We keep reading how the tennis industry is 'aging out' and for the most part is dominated by a bunch of older male professionals.
So we set out to find female tennis professionals who are flourishing in our male-dominated industry. And we found them on the U.S. East Coast, West Coast, in England, and in Australia. We asked them a bunch of questions in order to learn more about them.
Tennis Pro - Serial Entrepreneur - MBA Candidate
"I love challenges and keep growing"
Los Angeles, California
Yulia Smirnova, an immigrant from Russia, is living the "American Dream." After becoming Top 50 in Russia, she subsequently played on the Division I Binghamton team, worked at various U.S. tennis clubs, and successfully started several businesses like a French flower shop in San Francisco, and a sports consultancy in Silicon Valley. In between, she also managed 5 fitness studios in Moscow. Yulia currently works at Westside Tennis in Los Angeles while studying for an MBA at UCLA.
Questions for Yulia Smirnova
TCB: Yulia, where were you born in Russia?
YS: I was born in Moscow
TCB: How old were you when you started with tennis?
YS: I started when I was 6, but I also did ballet, swimming, basketball, more serious I started to play when I was 12.
TCB: How did your tennis evolve as a junior in Russia?
YS: Tennis was a huge part of my childhood, I came from a very athletic family. My brother is a professional hockey player. I actually was his guardian when he came to the US when he was 14 and I just graduated college. We lived together in Scranton, PA where he was recruited. He just graduated from Penn State where he played D1 Ice Hockey and had a full scholarship. He was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche. Thanks to our parents, we were very busy with sports as kids. If I wasn't at my tennis club at practice, I would be at the public courts playing with older amateur players working on my skills, and getting as much practice as possible since my parents didn't have money for private lessons. Or I would be hitting at the wall or my dad would train me knowing very little about tennis. Also, our dad would take us to the park for a run, physical training, shooting basketball, playing soccer, biking, etc which made us great athletes overall. However, I had to sacrifice my childhood like going to all the birthday parties, hanging out with my classmates, going to movies, etc, and eventually, I had to transfer to evening school. As well as traveling on my own all over Russia and Europe, so I had to mature up at age 14, which made my college experience much easier.
TCB: How do tennis teaching methods in Russia compare to the ones in the U.S.?
YS: The teaching style in Russia is taught, very direct, and with no mercy. Not a lot of fun but mostly serious training with a purpose. Back in my training days, there was more structure and a lot more hours of training with a combination of not only on-court training but also footwork session, full-body sessions, long-runs, massage, sauna, swimming sessions, acrobatics (learn how to fall on the court and do different tricks), as well as scheduled tournaments made by the coach, yearly checkup with all the doctors to make sure everything is healthy from the heart to the joints.
TCB: When did you come to the U.S.? Were you recruited by Binghamton University?
YS: I was recruited by Binghamton University by my coach Mike Stevens and also other universities but I wanted to be in New York ( I didn't realize how far it is from NYC) where I studied 2007-2011
TCB: You have a very rich and successful tennis career. How easy/difficult was it for you to succeed in a male-dominated sport?
YS: I think when I played competitively, I didn't notice the difference between male/female domination. But when I started coaching, it definitely is a challenge to be in the industry with male majority coaches who are high level. But I think it gets better but still very challenging.
TCB: What tennis position did you like best here in America?
YS: Not going to lie, I enjoyed every position that I had here in the USA. I learned a lot from my bosses and co-workers, especially when I started coaching I put a lot of hours just helping out for free so I can learn, clean courts, help with paperwork, attend classes etc. Every job had a different learning experience and I grew as a coach and a person, I am very thankful for all of my job opportunities.
Before Westside Tennis, Yulia worked for two years at The Griffin Club in Los Angeles. The club's Director of Tennis Operations, Alec Horton, said this about Yulia Smirnova.
"She was awesome. Yulia Smirnova was the consummate professional on and off the court, well respected by her peers and loved by her students. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Yulia, and I consider her a good friend."
TCB: You are also a serial entrepreneur. Finance, accounting, retail, student-athlete consulting. Both here and in Russia. What's your current start-up project?
YS: As of right now since I am in an MBA program and doing full time, I am focusing on these two things but thinking about ideas based on the current situation in the world. Ideally, it would be including sports and entrepreneurship. Right now I am exploring and trying to move to a new level and still do what I love.
TCB: What made you decide to get your MBA at UCLA? What are your goals once you graduate?
YS: I love challenges and keep growing. I want to grow in my career and be the best in what I do. It seemed like something impossible when I was thinking about it, which I always think about after finishing undergrad. Every city that I lived in I started the process to get into an MBA program. But I never put it as a priority and then I was very busy at work. Also, since I moved from Russi I am financially independent, so I was always thinking about my financial situation and making sure I can support myself and be financially independent which can be challenging as a coach because things like weather, health issues, family issues, courts problems, etc can be difficult to rely on. For example, one of my biggest challenges was when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I managed to take her for the surgery in Israel, helping her out as much as I could emotionally and financially.
Going back to UCLA MBA, I had great support this time from my husband, his family, and my family. I am dedicated to growing in my career and get to a new level. I am not sure where exactly it will take me, I am exploring all the possible outcomes, especially with situations in the USA and in the world. I am very excited about it and enjoying it while doing what I love-coaching in Santa Monica.
TCB: What's your tennis racquet of choice?
YS: I am coaching with Babolat Pure Drive right now, I played with Wilson Pro Staff most of my tennis career. There are other racquets that are great as well like Head and Yonex that I tried.
TCB: Thank you, Yulia.