There have been a lot of firsts for Veronika Kudermetova in 2021. In January, the 23-year-old Russian scored the first Top-10 victory of her career, upending World No. 5 Elina Svitolina, 7-6(8), 6-4, in Abu Dhabi. With the upset came a trip to her first-ever WTA Tour final (l. to Aryna Sabalenka, 6-2, 6-2). Now the 38th-ranked baseliner, coached by Sergey Demekhine, finds herself in the quarterfinals of the Volvo Car Open, where she’s the 15th seed. caught up with the title-minded Kudermetova as she prepared for her elite eight matchup with 2016 champion Sloane Stephens.

Q: This has been a difficult year for everyone given the global pandemic, etc. How have you managed to keep things in perspective and focus on your career in tennis?

VK: Of course, it’s a really tough time with COVID-19. We don’t have a lot of time because everywhere we go we do quarantines, we do a lot of tests. I think it’s very important for everyone to focus on the work. I did what I can, practicing, working. It’s a good chance to improve every day.

Q: What lessons do you take watching a player like World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty when it comes to preparation and match play?

VK: She’s very consistent. She’s a good player, fights for every ball. She’s mentally very tough.

Q: How did it feel to reach your first WTA Tour final in Abu Dhabi?

VK: It was a very good tournament for me. It was my first final. I was very happy. I had a good preseason, and I think that helped me there. But after Abu Dhabi I had two weeks in the hard lockdown [in Melbourne prior to the Australian Open]. That isn’t a very good memory!

Q: You seem to be adapting to the green clay quite nicely. How difficult is that shift coming off the hard courts?

VK: For me, it’s not very tough. For some players, it is, but I can adapt very fast.

Q: Your father was a Russian national hockey champion. Did he hope you would follow him on the ice?

VK: It was my decision to play tennis, but I think my father is now proud of me. I know I was really proud of him when he played. He was my idol when I was young. It was nice to have a father like him.