Julia Glushko 88 298.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ABRAMOWITZ SHAVIV)
Julia Glushko, 16, may be Israel's answer to Serena Williams. The daughter of tennis instructors, Glushko has tennis in her genes, but according to her father Sergio, Julia's talent can all be attributed to hard work. "She's always on the attack," he says.
But it isn't just her parents who are raving. At 16, the beautiful blue-eyed ingenue has gained the respect of the Israeli tennis community and is beginning to garner attention worldwide. She's been described as dynamic, energetic, and most of all aggressive on the court. Just last month Glushko was invited to play in the junior division at the US Open (under 18), and she's currently playing several tournaments in the United States.
"Of course I want to play Wimbledon and the US Open," she says. "[Israel] has really supported me, and I believe that if you work hard, anything can be accomplished." The family moved to Israel in 1999.
Glushko was born in the small town of Artemovsk. Her father Sergio was a tennis coach as was her mother Olga. The couple met in university where Sergio was an instructor and Olga was a player. They were married in 1989.
"It's amazing when you think about it," says Glushko, "all our lives revolve around tennis. Now the whole family plays, " even though the racket is bigger than my sister."
Glushko started training seriously at the age of six, practicing for several hours a day, participating in her first national tournament at the age of seven and a half. " I didn't push her," Sergio insists as if anticipating the question.
"I chose this path," echoes Julia, "and I'll follow it to the end."
In 1994 the Glushkos began to think about moving to Israel. It wasn't an easy decision. They had three children - Julia, Alexander (now 13), and Lena (now 6) - and Sergio had no job waiting for him. "It was the dream of my grandfather to move to Israel," says Sergei. When they arrived in 1999, they headed straight for their comfort zone... the Tennis Center in Jerusalem. At the time, nine-year-old Julia had no idea how enthusiastically she would be embraced by Israel's tennis community. The staff at the Tennis Center noticed Julia's skill immediately and decided to instruct her free.
"I was so excited," recalls Glushko. "When I walked into the Tennis Center I was like, whoa, it's so big and beautiful. There were like 20 courts. We didn't have anything like that in the Ukraine. Everyone here was so nice. They tried to help me make connections, and translated things for me."
The Glushkos settled in near Teddy Stadium, Sergei was offered a job at the Tennis Center, and Julia started school at Givat Gonen. It wasn't a completely smooth transition. "I was always hitting the kids," she recalls, "because I [didn't understand the language and] thought they were talking about me."
After four years in Jerusalem the Glushkos moved to Ramat Hasharon when Julia was invited to train there. It was difficult to uproot the family again, but their strong belief in Julia's talent pushed the family onward. Sergio looked for work again, and within a couple of weeks he was employed with the Tennis Association while Olga worked with the Tennis Center.
Today, Glushko resides at the Wingate Institute, Israel's national center for physical education and sport in Netanya. The Institute serves as a training center for national teams, the Olympic squad, and for exceptional athletes like Julia. Though nearly 3,000 people pass through Wingate's gates daily, 60 live on campus, says Glushko, ranging in age from 12-18.
Sergio decided to move his daughter to Wingate a year ago to get her more personal attention in her training. Her coaches wanted her to move to Wingate a year earlier, but the family didn't want to send her off at such a young age.
"It's easier to train in France or Spain or the US," remarks Glushko. "You have many good players to practice with. But I'm not ready to be away from home for 3 or 4 months at a time. France does the most for their players. But this country does a great deal for me and I'm grateful."
Despite the Glushko family's desire to keep Julia close to home, she has always been on the road. At times she doesn't see her family for months at a time. "I spend 20 to 25 weeks a year traveling to tournaments or tennis camps. It's tough," she admits. "When I travel I miss school. Friends take homework for me and my school is understanding of my needs and tries to help. But it's worth it."
Today Glushko is ranked #780 (out of 1050) among women of all ages. It's hard just to be ranked. You must win in at least three tournaments to make ranking.
In the Juniors category (under 18), she is ranked 110/ 1400.
"When I'm in Israel I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and practice until 8:00 a.m. I take the 8:40 a.m. bus to school five minutes away. My school in Hof Hasharon is flexible for the Wingate students. From 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I'm in school. Then I eat and sleep. From 3:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m I continue to practice before going back to Wingate to sleep.
The Israel Tennis Association finds sponsors as do private individuals interested in her success. Sergei: "Talent alone doesn't mean you'll be a player. It requires investment and a champion's mentality. You have to be like an animal on the courts every day. You must forget everything but the sport. It requires 12-13 years of training.
"In the papers it was reported that Shahar Pe'er's father invested $350,000 in his daughter's tennis career."
"It's hard to find sponsors in Israel. But now I'm working with really good coaches, and I have a good place to practice. People believe in me. They are behind me. If I work hard, there is no reason I shouldn't go to the top."
"My friends are mostly from Wingate. My roommate is a good friend. She's a swimmer. It's harder to keep in touch with friends from school due to all my travel. Of the 60 students in Wingate, 45 are Russian immigrants like me. My roommate is English, but we speak together in Hebrew."
Glushko speaks Ukrainian, English, and Hebrew fluently. She's picked up Hebrew since moving to Israel and she's learned proficient English just by conversing with others on her travels.
Sergei: "The state doesn't recognize Julia as Jewish because her mother is not. But we are all Zionists and love Israel."
Glushko identifies as an Israeli abroad and has even been attacked for it when traveling. "When I went to the European championship in Italy," she recalls, "one Ukranian girl's father came to me to tell me that Israel belongs to the Arabs and that all Jewish Israelis should move to the US. I didn't know what to say to him because he was older and I had to respect him.
"The news in the Ukraine is very one-sided. But most of the friends that I meet from other countries are very kind. They send me emails to check on me when there is an attack."
Glushko believes she's different from some of Israel's other well-known players. "Shahar Pe'er is a clay court player and a hard court player too. She was born on hard courts and is more of a defensive player. A stamina player."
"Julia's like fire on the court," her father chimes in. "Without the fire, you fall in the rankings. Grass courts are good for someone like Julia, who is always on the offensive. Also hard courts. Clay, less so. With the right training, she will go far."
As for Julia's impressions of Pe'er: "She motivates me. Sometimes she practices at Wingate. We are friends."
"I want to go pro one day. I want to be #1 in the world, I want to win Wimbeldon and the US Open."
Since the time of this interview, Glushko won her first match at the Open in a third set tie-breaker, but has been rained out ever since.
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