MADRID Anna Chakvetadze, the latest woman to emerge from the Russian tennis production line, says her time as a psychology student has helped her to break into the top 10 this year.
"I studied psychology at university, although I've not yet finished. At first I thought it was boring but it got more and more interesting when I started to read the books and it definitely helps me when I'm playing," she told Reuters at a promotional event.
"It helps you prepare properly for the match and when I'm playing I try to think about the next point and not the last one. I also make a point of fighting all the time as it puts pressure on your opponent when they see you don't want to give them any free points.
"For me it is important not just in sport but in life in general."
Chakvetadze started the year outside the top 10, but four tour titles and a debut grand slam semi-final appearance at the U.S. Open have helped the 20-year-old to rise to number six.
Her performances earned her a place in the season-ending WTA Championships in Madrid for the first time. She fell at the semi-final stage to compatriot Maria Sharapova but showed plenty of evidence of the talent that is likely to make her a fixture in the top 10.
"It is definitely my best season but I've still got plenty of room to improve my tennis and my ranking," she said.
The Moscow-born player, who is one of six Russians in the world's top 15 and a member of the country's victorious Fed Cup team, admits she took up tennis only because she was desperate to find an excuse to give up piano lessons.
"I started with piano and I didn't like it and when I started with tennis I really liked it," she said. "One day I said to my parents I wanted to stop piano and just play tennis. I was just eight years old and I had to stop one of the two.
"My parents were playing a little bit and my mum was watching tennis on TV and she really liked it and she said 'Why don't you try tennis and if you like it you can continue it'.
"My parents never pushed me and that's good because if kids don't want to do something like that they shouldn't have to do it. My mum pushed me for piano and because I didn't like it I'm not playing right now.
"Maybe if I had started a little later I would be a good piano player but it didn't happen and I'm pleased I'm a good tennis player."
Her determination and strength of character were evident in her victory over world number three Jelena Jankovic in her final round-robin match in Madrid.
She won the first set 6-4, then lost seven games in a row to trail 1-0 in the third but hung on to clinch the decider 6-3 and book her place in the semi-finals.
One thing she believes helps her to keep her focus is the fact that she can switch off from the sport when she is not on the circuit.
"My friends who I grew up with have nothing to do with tennis," she said. "They don't know the sport and that makes things easier when I go home. We just go out and because they don't really follow the sport we can talk about anything except tennis.
"During the summer I relax and stay fit by playing soccer in the garden with my friends and my little brother who is nine. You need that sort of freedom."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)