Rise of the Russians

Agnieszka Radwanska, EXCLUSIVE, Nadia Petrova, Svetlana Kuznetsova

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

dinara_safina2009Dinara Safina, who leapfrogged Serena Williams to take over as world no1, leads the army of Russians in the WTA Tour’s top 10. Yet the unassuming ace has only collected 10 career titles and lost as many finals.

And three finals have been conceded this year, with Safina upset in Stuttgart by Svetlana Kuznetsova, beaten by Elena Dementieva in Sydney and outclassed by hard-hitting Serena Williams at the Australian Open.

And after beating Safina, Williams – then the world no1 – was quick on her feet when she quipped: “There’s 12 Russians in the world’s top 10!”

But Williams was not as nice prior to the 2009 French Open, when she dismissed Safina by commenting: “We all know who the real no1 is! And quite frankly, I’m the best in the world.”

Safina’s straight set victory over compatriot Kuznetsova in May’s Italian Open saw her capture the first title since taking over as the top ranking on April 20th, and win her only title in 2009 to date having fluffed all previous final appearances this year.

“Against Kuzy I had in my head that I had lost three finals this year, I didn’t want to have a reputation that I’m losing finals!”

– Dinara Safina

SKuznetsovaAnd Eastbourne regular Kuznetsova has an even worse record of losing in finals, having captured 10 career titles but finished second best 18 times.

She confessed after losing her grip on the 2009 Italian Open: “It was a little bit like Christmas, I was giving too many presents. I knew what I had to do but I just couldn’t do it.”

Even retired ace Justine Henin, who won seven grand slam titles, has urged Safina to take over as a long-term leader in the world rankings.

Henin admitted: “I know some players have been no1 without winning a grand slam, which I think is quite sad. I think for Safina that it’s maybe the time for her to go to the next step. It’s hard in the women’s game now to really find a boss and someone that is at the top and that wins a lot of tournaments.”

Whether Safina will turn on the south coast looks doubtful, but Eastbourne is once more expecting to play host to a strong set of long-legged players from Mother Russia. And this year maybe the nation tricolor flag will be waved at Devonshire Park when the ladies singles champion is crowned on June 20th, although Russians admittedly have a long history of finishing runner-up.

There may not be the grandeur of the Russian national anthem of ‘Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii’ played prior to the final, but expect the Devonshire Park crowd to get behind any of the leading players from a nation that’s celebrating its 130th anniversary of playing the sport.

Tennis was born in Russian courtesy of the unlikely combination of Alexander II and a British military man, Major Walter Wingfield who originated from Wales. Alexander the Liberator brought about some radical changes after taking over the throne from the Tsar, and introduced some of the cultures from other countries to the nation.

But it was the major’s introduction to St. Petersburg of a ball game called sphainstike that really grabbed the public’s attention and as a result was regularly featured in the newspapers. The sudden media frenzy for lawn tennis helped make the sport popular, greatly aided by on-going promotion from the St. Petersburg Cricket Club.

And after Alexander II, Tsar Nicholas took over and was a keen tennis player with his diary full of entries referring to his pastime such as “I personally played seven sets today” and “I played tennis after breakfast until 5 o’clock today.”

Accordingly, Russia’s national championships were held in St. Petersburg as it had been the birthplace of tennis. Mikail Sumarokov dominated the men’s singles with five consecutive titles up until 1914, only to be halted by World War One military service.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution tennis failed to have the same attraction to the public, which was not helped by the fact that Lenin played the sport. This meant that many Soviets deemed tennis to be an elite sport, which was only played by the rich and well connected.

And things got worse for the sport that almost vanished because Joseph Stalin banned tennis after he took over at the helm of the USSR in 1922.

It was only after Stalin’s death in 1953 that tennis became popular with the public again. And it was down to a combination of Nikita Khruschev, Stalin’s successor, and the British press who altered the history of Russian tennis forever.

Khruschev, while visiting London, was asked by the British media why no Russians competed at Wimbledon.

Anna DmitrievaHis reply was a curt: “What is Wimbledon?” As soon as he found out about the global popularity of Wimbledon, he swiftly encouraged his country to become formidable in the sport. And the following year Russian teenager Anna Dmitrieva became the first Soviet player to compete at SW19, albeit in Junior Wimbledon, which ignited great interest throughout the USSR.

But it took until the early 1970s before the Soviets were among the leading players. Georgian Alex Metreveli was the men’s golden boy by reaching the 1972 Wimbledon final, the 1971 Australian Open semi-final and the 1972 French Open semi-final.
While Olga Morozova was the inspiration for Russian women. And in 1973 Morozova finished runner-up to American Chris Evert at the French Open and Wimbledon. But one year later, Mozozova followed the old adage of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ by joining forces with Evert and the pair were duly crowned as the 1974 French Open doubles champions.

But throughout the history of the sport, even today, Russian players tend to finish second best.

Natasha ZverevaThis was exemplified by Belarussian Natasha Zvereva who lost the 1988 French Open without taking a single game off German powerhouse Steffi Graf. Yet this was the teenager’s first year on the professional circuit.

However, Zvereva helped change the future for Russian players that were used to living under a Communist regime. The rookie publicly demanding that she should be allowed to keep her winnings from Roland Garros.

The Russian government were caught in a tricky situation and needed to save face around the world, so amazingly allowed Zvereva to call the shots and become the first Soviet athlete to keep their prize money.

This landmark victory of player power surely helped the girl from Minsk carve out a lucrative doubles career, which resulted in a remarkable 18 grand slam titles and an 1992 Olympic bronze medal.

With the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, president Boris Yeltsin oversaw economic reform and pushed tennis to even greater heights. And five years later Sochi’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov became the first player to be crowned a Russian singles grand slam champion.

Kafelnikov beat German Michael Stich in the 1996 French Open and admitted: “Now I have a chance to breath and I feel so relaxed that I could easily jump over the Great Wall of China!”

Anna-Kournikova2008However, getting far more publicity in Russia and globally than Kafelnikov was teenage sensation Anna Kournikova. But this was because of a combination of her pouting good looks and her determination on court.

However, she was yet another promising Russian player who failed to deliver singles titles and, like Zvereva, ended up picking up hefty cheques for her successful doubles partnerships. Kournikova’s doubles career even briefly propelled her to world no1 and included victory at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park when top of the world rankings.

But it took until as recently as 2004 for Russian ladies to make the all important breakthrough at a grand slam, and three players served up success in one season. Amicable Anastasia Myskina got the ball rolling by capturing the French Open and defeating much-favoured compatriot Dementieva. Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon as a teenager and Kuznetsova won the US Open.

With all this national success in one year, the dollar signs definitely encouraged future tennis players to enter the lucrative world on the ATP Tour and WTA Tour. Yet Dementieva has since won something that is worth more than money can buy, an Olympic singles title. Dementieva, a regular at Devonshire Park suffered an early exit at Eastbourne 2008 but later that year claimed the gold medal at the Beijing Games.

With a new, richer Russia there have been numerous players who have risen to unprecedented heights. Tennis has now become the no1 sport for ladies whereas men still have hockey, soccer or tennis to choose for a highly-paid sports career.

Whether any of the many Russians on show at the 2009 AEGON International will collect a singles title remains to be seen, although history suggests that a Russian will finish as runner-up. Indeed, at 2008 Eastbourne Nadia Petrova was beaten in the final by Polish ace Agnieszka Radwanska.

russianflagBoth sets of players in both the men’s and ladies draws are extremely strong, with many former world no1 players and ex-grand slam champions.

One thing for certain is that the influx of ever improving Russian tennis players is proving a bit hit with fans and players alike, having replaced the dull domination of the Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. Although Serena and Venus Williams are hot on the heels of Safina in the world rankings at no2 and no3 at the time of writing.

The women’s game is particularly packed with real aces in the Russian pack, such as Sharapova on her comeback trail following shoulder surgery, Kuznetsova and Safina. But it will be the five Russians of Dementieva, Vera Zvonavera, Petrova, Alisa Kleybanov and Anna Chakvetadze who will give the Eastbourne fans thrills and spills at the 2009 tournament.

“I had in my head that I had lost three finals this year, I didn’t want to have a reputation that I’m losing finals!”

– Dinara Safina

2000 Direct Line International Championships

News, Players, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

juliehalarddecugisJulie Halard-Decugis kept her nerve and concentration in a fiercely fought rain interrupted final to see off Belgian Dominique van Roost 7-5 6-4 to claim the Eastbourne crown.

The French ace was a last-gasp entrant in order to get as much grass court practice ahead of Wimbledon, so winning the tournament was a massive bonus for the world no17.

It proved unlucky 13 for the packed Centre Court fans as 13 minutes into the contest heavy rain caused play to be suspended. Yet no6 seed Halard-Decugis had already got the upper hand with a break of serve to lead 2-1.

There was a three hour delay before the final resumed, and the patient supporters – who had already waited for the final to start following a 30 minute delay – were rewarded with aggressive play.

The Versailles-based French no4 tested the mettle of Van Roost by deliberately standing close to receiving serve in order to try to pressure her opponent into being accurate.

Harlard-Decugis, serving for the title at 5-3 up in the second set, lost her way with faltering play. But the 30-year-old sealed success by breaking serve immediately to notch her 11th WTA Tour title.

Harlard-Decugis said: “Along with the title I won in Paris in 1996 this is probably the most important in my career.

“It was getting dark near the end and after we lost so much time to the rain earlier I was afraid we would have to come back tomorrow and miss a day’s rest before Wimbledon.

“But I was determined not to rush and although I was not happy to lose a game when 5-3 up in the second, I was able to take her next service game for the title.”

Defending champion Natasha Zvereva stuttered in her first match at Devonshire Park, falling to Russian compatriot Anna Kournikova who lost to American Chanda Rubin in the quarter-finals.

 

Final

5

  Dominique van Roost

64

4

6/WC

  Julie Halard-Decugis

7

6

 

First Round Second Round Quarter-finals Semi-finals
1   L Davenport 6 3 6
  A-G Sidot 2 2 Q   J Kandarr 3 6 4
Q   J Kandarr 6 6 1   L Davenport 6 4 4
WC   J Pullin 63 5 5   D Van Roost 4 6 6
  E Likhovtseva 7 7   E Likhovtseva 2 4
LL   T Pisnik 4 66 5   D Van Roost 6 6
5   D Van Roost 6 7 5   D Van Roost 4 7 6
  A Kremer 6 5 1
3   A Coetzer 6 6
  A Smashnova 6 6   A Smashnova 2 0
WC   L Latimer 1 3 3   A Coetzer 6 0 4
  A Stevenson 7 1 4   A Kremer 3 6 6
  A Kremer 63 6 6   A Kremer 6 6
  S Talaja 6 6   S Talaja 2 2
7   A Sugiyama 3 2

 

1999 Direct Line International Championships

Results

NatashaZverevaEastbourne991999 Direct Line International Championships | 14-19 June

Natasha Zvereva really had to pull out the stops and battle through two tricky matches before being crowned champion.

The Russian star seemed to suffer from nerves in the final against no3 seed Nathalie Tauziat of France, who reeled off the first nine games in the final.

But Zvereva bounced back in style to register a compelling 0-6 7-5 6-3 triumph against all the odds.

Although the no6 seed could have cited exhaustion following her semi-final slog of three hours 20 minutes to dismiss South African Amanda Coetzer 6-7(5), 7-6 (4), 10-8, Tauziat was also involved in a last four lengthy thriller.

Tauziat defied the odds, and the Centre Court supporters, to record victory despite trailing 5-1 deficit in the third and final set to Russian ace Anna Kournikova.

Tauziat held her nerve to win 6-4 4-6 8-6 and deliver Kournikova her first defeat at Devonshire Park. The Russian, twice an Eastbourne U21 champion, withdrew injured from the 1998 Direct Line International Championships semi-finals having earlier in the tournament stunned German Steffi Graf with an array of delicate shots, deft touches and power tennis.

Final  Natasha Zvereva defeated Nathalie Tauziat 0 – 6 7 – 5  6 – 3

Semi  Nathalie Tauziat defeated Anna Kournikova 6 – 4  4 – 6  8 – 6

Semi  Natasha Zvereva defeated Amanda Coetzer 6 – 7(5) 7 – 6 (4) 10 – 8

Quarter  Anna Kournikova defeated Nathalie Dechy 6 – 3 7 – 6 (5)

Quarter  Nathalie Tauziat defeated Elena Likhovtseva 0 – 6 6 – 2 6 – 1

Quarter  Amanda Coetzer defeated Mariaan De Swardt 7 – 6 (3) 6 – 3

Quarter  Natasha Zvereva defeated Anne Kremer 6 – 0 6 – 1

Rnd 16  Nathalie Dechy defeated Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 7 – 5 6 – 2

Rnd 16  Anna Kournikova defeated Lisa Raymond 7 – 6 (4) 6 – 4

Rnd 16  Nathalie Tauziat defeated Sylvia Plischke 6 – 3 6 – 3

Rnd 16  Elena Likhovtseva defeated Ai Sugiyama 6 – 3 6 – 4

Rnd 16  Mariaan De Swardt defeated Irina Spirlea 6 – 3 6 – 4

Rnd 16  Amanda Coetzer defeated Elena Tatarkova 6 – 3 6 – 4

Rnd 16  Natasha Zvereva defeated Mirjana Lucic 7 – 5 6 – 1

Rnd 16  Anne Kremer defeated Monica Seles 6 – 4 6 – 4

Rnd 32  Nathalie Dechy defeated Amy Frazier 4 – 6 6 – 2 6 – 1

Rnd 32  Lisa Raymond defeated Magui Serna 3 – 6 7 – 6 (6) 6 – 4

Rnd 32  Anna Kournikova defeated Chanda Rubin 6 – 2 4 – 6 6 – 4

Rnd 32  Sylvia Plischke defeated Karen Cross  6 – 2 3 – 6 6 – 1

Rnd 32  Ai Sugiyama defeated Maureen Drake 7 – 5 6 – 1

Rnd 32  Elena Likhovtseva defeated Corina Morariu 2 – 6 6 – 4 6 – 0

Rnd 32  Irina Spirlea defeated Anna Smashnova 6 – 2 3 – 6 6 – 2

Rnd 32  Mariaan De Swardt defeated Anne-Gaelle Sidot 7 – 6 (5) 6 – 2

Rnd 32  Elena Tatarkova defeated Louise Latimer 6 – 4 7 – 6 (2)

Rnd 32  Natasha Zvereva defeated Tara Snyder 6 – 3 6 – 3

Rnd 32  Mirjana Lucic defeated Alexandra Fusai 7 – 5 6 – 3

Rnd 32  Anne Kremer defeated Samantha Smith 6 – 4 6 – 1

1998 Direct Line International Championships

Results, WTA Players

janaNovotna1998winner1998 Direct Line International Championships | 15-20 June

A repeat of the previous year’s scheduled final managed to take place, with Czech Republic’s Jana Novotna breezing to comfortable success against Spanish star Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.

Novotna had been in formidable form throughout the event, demolishing Russian Natasha Zvereva for the loss of just three games in their one-sided semi-final showdown.

The surprise package was another Russian, blonde youngster Anna Kournikova. She amazed even herself by pulling off the shock victory of the Championships with a thrilling triumph over German ace Steffi Graf.

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO OF KOURNIKOVA VS GRAF

The other fresh talent on show was American Serena Williams, who took to the Devonshire Park courts a year after attending to watch big sister Venus compete. However, a combination of naivety and the grittiness of Sanchez-Vicario saw her Williams fall at the quarter-final hurdle despite a gutsy showing.

Final  Jana Novotna defeated Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6 – 1 7 – 5

 

Semi Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario defeated Anna Kournikova walkover

Semi  Jana Novotna defeated Natasha Zvereva 6 – 2 6 – 1

 

Quarter  Anna Kournikova defeated Steffi Graf 6 – 7(4) 6 – 3 6 – 4

Quarter  Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario defeated Serena Williams 4 – 6 6 – 4 6 – 4

Quarter  Natasha Zvereva defeated Magui Serna 7 – 6 (5) 6 – 2

Quarter  Jana Novotna defeated Irina Spirlea 6 – 4 7 – 5

Rnd 16  Steffi Graf defeated Samantha Smith 6 – 1 6 – 2

Rnd 16  Anna Kournikova defeated Mariaan De Swardt 6 – 4 6 – 1

Rnd 16  Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario defeated Tamarine Tanasugarn 6 – 2 7 – 5

Rnd 16  Serena Williams defeated Ai Sugiyama 6 – 2 7 – 5

Rnd 16  Magui Serna defeated Elena Likhovtseva 6 – 2 4 – 6 8 – 6

Rnd 16  Natasha Zvereva defeated Venus Williams 6 – 2 6 – 1

Rnd 16  Irina Spirlea defeated Kerry-Anne Guse 6 – 0 7 – 5

Rnd 16  Jana Novotna defeated Nathalie Dechy 6 – 2 6 – 2

Rnd 32  Samantha Smith defeated Yayuk Basuki 6 – 4 3 – 3 retired

Rnd 32  Mariaan De Swardt defeated Lisa Raymond 6 – 0 7 – 6 (6)

Rnd 32  Anna Kournikova defeated Alexandra Fusai 2 – 6 6 – 1 6 – 3

Rnd 32  Tamarine Tanasugarn defeated Anna-Maria Miller 6 – 4 6 – 4

Rnd 32  Serena Williams defeated Naoko Sawamatsu 6 – 4 7 – 5

Rnd 32  Ai Sugiyama defeated Magdalena Grzybowska 6 – 4 6 – 4

Rnd 32  Elena Likhovtseva defeated Nathalie Tauziat 6 – 2 4 – 6 8 – 6

Rnd 32  Magui Serna defeated Tatiana Panova 6 – 7(2) 6 – 3 6 – 1

Rnd 32  Natasha Zvereva defeated Maria Vento-Kabchi 7 – 5 6 – 3

Rnd 32  Irina Spirlea defeated Rita Grande 6 – 3 4 – 6 6 – 4

Rnd 32  Kerry-Anne Guse defeated Sarah Pitkowski-Malcor 7 – 5 6 – 3

Rnd 32  Nathalie Dechy defeated Fang Li 6 – 4 6 – 4

1997 Direct Line International Championships

Results, WTA Players

williamssistersateb19971997 Direct Line International Championships | 17-22 June

With rain ruining what looked like being a mouthwatering final between Czech Republic’s Jana Novotna and Spanish star Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the organisers sensibly made the pair joint winners.

But there were some interesting developments during the tournament. Monica Seles was a late entrant in a bid to try to defend her crown, but surprisingly stuttered at the hands of Brenda Schultz-McCarthy to crash in the quarter-finals.

And the willowy Venus Williams looked like a star in the making but was heavily distracted by her dreadlock beads falling to the grass, so it was not a shock to see her taste defeat.

Final Cancelled due to rain | Join winners Jana Novotna and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario

Semi  Jana Novotna defeated Natasha Zvereva 6 (7) – 7 6 – 0 7 – 5

Semi  Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario defeated Brenda Schultz-McCarthy 7 – 5 6 – 1

Quarter Jana Novotna defeated Ai Sugiyama 6 – 2 6 (6) – 7 6 – 4

Quarter  Natasha Zvereva defeated Nathalie Tauziat 6 – 4 5 – 7 6 – 4

Quarter  Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario defeated Irina Spirlea 6 – 4 6 – 4

Quarter  Brenda Schultz-McCarthy defeated Monica Seles 7 – 5 7 – 5

Rnd 16 Jana Novotna defeated Yayuk Basuki 7 – 5 6 – 4

Rnd 16 Ai Sugiyama defeated Kimberly Po-Messerli 6 – 3 6 – 1

Rnd 16  Natasha Zvereva defeated Iva Majoli 6 – 2 7 – 5

Rnd 16  Nathalie Tauziat defeated Venus Williams 6 – 3 5 – 7 6 – 4

Rnd 16  Irina Spirlea defeated Anne-Gaelle Sidot 6 – 4 6 – 3

Rnd 16  Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario defeated Kerry-Anne Guse 7 – 5 6 – 0

Rnd 16  Brenda Schultz-McCarthy defeated Silvia Farina Elia 4 – 6 6 – 1 6 – 2

Rnd 16  Monica Seles defeated Naoko Sawamatsu 6 – 2 7 – 5

Rnd 32 Yayuk Basuki defeated Elena Likhovtseva 6 – 3 6 – 0

Rnd 32 Ai Sugiyama defeated Shirli-Ann Siddall 6 – 2 5 – 7 8 – 6

Rnd 32 Kimberly Po-Messerli defeated Katarina Studenikova 0 – 6 7 – 6 (5) 6 – 2

Rnd 32 Natasha Zvereva defeated Amy Frazier 7 – 6 (1) 6 – 0

Rnd 32 Venus Williams defeated Chanda Rubin 6 – 4 6 – 4

Rnd 32 Nathalie Tauziat defeated Mary Joe Fernandez 7 – 6 (5) 7 – 5

Rnd 32 Irina Spirlea defeated Ines Gorrochategui 6 – 0 3 – 6 6 – 4

Rnd 32 Anne-Gaelle Sidot defeated Lucie Ahl 6 – 3 6 – 4

Rnd 32 Kerry-Anne Guse defeated Shi-Ting Wang 6 – 3 5 – 7 6 – 4

Rnd 32 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy defeated Helena Sukova 6 – 3 7 – 6 (3)

Rnd 32 Silvia Farina Elia defeated Lisa Raymond 7 – 5 6 – 4

Rnd 32 Naoko Sawamatsu defeated Jo Ward 6 – 2 7 – 5

1996 Direct Line International Championships

Results, WTA Players

monicaseles19961996 Direct Line International Championships | 18-22 June

It had been almost four years since Monica Seles competed at Wimbledon, yet she completed her preparation for SW19 with a demolition job over American Mary Joe Fernandez with an emphatic 45-lesson finishing class to take the crown 6-0 6-2.

Seles never looked back after she won the opening 11 points and 20 of the first 22 despite an ailing shoulder and not quite being match fit.

But she was in tip-top form all week, rewarding the vocal Centre Court crowd with her sublime skills and finishing to complete the week on the sleep seaside town of Eastbourne without dropping a set.

Seles had taken just over an hour to see off defending champion Nathalie Tauziat of France 6-4 6-4 in an entertaining semi-final clash, but Seles impressed in her first grass court tournament since she lost in the 1992 Wimbledon final to German ace Steffi Graf.

Final      Monica Seles defeated Mary Joe Fernandez 6 -0 6 – 2

Semi      Mary Joe Fernandez defeated Jana Novotna 6 – 1 2 – 6 8 – 6

Semi      Monica Seles defeated Nathalie Tauziat 6 – 4 6 – 4

Quarter Mary Joe Fernandez defeated Conchita Martinez 2 -6 6 – 4 6 – 4

Quarter Jana Novotna defeated Yayuk Basuki 7 -6 6 – 1

Quarter Nathalie Tauziat defeated Lisa Raymond 6 – 2 6 – 0

Quarter Monica Seles defeated Ines Gorrochategui 6 – 3 6 – 1

Rnd 16 Conchita Martinez defeated Natasha Zvereva 7 – 6 (6) 6 – 3

Rnd 16 Mary Joe Fernandez defeated Ai Sugiyama 6 – 3 6 – 3

Rd 16 Jana Novotna defeated Nicole Arendt 6 – 4 4 – 6 6 – 3

Rnd 16 Yayuk Basuki defeated Lindsay Davenport 6 -2 6 – 3

Rnd 16 Nathalie Tauziat defeated Irina Spirlea 6 – 2 6 – 3

Rnd 16 Lisa Raymond defeated Chanda Rubin 6 – 3 retired

Rnd 16 Ines Gorrochategui defeated Lori McNeil 6 – 2 6 – 3

Rnd 16 Monica Seles defeated Meredith McGrath 6 – 2 6 – 4

CLICK HERE FOR PDF OF QUALIFYING & MAIN DRAW