MELBOURNE, Australia - Technically, there are seven-and-a-half Russians through to the third round of this year's Australian Open. So, who is the half, you may ask? Look no further than Tatiana Golovin.
Golovin, the youngest player remaining in the women's singles event - she turns 16 on Sunday - was born in Moscow to parents Gregori and Lioudmila. The family moved to France when Tatiana was eight months old, and when she was six she started playing tennis. Showing an immediate flair for the sport, she was sent to the famed Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida, where she's spent the past seven years perfecting her game.
During her time at Bollettieri's, Golovin excelled on the junior circuit, winning the Orange Bowl Under 12s and the European Under 14s and 18s. In 2002, she tested her skills on the pro Tour, playing her first ITF Women's Circuit events and Roland Garros qualifying.
Ever-improving, the 1.75m Golovin had her first taste of the WTA Tour when she was given wildcards into Indian Wells and Miami. At Indian Wells, ranked No.377, she defeated No.146 Gisela Dulko before falling to Francesca Schiavone in a tight match, 75 75.
The French Tennis Federation granted her a wildcard into Roland Garros last year, where she performed admirably against No.20 seed Elena Bovina.
At the end of last year, Golovin decided it was time to move back home.
"I've moved back to Paris, so I could be with my family and so I could train with the French Federation," explained Golovin, who works with Pierre Cherret, the former coach of Wimbledon and US Open runner-up Cedric Pioline. "One of the great things I did in December was going to the Alpes D'Huez with Amelie Mauresmo and Nathalie Dechy training hard in the mountains.
"I have not made any changes to my game, just worked hard on my backhand grip and also worked on my serve."
The intense off-season work has paid dividends already. In a reciprocal agreement with the FFT and Tennis Australia, Golovin was given another Grand Slam wildcard, this time at Melbourne Park. Playing just her fifth WTA Tour main draw, Golovin took on hard-hitting Swiss player Marie-Gayanay Mikaelian in the first round.
Golovin was leading 60 41 when Mikaelian retired injured, but to prove her second round berth was well-deserved she stunned world No.17 and No.14 seed Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi 62 63 on Thursday to reach the last 32.
"I don't think my win has sunk in yet. It's definitely the best win of my career," said a delighted Golovin, who lists her forehand as her best weapon.
At this stage, Golovin still intends to compete in the junior event in Melbourne next week, but those plans may change if she maintains her winning form.
No.23 seed Lina Krasnoroutskaya awaits her in the third round, with a potential showdown with former world No.1 Venus Williams in the round of 16.
Golovin, who enjoys shopping and spending time with her friends, lists her favorite places as Paris and New York. If her great results at the majors continue throughout the year, Golovin may well become a favorite of the crowds in those Grand Slam cities.
Maria Sharapova, just eight months Golovin's senior, might be able to offer some advice on being the next bright young thing.
A lot of Eastern European women just switch to the masculine form when they move to another country. The computer systems/records/people don't understand the concept of the 'a' so leaving it out makes technical things (passports ect.) easier.