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It was not easy in the 1990s in Moscow with all the changes that were taking place.

She was trying to raise me with my grandmother while she was working with paralysed patients in a rehabilitation clinic.

At the Wimbledon Ladies’ singles final last summer, one man was not readily identifiable in the seats reserved for the Centre Court players’ guests.

Yet for Vera Zvonareva, Professor Niek van Dijk was easily the most important person present.

‘I came to Wimbledon with no expectations,’ she says.

‘I had been troubled for some months in 2009 with an ankle injury, and was told I could continue to play without making it worse. By October, my ankle problem meant I could no longer bend my right knee, and my back had started to ache.

At the beginning, she was accompanied by her grandmother.Vera confides: ‘It was my mother’s dream for me to become a tennis player; I had no choice.She watched Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Yevgeny Kafelnikov when tennis was first shown on television in Moscow and fell in love with the game.I knew I had to have surgery.’ She shows me the scar, a red ribbon running across her right foot – a reminder of Professor van Dijk’s surgical skills at a time when she feared for her future on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour (the game’s professional circuit).‘I wasn’t thinking about Wimbledon – I was scared I might never get back on a tennis court again,’ admits Vera. The final was not a lucky day for me [she lost to Williams], but it was wonderful to have got that far.’That was then; this is now.