Vesnina: Sea, mountains and football in Sochi

The city of Sochi is certainly not lacking in sporting pedigree. Not only will it host games at the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, it already organised the 2014 Winter Olympics. If that were not impressive enough, this famous resort on the Black Sea is also one of Russia's main tennis hotbeds.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Maria Sharapova both started out here, while Rio 2016 doubles champion and winner of multiple ranking events Elena Vesnina also began her tennis career at the local sports school. Elena, who reached a career-high 19th on the WTA rankings in September, was recently named as the first ambassador of Sochi as a Host City of Russia 2018.

"It was a lovely and unexpected surprise to receive this offer from the city mayor Anatoly Pakhomov," Vesnina revealed to "I was happy to accept as I know how important the FIFA World Cup is for Sochi and Russian football. Now I will spread the word about the Confederations Cup and Russia 2018, and I can't wait for them to happen. It's a huge honour and we're very fortunate that these tournaments are going ahead in Sochi because, in terms of spectator interest, number of fans and prestige of the event, probably only the Olympics can compete with the World Cup."

Despite following football with interest, Vesnina confessed that she does not support any one club in particular.

"I try to watch the big games mainly," she continued, "when our teams are competing on the international stage, like Spartak Moscow, Zenit Saint Petersburg or CSKA Moscow for example. I don't have a favourite team, but I like attractive football and gripping contests. Of course, I know all the leading players at Russian clubs and in the national team.

"I hope Russia play well at the World Cup and we can be proud of them. I'm convinced that Russian supporters and football fans from all over the world will enjoy seeing the best teams in action and get pleasure from the games. Having the World Cup in your country only comes around once in a lifetime!"

Like most followers of the Sbornaya, Elena does not expect the host nation to be contention for the trophy at the end of Russia 2018 because the standard of competition is just too high. However, she does wish to see a worthy performance from the team.

"Russia's footballers are all professionals," said the 30-year-old tennis star. "I don't think they'll be there just to enjoy the tournament and play under the principle of 'it's not the winning that counts but the taking part'. With the new head coach in charge, the team has begun to put in some decent results, so let's hope the guys go into the Confederations Cup and World Cup in top form and play at to the very best of their abilities. They shouldn't aim to perform at 100% but 200%, then there will be a good result. They might not win the competition but they're certainly capable of going far in the event."

Elena is wasting no time getting stuck into her role as Sochi ambassador, convincingly explaining why visitors to the country should visit this city - and above all during the two future tournaments.

"The city I'd advise everyone to go to is undoubtedly Sochi!" she declared enthusiastically. "Here you can swim in the Black Sea, enjoy the beautiful weather, chat with people, go trekking in the mountains and, of course, watch football matches at the wonderful new Fisht Olympic Stadium.

"Aside from the amazing cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, I'd recommend visiting Kazan with its fascinating architecture, cosy Rostov-on-Don or Kaliningrad, the closest city to Europe. I've never been to Saransk, Nizhny Novgorod or Volgograd but I'm sure these destinations will transform themselves ahead of the World Cup and leave unforgettable memories for their guests.

"I know that FIFA Fan Fests will be set up in Sochi and all other Russia 2018 Host Cities," Elena concluded. "Here thousands of spectators can come together to watch football, enjoy the company and be part of a real footballing celebration."