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Russians confident of crowning takeover

Through sheer weight of numbers, Russian tennis is waiting confidently for the one moment which will ignite a takeover of the women's game.

tennis Updated: Aug 21, 2003 09:59 IST
Reuters
Reuters
PTI

Through sheer weight of numbers, Russian tennis is waiting confidently for the one moment which will ignite a takeover of the women's game.

With no less than 11 players in the top 100, the likes of Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Lina Krasnoroutskaya have almost enough highly-ranked compatriots to rival a production of the Bolshoi ballet.

But until one of them lands a grand slam title, this apparent golden era may ultimately prove as fantastical as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker themselves.

Time, however, is on Russia's side, for nine of the 11 elite are aged 22 or under.

There is no question that, with Anna Kournikova now fighting to resurrect her career, Myskina has the honour of acting as principal dancer.

Ranked eighth in the world and enjoying her breakthrough year, 22-year-old Myskina is the one most likely to achieve success at next week's US Open in New York.

Myskina was a child when Russians celebrated the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991, but now she is fully aware of its impact on her and her friends' ambitions in tennis.

"The rise in Russian tennis is definitely because of (the end of the old regime)," she said earlier this year.

"Because we can travel more, we can all play more tournaments. When it was the Soviet Union, only two players from the country could travel.

"But now anyone who has money can do that."

NO FLUKE

In other words, the greater the match experience and exposure to competition, the greater the chances of producing top class players.

Myskina's persistence was rewarded with a quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open in January and a fourth round finish at Wimbledon in June.

While she aims to go further, Dementieva is attempting to recapture the form which vaulted her to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open in 2000.

Since then, the 21-year-old has failed to go beyond the fourth round of a grand slam, so the onus is on the Muscovite to show her 2000 odyssey was no fluke.

Behind world number 12 Dementieva in the rankings are experienced campaigners in Likhovtseva and Tatiana Panova, two emerging 20-somethings in Nadia Petrova and Elena Bovina and five teenagers who are the real cause of Russia's excitement.

Prime among that quintet is 16-year-old Vera Zvonareva, who can boast quarter-final and fourth round appearances at the French and Wimbledon this year.

Then comes Krasnoroutskaya, the 19-year-old from Obninsk and the conqueror of Kim Clijsters in Toronto last week and Svetlana Kuznetsova, an 18-year-old from St Petersburg who reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2003.

Maria Sharapova, 16, and Dinara Safina, the 17-year-old sister of former men's world number one Marat Safin, have already enjoyed success in their short careers.

Even more gratifying for the WTA is that the glamorous quintet are not lacking in appeal beyond the tennis court, giving Russian tennis and the game as a whole a future it is eager not to waste.

First Published: Aug 21, 2003 09:59 IST