Anastasia is a popular girl’s name in Russia that means “reborn.” Those so named are said to be a powerful force who often undertake big endeavors with great success.
It seems fitting that Evanston Township High School’s newest tennis star is Anastasia Goncharova, a junior, who came in second place in this year’s State Tennis Tournament in her first year on the ETHS team. She missed winning the title by a mere two points. She also helped elevate the team to their best record ever and has brought attention to a sport that usually gets very little.
Ms. Goncharova was born in Moscow and moved with her mother to Evanston six years ago, when she was 10. They came for the opportunity it provided her to play. In Russia, athletes must have a lot of money and connections to play, Ms. Goncharova told the RoundTable.
Tennis seemed to come naturally to Anastasia. While her mother was pregnant and on bed rest, she watched tennis on the hospital TV and fell in love with the game, deciding she wanted her child to take up the sport. Anastasia first tried gymnastics, dance, and art but when she was seven, picked up a tennis racket and immediately began hitting the ball. She knew instantly that she had found her passion.
Her love of Chicago was immediate as well. She and her mother chose Evanston to be close to a family friend. Evanston “is a beautiful place, so peaceful and relaxing,” said Ms. Goncharova. “The community is so nice. I like it here.” She has not returned to Moscow since moving.
Upon arriving here, Anastasia began working out at the Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago as part of the Tennis Opportunity Program (TOP), a nonprofit group that helps provide financial assistance and support to tennis players who would not otherwise be able to participate in the sport. “Without them, I would not be able to play at this level and be this successful,” said Ms. Goncharova. Her coach, Vasiliy Guryanov, who is also Russian, is a role model for her and has become like a member of the family. “He cares about me and does a lot for me.” Professional tennis player Roger Federer is also a role model, said Anastasia. “He is respectful and humble. He does not have a big head.”
ETHS Tennis Coach Joyce Anderson has also been a source of support and encouragement for Anastasia. “I knew who she was in middle school,” said Coach Anderson. “The field of top tennis players is small.” Coach Anderson began reaching out to Anastasia via email prior to her freshman year, encouraging her to join the ETHS team, but Ms. Goncharova wanted her daughter to focus instead on her training and school. Anastasia joined the team as a junior mainly because that is the year colleges begin looking at potential recruits. Coach Anderson also encouraged her to join the school team to experience “a different type of competition” and to have an opportunity to make new friends and be in a different tennis environment. The school worked with Anastasia’s outside training schedule to enable her to play for the team.
At first, her teammates were a bit intimidated by her, said Coach Anderson. Many had “never seen play at that high level.” Some were hesitant to hit with her because they “didn’t want to give her a bad practice.” Anastasia never walked onto the court like she was better than anyone else, however. She was always willing to hit with teammates of all levels. By the end of the season, the girls were all friends.
Playing for a school team, “is a lot of pressure” and “I didn’t do well at first,” said Anastasia, who was worried about letting others down. By sectionals, everything “clicked” according to her coach. In tennis, you are on the court by yourself and you are “in your own head,” said Coach Anderson. “It’s my job to snap her out of it if she’s struggling; get her to focus on one thing and play loose.” Tai Chi has also helped her with the mental aspect of the game, according to Ms. Goncharova.
The immense support she’s received from the community has elevated her game and has brought more attention to the sport, according to Coach Anderson. The varsity football team came out to cheer her on at conferences. At the state tournament, the “crowd was amazing,” yelling cheers and drowning out the opposing team’s fans. Anastasia has gotten a lot of attention on social media and from reporters as well. And, the ETHS boys’ soccer coach, Franz Calixte, said that her performance “inspired” his team in their postseason play.
Anastasia is currently looking at colleges and has started focusing on her career. “I still need to show great results,” she said, but hopes to go to college “somewhere warm” where she can play tennis outside year-around. Some 10 colleges have already shown an interest in her. Once she graduates from college, she hopes to turn pro. She is also interested in getting into sports management, possibly creating her own tennis academy and coaching; “definitely something in tennis,” said Ms. Goncharova.
Anastasia is “a problem solver” and “has a great attitude” according to her coach. She is a straight A student, takes honors-level classes and speaks three languages (English, Russian and Spanish). With her winning approach, tough mental game, and solid support system, it is clear that whatever she does in the future, Anastasia will take on big endeavors with great success, as her name suggests.