Russian tennis star Svetlana Kuznetsova says the reasons for her country’s success in the women’s game can be traced back to the hardships endured by Russia during the Second World War.
Kuznetsova, the world number seven, qualified for the semi-finals of the French Open with a 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-5 victory over America’s Serena Williams in Paris on Wednesday.
She will play Australian 30th seed Samantha Stosur for a place in the final, where compatriot and world number one Dinara Safina could be her opponent.
Kuznetsova and Safina are two of five Russian women in the world top 15 and the 23-year-old believes it is down to their unique sense of national identity.
“I believe that the girls work hard to have a different mentality,” Kuznetsova said.
“I have been thinking about this quite a bit, because everybody is asking questions about why Russians are so strong.
“I believe it’s not only because when we grew up it was so difficult. It’s also coming through the war, because - maybe I go too deep, but this is what I’ve been thinking - our grandfathers and grandmothers were fighting in the war and things were extremely hard.
“They had to go with nothing, without maybe bullets, only with knives, and still go to war.
“They teach their kids to be always strong. Always we have difficult moments in Russia when we grow up, and we always learn to be strong. I think this is one of the key things.”
Kuznetsova played Safina in the final of the Rome Masters on May 9, which is the day on which Russians celebrate the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War in 1945.
“Even in Rome I felt this, because it’s big,” Kuznetsova said.
“They celebrate. It’s huge in Russia. Everybody is drinking and having fun and celebrating the victory.
“I’m very proud for my country that they made it. Everybody reminds us about this victory. Everybody is proud for that. Russia is a very patriotic country for me.”