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Australian win would complete Russian sweep
January 12, 2005 10:45 IST
The Australian Open escaped the Russian revolution that swept women's tennis last year but the first grand slam of 2005 is in the firing line this time.
Russian women won the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles crowns. Victory at this month's Australian Open would complete a Russian sweep.
Weight of numbers alone suggests the Russians hold all the aces this year. Four of the top six women in the world are Russian and there are another three lurking in the top 15.
Heading the list is French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, currently ranked three in the world. Just behind her is Maria Sharapova, the Wimbledon champion, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, the U.S. Open champion.
Elena Dementieva is ranked sixth in the world. She has yet to win a grand slam but did reach the French and U.S. Open finals and hopes to make her breakthrough at Melbourne.
"I have absolutely no regrets about losing in two finals because it was the first two of my life," she told reporters in Sydney this week.
"At the same time I was a little bit disappointed about the way I played in the finals.
"I hope I have another chance to play in a final, that experience may help me this time."
Myskina looms as Russia's biggest threat this year. The 23-year-old has been on the circuit for nearly a decade but was a late bloomer.
She won the first of her nine WTA titles in 1999 but made her big breakthrough last year, winning three titles including the French Open.
Although Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin had won grand slam titles, Myskina became the first Russian woman to win a major and thousands of fans lined the streets of Moscow when she returned home.
Sharapova, just 17, took the tennis world by storm last year, winning five titles including a stunning victory over the once invincible Serena Williams at Wimbledon.
The Siberian-born teenager seems to have the tennis world at her feet and looms as the most marketable sportswomen in the world with her dazzling looks.
The year ended with the 19-year-old Kuznetsova bursting from the shadow of Myskina and Sharapova to beat Dementieva in the U.S. Open final, making it the first time since 1979 that three women from the same country had won grand slam titles in the same year.
The sudden popularity of tennis can be traced to the fall of the Soviet Union, opening up possibilities for players to travel abroad for tournaments and to train in countries with warmer climates and better facilities than Russia.
Former President Boris Yeltsin was a fan and interest in the sport was heightened after Kafelnikov became the first Russian to win a grand slam, taking the French Open in 1996 then the Australian Open three years later.
Safin won the U.S. Open in 2000 and was Australian Open runner-up last year.
Just as important was the influence of Anna Kournikova. Although she never won a singles tournament, Kournikova was once ranked in the top 10 and helped to raise the sport's profile with her glamorous looks.
Vera Zvonareva, ranked 11th in the world but fifth among Russians, said Kafelnikov and Kournikova could take the credit if a Russian woman won the Australian Open this time.
"I think they did a lot for Russian tennis because they were the first ones who involved lots of different people in tennis," Zvonareva said.
"They started to make more tennis courts, there were more coaches interested in taking players all the way.
"We can thank Kafelnikov and Kournikova because lots of kids and parents were watching them and afterwards you got more players."