Ksenia Efremova’s first Tennis Europe experience came on the 12 & Under Tour. Last year she exploded onto the 14 & Under circuit and has since evolved into a new tennis phenom. Her results, as well as her social media following, have been going from strength to strength. Under the guidance of the coaches at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, Efremova is starting to make waves on the 16 & Under and ITF Junior circuits at just 14 years of age. Recently, we took some time to chat to the current #1 on our 14 & Under rankings.
TE: When did you first start playing, or when did you at least think “maybe I’d like to play tennis”?
KE: I don’t remember exactly, but my mother told me that one day I just took a racket and a basket, and just started to feed the balls by myself and started to get them in. So, then she was like, “OK let’s start!”
And when was it that you realized, “you know what: I’m pretty good!”?
I don’t really know, it’s difficult to say because maybe the time hasn’t come yet. I really want to win Grand Slams. So maybe at that point, I’ll say that I’m really good!
At what age did you start playing small tournaments and was this in Russia?
Yes, it was. I started to play, I would say, at eight years old. I had a great streak at the tournaments in Russia. So, from the first one, I didn’t lose in 15 tournaments in a row! I know at that point my parents said, “OK we have to make her lose, at least”, so they brought me to play in a Tennis Europe tournament. I think it was at a 12 and Under event in Belarus. The girls were three years older than me so my parents thought “OK she will lose for the first time.” But I made it to the final … and I was still a little bit upset!
Meaning they thought that for your development it would be good for you to perhaps lose some matches and learn how to deal with that?
Of course, they believed that I could achieve something, but because the girls were three years older, they said to me it’s OK if you lose.
A lot of players participate in other sports, maybe for fun or to develop other skills. Do you?
Yes, yes. My mother signed me up for a lot of sports. First of all, I did artistic gymnastics, and I took it seriously but for her it was mainly for stretching, which is good for tennis players. So, I did that from the age of five till about 11 or 12, really seriously.
And now do you have any other hobbies or sports that you participate in?
Yeah, of course I love to try all sports. I really like ice skating…do you know it?
Yes, I tried it for the first time last winter. It’s really difficult, and I kept falling down!
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s hard and quite scary. Of course, I’ve also done swimming, which is very important for tennis, maybe twice a week. After I did dance, especially hip-hop. After I did football.
So just tennis and swimming right now, right! Looking at the Tennis Europe Junior Tour, what are your impressions? What do you like? What could be improved?
(Laughs) I don’t know what could be improved because everything is amazing! All the tournaments are really, really amazing. The tournaments, the organization, everything is super, super great.
Don’t worry, you can be critical if you need to!
(Laughs) not really, I don’t have anything bad to say!
Tell us what you think about the Tennis Europe Junior School.
I think it’s very nice. I don’t know why, but I’ve only had the chance to go to one of the classes, because sometimes I’ll turn up and the session has finished or something like that. Anyway, I think it’s very nice and teaches the kids a lot.
What are some of the difficult things for you personally coming into, especially, a big tournament? You have a prominent profile on social media. Everybody knows who you are. How do you deal with being well-known?
Well, these things are taken care of by my mother and my agent, not me. I don’t care how many followers I have. I didn’t look at this, I don’t care. But yes, I really like it - I mean having fans is very nice, you know.
So, it’s nice being recognized. Do people ask you for autographs and things?
Yeah, so many. So, of course it’s very nice and all that stuff but as far as social media, my mum takes care of that.
Please tell us more about your collaboration with the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy. How long you’ve been there and how it’s all going.
Yeah, I’ve been there for four years, and I really like the Academy. It’s in the south of France and it really is one of the best academies.
How did it all come about?
I was playing a tournament in Croatia and the winner was given one week training for free at the MTA as a prize. I won this tournament, and I went for one week to the Mouratoglou Academy. After, Patrick saw me and he made me ‘Champ Seed’, which comes from the Champ Seed Foundation he started, I think in 2014, to help the players.
Then you met Patrick and he liked the way you were as a player?
He asked me if I wanted to be a Champ Seed and of course I said yes and that’s how it all started.
Have you met any top players or coaches or had the opportunity to practice with any of them there at the academy?
Yes, the top players for sure. Daniil Medvedev, I saw him. For two or three days Djokovic came … and, well, a lot of players actually!
Keeping in mind some of the top players, do you have any tennis idols?
Yes, I do. Mine is Novak Djokovic but there have always been the big three Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. The three greatest.
Do you like all of them?
And among the women?
I can’t say anybody, because I want to be there so, you know…
OK, no problem. Moving on, let’s talk about some of your goals for 2023.
For this year, to continue playing 14 & Under, to win tournaments, of course, to stay number one and to play some ITFs to improve my ranking for next year. Hopefully I can play maybe some big tournaments next year - my ranking now is around 300 but next week I’m going to Morocco, and we’ll see how it goes, hopefully it’s going to be good.
Note: this interview was conducted just before Efremova's trip to 2 events in Morocco after having won the Super Category event in Maia. She made the quarterfinal of the J100 in Mohammedia, losing to Iva Lakic (MNE) who in turn lost the final to the then Race to Monte Carlo leader Anna Pushkareva. Ksenia then made it to the semifinal in singles of the J100 in Rabat and won the doubles there with Pushkareva. Below pic; winning the 2022 14&U Junior Masters in Monte-Carlo)
Looking back at the #TEJT, you won the Junior Masters last year, which was obviously a fantastic achievement. Now you’ve just won Maia after a lot of good results for your first ever victory at a Super Category event. How does that make you feel?
Yeah, super happy. I was twice in the super category finals, but I didn’t quite make it. And now it feels great to win. It gives me a lot of confidence, of course.
When you play, sometimes maybe the ball’s not going in or your level has dropped a little bit, but you seem to stay calm you never get angry or throw your racquet...
Yeah, because I like to follow the example of some of the best players like Alcaraz or Federer. When you see them on TV, it seems like they never panic. But for the moment I am panicking! (laughs) I never throw the racquet. I think it’s useless and it’s not really good. You make the mistake, not your racquet so you need to control your emotions. So, my goal is to be like Federer. Calm like that. I’m not perfect yet, but I can control my emotions and not get angry… so that I can control.
Even when you’re winning, you don’t seem to get too excited. Or some people when they’re ahead they relax, but you have this intensity and when you’re winning you seem to maintain that focus.
Yeah, I try to think of the mental side. Because, like, in the Maia final I was 4-1 up, and I don’t know, I had a loose game or made some mistakes, I started to think negatively. And once I think negatively, the girl can take the set from me 6-1. But I’ve been working on that since last year.
So, to finish on a high note: How would you describe yourself using just three words?
Fighter, friendly and hard-working.
Ksenia Efremova's Tennis Europe Junior Tour highlights: