Anastasiia Firman: Ukraine’s Rising Tennis Star

By School House

2 years ago

The hopeful pro talks about learning at an online school, Minerva’s Virtual Academy, why she doesn’t have a favourite tennis player and how the war in Ukraine has re-shaped her match mindset

Anastasiia Firman is focused. Over the course of a Zoom call, the 15 year-old Ukrainian tennis prodigy deals with questions about the war in her home country and depicts her rise through the ranks of international tennis with a modest but no-nonsense intensity. 

Her approach to our conversation indicates the mixture of calmness and bravery that’s led her to win her first International Tennis Federation championship at the same time as beginning a journey with her new online school. This, after an episode of Coronavirus and then being forced to flee her home country — all in the same year.

The Ukrainian is one of tennis’ fast-rising stars, moving from Ukrainian tournaments to Tennis Europe competitions that saw her travel the continent, working closer and closer towards a first place title. A 3rd place win in Monte Carlo last year was followed by 1st place in Tennis Europe’s championship in Bosnia & Herzegovina. 

Now playing in the ITF — the biggest league in Europe’s youth tennis scene — Firman won her first ITF tournament in Albania, officially placing her on the map as one of the most exciting young players emerging from the youth circuit today. A 2nd place win in Belgium as recently as October 2022 only confirmed the fact.

When you factor in school amidst all this training and competing, it’s understandable that Anastasiia sought something else over a traditional bricks-and-mortar education. She was offered a place at MVA earlier this year, as part of our ‘10 Free Places for Ukrainians’ scheme, and has transitioned to online schooling to help her continue to play tennis and compete in tournaments day in, day out. 

She says she wants other young athletes to understand how they can continue with their education whilst also taking their sport seriously. She says pursuing both will only get her closer to her stated goal of ‘full, professional independence’. 

In the interview below, she talks about what it’s like to balance study and sport, as well as her own journey with tennis, the ordeal of being forced to flee her home in Ukraine and setting up base in Germany, where she lives, trains and studies now.

Anastasiia Firman
Anastasiia Firman

Interview with Anastasiia Firman

How did you start out playing tennis? 

‘I started playing tennis in Kyiv at the age of 6, where my mother took me to practice. Over the years, the hobby became a training regime, and then professional competition. At 11, I started competing: again, supported and encouraged by my mum. I had to change from regular school to a form of distance schooling, as I was travelling a lot due to all the tournaments.’

How did your career progress? 

‘Before the war, I used to play tournaments in Albania and Serbia, then come back to Ukraine to practise. Eventually, it just became impossible to play any further planned tournaments due to the war. At that time, I was trying to combine competing with studying at various online schools: between tournaments, I would complete assignments at school, learn new material, and study English.  

‘Now I mostly play tournaments in Europe, where my team and I have found shelter based in Germany. I play at the ITF Juniors and ITF Pro levels: I combine junior and adult so as to keep pushing myself and practising at higher levels. I won bronze at the European Doubles Championship. I also won three doubles tournaments and became a finalist at the ITF Juniors singles tournament.

‘Every day I practise tennis for two or three hours, then run for 20 or so minutes. I then fit my studying around that.’

How did you come to start at Minerva’s Virtual Academy? 

‘Before MVA I was splitting my studies between two schools – one Ukrainian, the other British. My mum was searching online for a solution to this scattered studying, and she discovered MVA. We both liked it as we knew it would develop my English, amongst other things.

‘This is my first experience with a fully ‘virtual’ school, and I like it. Previously, I had very little or no contact with teachers: MVA is totally different. I can ask questions much more easily: I feel much more in touch. Plus, it’s nice to have the flexibility MVA gives, as well as proper school holidays, to embrace practising tennis.’

How does everything work for you at Minerva? 

‘It suits me well. My lessons are flexible: I can do some mornings, other evenings, and make it work around my schedule. There’s the VLP [Virtual Learning Platform] where I can do my self-study. Then I have sessions with my mentor, Claire, every Tuesday, who checks in on me.

‘I’m playing tennis every day, Monday to Friday, with exercise on Saturday and Sunday free to relax, so school still manages to fit around all that okay.’

What subjects are you studying at the moment?

‘I’m working towards my GCSEs, so I’m doing all the required subjects — Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English Literature and Language, Maths — and I’ve also chosen Business Studies, too, because I want to learn more about this, for the future.’

‘My favourite subject back in my Ukrainian school was something we had called ‘World History’. I struggled with the ‘Ukrainian History’ course, because there we learnt how Russia has always been a part of it, in some way.’

What do you think about University?

‘University is my Plan B. I can always do university — but I can’t always go for pro. So I’m going to take a chance. But still, I’m getting my education: I’m making sure University can be a Plan B. You can do both, especially with a school like MVA.’

‘So, I’m getting my education, but also 100% pursuing my career.’

What was your experience leaving Ukraine due to the war? 

‘It started with moving to my Grandparents’ in the West of Ukraine. That only lasted a day. Then my Dad made sure that my Mum and I were ready to escape the country completely. We were at the border for four of five days — queuing in this enormous line of cars. We had no food. We slept in the car. Volunteers gave us a little bit, to survive. The cars moved about one metre every thirty minutes: it took so long and we were so cold. 

‘I don’t feel fully free here in Germany — I want to go back to Ukraine when I can. I miss Ukrainian food!’

Do you mind being asked about these experiences?

‘Talking about the war is important. It’s OK. I don’t understand those people who say, ‘I’m not from Russia, I’m not from Ukraine, I’m not interested in politics: it’s not my problem.’ No — when war in any country starts, it’s about everyone. Even just in economic terms: the food price in the UK is going up, and that’s because of the war; it’s the whole of Europe’s economy. Everyone feels it. 

‘That being said, not everyone can truly understand our situation — only Ukrainians, because we have always been at war with Russia, throughout our history, for centuries — there have always been problems. Russia wanting our territory, our food, what we grow.’

You’ve just played in an ITF tournament. How did it go?

‘It went well. You know, the war has obviously affected my game, because it’s affected my mental health. I feel my childhood has disappeared. But there are some good things: I’m older, I have better organisation. Most of all, on the court, I try to be easier: don’t think too much, just move on, don’t get bogged down in losing. I’m not afraid of losing, now. Because things have been put in perspective.’

Do you have a favourite player?

‘No. I don’t like to watch tennis. My coach shows me stuff for technique, but otherwise I don’t like to watch it. I think it’s better for me, for my mental health. I prefer watching documentaries about history.’

What are your long-term goals? 

‘To improve my tennis and, really, to be independent in everything.’

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