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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014
Russians hope to continue love affair with French Open
Gennady Fyodorov, Reuters
Moscow, May 24, 2007
First Published: 13:42 IST(24/5/2007)
Last Updated: 16:48 IST(26/5/2007)

Paris and the French Open have always had a special place in the hearts of Russian tennis fans.

It was there that Yevgeny Kafelnikov made his historic breakthrough in 1996 when he became the first Russian to win a grand slam title.

Eight years later on the same red clay of Roland Garros Anastasia Myskina became the first Russian woman to be crowned a grand slam champion, lifting the Suzanne Lenglen trophy after beating Elena Dementieva in an all-Russian final.

Paris was also the site of Russia's greatest tennis triumph when they beat France 3-2 in the 2002 final to clinch their first Davis Cup title.

Next week, Russians once again will be out in force for their annual assault on the French Open, though two names from the past will be missing.

Myskina has not played on the tour since the start of the year while Dementieva has contemplated retirement after battling injuries earlier this year.

Confident Sharapova

Others, though, are ready to pick up the challenge.

World number two Maria Sharapova leads the Russian contingent.

Although the US Open champion has not had a good build-up to the clay season, pulling out of several high-profile tournaments with a shoulder injury, she is in confident mood after reaching the fourth round last year.

"I have the same goal in every tournament, that is to win it," said Sharapova, 20, who will have an added incentive to do well as she could overtake Justine Henin as world number one if the Belgian flops in Paris.

World number three Svetlana Kuznetsova wants to go one better than last year, when she lost to Henin in the final.

To do that the Russian, who has lost four finals this year including back-to-back ones at the German and Italian Opens, must find a way to overcome her nerves on big occasions.

"Maybe it's mental — something that only happens in finals. I know I can play much better," Kuznetsova said after a 7-5 6-1 defeat by in-form Jelena Jankovic in Rome last Sunday.

Nadia Petrova, who won three titles on clay leading up to last year's French Open, Dinara Safina, who upset Sharapova on her way to reaching the quarter-finals in 2006, and newcomer and world number 10 Anna Chakvetadze, also have a chance.

Tough task

Russia's men have not done as well as the women on the Paris clay in recent years, although world number three Nikolay Davydenko reached the quarter-finals last year and the semi-finals the year before.

It will be tough, however, for him -- or anyone else for that matter -- to upset defending champion Rafael Nadal, who had his 81-match winning streak on the surface, dating back to April 2005, snapped by Roger Federer last Sunday.

Igor Andreev, the last man to defeat the Spaniard on clay before Federer, is always a threat as is Russia's 2002 Davis Cup hero Mikhail Youzhny, who has beaten Nadal twice in the past eight months, albeit on hard courts.

Marat Safin may be past his prime when he was considered one of the main titles contenders in Paris, but the former world number one is still strong enough to cause an upset or two.

"I'm gradually trying to regain my form. It's just a few things here and there that must be improved and I can be my former self again," Safin said last week.

"The French Open is one of my favourite tournaments and if I could finally win there it would be a dream come true." or anyone else for that matter -- to upset defending champion Rafael Nadal, who had his 81-match winning streak on the surface, dating back to April 2005, snapped by Roger Federer last Sunday.

Igor Andreev, the last man to defeat the Spaniard on clay before Federer, is always a threat as is Russia's 2002 Davis Cup hero Mikhail Youzhny, who has beaten Nadal twice in the past eight months, albeit on hard courts.

Marat Safin may be past his prime when he was considered one of the main titles contenders in Paris, but the former world number one is still strong enough to cause an upset or two.

"I'm gradually trying to regain my form. It's just a few things here and there that must be improved and I can be my former self again," Safin said last week.

"The French Open is one of my favourite tournaments and if I could finally win there it would be a dream come true."


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