, because at her lowest ebb, partway through her second season at Kentucky, she had grown to dislike the sport so much, she was ready to walk away. In hindsight, she can see it all so clearly now.
“I didn’t really want to play tennis after college,” begins Blajkevitch, who had arrived at Kentucky in the fall of 2010 after cramming her entire Grade 12 year into a five-month span, earning her diploma via the on-line Vancouver Learning Network, while touring and training out of Montreal’s National Tennis Centre. “I couldn’t wait to hang up my racquet. I wanted it to be over. But a year-and-a-half in, my life did a one-eighty. I fell in love with tennis for the first time at that level. I got re-committed to the sport at a whole new level.”
The about-face came through team sessions the school arranged with noted sports psychologist Linda LeClair, celebrated for her ability to stoke the mental process and confidence of some of the top players on the ATP and WTA tours.
“If I had to pinpoint one thing, it was her,” Blajkevitch says. “We had a connection and she was someone who really took the time to work through the mental and emotional stuff with me. She got to the root of what caused me to see things as negative when I played. I was just blown away. I suddenly realized I wasn’t done with the sport.”
So much so that despite following through on her plan of graduating in three years so that she might continue her academic path at law school, Blajkevitch decided to continue playing, spending the past few seasons playing professional tennis.
While on something of a sabbatical from the sport, however, she returned to her Lower Mainland home base this past fall. Fortuitously, she stumbled into a coaching opportunity, and after discovering a new set of rewards, began working with young players at Richmond’s Elite Tennis Academy.
“I never thought I would coach, but I fell in love with that, too,” she laughs. “I just close my eyes and remember whenever they ask me a question. I just feel such a connection with them. I just turned 23 and I can still remember what it’s like at 15 playing your first tournament.”
And with her doors open to change, the rest has been as simple as letting one opportunity flow into the next.
Her newfound passion for coaching has led to her recent hiring as Tennis B.C.’s new Director of Player Development, a position she says allows her to influence the largest share of the province’s young players, those wanting to advance from a more community-based association with the sport to its next level.
And not only is she learning a new set of ropes as tournament director for the Stanley Park Open, which runs July 3-19, she is also playing singles and mix doubles at the event known as North America’s largest amateur tournament.
“Some might think I am taking on too much,” laughs Blajkevitch, who will team in mixed doubles with former Canadian Davis Cup player Jerry Turek. “But I am having fun and I am keeping my head above water. I’m still breathing.”
If you get the idea that her racquet keeps getting lighter and lighter, you’re right.