Russian tennis star teaches others to serve and volley

With her long blond hair pulled back into a double ponytail and sporting a bright pink tennis skirt, Polina Kravets Cambron fits in well at her quiet Cary neighborhood.

Like other parents there, she has two kids who participate in sports such as soccer and tennis. And with tennis, she’s the one doing the coaching.

Kravets Cambron owns and operates Polina’s Tennis Academy, a company that offers lessons, clinics, clubs and camps for kids and adults in the Oxxford Hunt neighborhood in Cary.

Kravets Cambron, 35, started playing tennis when she was 6, a rising child star in Uzbekistan when it was still a part of the Soviet Union. Her father, Oleg Kravets, a former professional soccer player, coached her during her 20 tournaments per year and her daily two-hour practices.

In the early 1990s, she played doubles as a 12-year-old alongside former tennis star Anna Kournikova during the finals of the Open Championship of Lviv, Ukraine, and against Kournikova in the singles final of the Open Championship of Jurmala.

By the age of 14, Kravets Cambron was the No. 2 junior tennis player in the Soviet Union’s 15-and-under division and had won three national championships in Uzbekistan from 1991 to 1995.

In 2000, the University of Hawaii offered her a tennis scholarship. She ended up playing third seed and becoming a productive team member with most wins.

Four years ago, she moved to Cary to be close to her husband’s family. The courts at Oxxford Hunt were worn and rarely used. So Kravets Cambron approached the neighborhood association to ask for its permission to run an academy there.

Business came slowly. She marketed through posters, word-of-mouth, and neighbors who saw her out on the tennis courts.

She initially invested about $1,000 in tennis racquets, balls and other equipment, and now sells some at a low cost to neighborhood kids.

In 2013, she started offering private lessons and clinics for women and children in the neighborhood. And this past summer, she started offering summer camps for the first time.

Oxxford Hunt recently refurbished its four tennis courts and purchased a tennis ball machine for its recreation center because interest in the sport was rapidly increasing.

Abby Bittler is one mother who takes her three children to play at the academy.

“She’s got everyone interested in tennis,” Bittler said of Kravets Cambron.

While depending on word-of-mouth to get clients, Kravets Cambron hopes to expand the reach of her tennis academy by setting up lessons and clubs in other neighborhoods.

She charges $45 for hourlong private lessons, $40 for three-lesson group clinics and $200 for year-round tennis camps. She also offers birthday parties, play days and group packages.

Other than business insurance in case of injuries, her costs are low, but unpredictable weather makes a flexible schedule necessary and can affect her income, Kravets Cambron said.

“How about you come tomorrow?” she asked three children who showed up to the courts during a rainy Monday. They have a scheduling conflict, so she decides to take them for a training run and practice serves when the courts dry up.

“It takes time to build a business. I’ve only been here for 1 1/2 years,” she said. “But I love teaching kids.”

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