NYC's Premier Junior Program
  | By Brian Coleman

 

Each day, Agnia Vustsina takes a 20-minute walk towards the coast of Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn where she arrives at MatchPoint NYC Bensonhurst, a beautiful facility that sits in view of the Verrazano Bridge.

The top-ranked rising eighth-grader in New York, according to TennisRecruiting.net, has been going to MatchPoint for her training since she moved to the United States in 2016. Vustsina moved to Brooklyn from Minsk, Belarus in order to pursue her tennis dreams, and in the time since her arrival she has become one of the country’s top junior players.

“Moving here was definitely a lot for me,” said Vustsina. “We moved for my tennis and so I could improve, and coming here was something completely new. So it was a lot for me to handle. I was very scared I wouldn’t be able to learn English. As soon as I got here, I wrote down the alphabet so I could learn that as fast as I could. I started reading books in English which helped, and there were people here from my home country that spoke my language, so that helped with the transition. When I first came here, the staff at MatchPoint did everything they could to help me. I really found a home.”

Vuststina can recall one of her first tournaments here in the States when she was more concerned with learning how to say the score in English than she was her tennis. In the five years since arriving in Brooklyn, Vustsina now speaks excellent English, but does most of her talking with her racquet.

The 13-year-old has an aggressive style of play with a lot of power generated from both her forehand and backhands. Her coach, Bogdan Sheremet, can recall the first time he saw her playing and when he noticed the natural talent she had.

“I remember teaching on the court next to where she was playing, and I was amazed by her ability to move and hit the ball,” said Sheremet. “You could tell she was a really good shot maker, and could hit a winner from any angle on the court. A couple of months later, her mom asked if she could take a lesson with me. And from there the connection between us started. We continued training, working together and traveling for tournaments. We definitely have chemistry together.” 

The close relationship between player and coach has helped Vustsina flourish on the court. She has come a long way since she first began playing. She can remember when she first played a red-dot tournament when she was six- years-old, and she lost. It did not deter her. In fact, it did the opposite, and it helped her develop a desire to win.

“I was competing against some of my friends that I had been practicing with. I lost but it was a good experience, because at that time I wasn’t really thinking of tennis being a big thing for me.”

Growing up, Vustsina played other sports in addition to tennis, including basketball, swimming and kung-fu, the latter of which she says has helped her immensely in her tennis. An individual sport, tennis can oftentimes become more mental than it is physical, and Vustsina has learned how to handle those types of situations that can make or break a player mentally during a given match.

“It’s definitely something that has helped me relax, and find that Zen in myself,” she said. “When I was little, I couldn’t control my emotions. It was really hard for me. The kung-fu has helped me throughout the years, and I can revert back to what I learned when I get tight during a match. It’s important to relax yourself and get back into the moment, and doing breathing exercises and things like that helps me a lot. My favorite player is Novak Djokovic, and I always see him trying to calm himself down when something goes wrong during a match. And I like that part of his game.”

It’s that mental toughness and awareness, in addition to her physical skills, that have catapulted Vustsina into one of the top players in the Eastern Section. And she is not afraid to play up in competition and compete against girls older than her, as was evidenced by her victory at the L5 Open Mountainside Championships in the Girls 16s division earlier this summer where she powered through the draw without dropping a set. Advancing to the later stages of high-level tournaments is at the top of her goals list right now.

“In the short term, I want to continue to play well and reach the finals of tournaments,” she said. “Trying to be consistent, no matter the level of the tournament, is my goal. Win or lose, if I am getting to the finals of events, that means I am doing something right and those titles will come.”

In order to reach those goals, Vuststina will continue to put the work in at MatchPoint NYC, and improve on the aspects of her game that can be sharpened.


 

“She is a very aggressive player, and as we know, if you want to play aggressive you have to stay consistent,” explained Sheremet. “We work a lot on consistency, as well as a lot of volleys and approaching the net, and understanding how to construct and finish off points. She used to run into problems when she tried to create winners from the baseline all the time which led to some unforced errors. As she gets older, she is getting wiser on the court, and therefore she is doing a great job of pushing forward and winning more points at the net.”

Vuststina has one more year left of middle school before she moves on to high school, where she does hope to play high school tennis. Competing in a team atmosphere such as that can be great preparation for college tennis, which is something that will certainly be available to her in her future. When she isn’t on the court, Vustsina enjoys drawing and writing, which helps her detach from tennis at times, allowing her to return to the court, for her training or matches, with a clear head and fresh mindset.

“I love to draw a lot, it calms me down and is relaxing,” she said. “If I’m having a bad day, doodling or writing helps. At the beginning of each day, I write in my notebook what I want the day to look like or what I hope to accomplish, and that helps me visualize what I need to do.”

 

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com