Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Russians Are Coming ; with Five Players Ranked in Tennis's Top 10, Russia Sees Three Women Advance to the US Open Quarterfinals

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Russians Are Coming ; with Five Players Ranked in Tennis's Top 10, Russia Sees Three Women Advance to the US Open Quarterfinals

Article excerpt

In the world of women's tennis, every year tells a story. If 2002 was the year of the Williams sisters and 2003 was the year of the Belgians, then 2004 is turning out to be the year of the Russians. As the US Open, the year's last grand slam, heads into its final weekend, it's the Russian women who have established themselves as the new powerhouse on the WTA Tour and become a source of pride for an entire country.

After beginning the Open with five Russians among the top 10 seeds, three - sixth seed Elena Dementieva, ninth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and 14th seed Nadia Petrova - have battled their way into the final eight.

"I don't ever recall seeing such a quick rise of a group of players from one country at one time," says Larry Scott, the chairman and chief executive of the WTA Tour. "They're not just playing well. They're winning grand slams."

In fact, the past two grand slams have been won by promising young Russians. Anastasia Myskina defeated her childhood friend, Dementieva, at the French Open in June. And just a month later, 17- year-old Maria Sharapova stunned the tennis world by handily beating Serena Williams at Wimbledon.

Not so long ago, Anna Kournikova was probably the only Russian woman tennis player most fans had heard of. Famous for her glamorous looks rather than her winning power - she has never won a WTA tour singles title - Kournikova was Russia's only top-10 representative when she hit a career high of eighth in the world in 2000. But for all of the criticism Kournikova received for not realizing her potential, some credit her for adding to the sport's presence in Russia.

"Anna put Russian tennis on the map," says her agent, Phil de Picciotto, president of Octagon, one of the world's top sports marketing and management firms, based in McLean, Va. "Her success attracted so much attention. Russians saw her succeed and flocked to the courts."

Less than four years later, women's tennis has been transformed and is now the stage for a power struggle between the United States, Russia, and Belgium. At this year's US Open, 12 Russian women were among the top 100 seeds. In a country where tennis was considered bourgeois just over a decade ago, the sport has reached new heights.

"We have good competition between us," says French Open champion Myskina. "We play a lot of tournaments against each other. I know there are so many good girls behind me, I want to be No. 1 in Russia, and it pushes me to play better. The girls want to get ahead of me, so they try hard to play better too."

Besides the popularity and success of Kourni-kova, who is no longer on the competitive circuit, the addition of tennis to the Olympics in 1988 boosted the sport in Russia. The Soviet Union began to funnel money into coaching and development. …

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