french open v. wimbledon champ in quarters
By Matthew Cronin
Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
FROM THE ACURA CLASSIC IN CARLSBAD, CA - The so-called real Russian willplay the so-called Russian-American in the quarterfinals of $1.3 million Acura Classic on Friday and a tremendous amount of pride is on the line.
French Open champion Anastasia Myskina has never lost Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova on court and as it stands, is also currently winning the battle for the hearts and minds of other Russian players.
The brunette Myskina is acknowledged leader of the deep Russian squad in the locker room while to some, the blonde Sharapova is little more than interloper when it comes to things Russian. French Open finalist Elena Dementieva said last week that Sharapova is "not really Russian" and on Thursday, the Moscow born and bred Myskina said Sharapova’s "mentality is American" and that she doesn’t think Sharapova "has ever to been [back] to Russia."
Those comments didn’t set well with the ferociously competitive teenager, who didn’t exactly call for a Lear Jet to take her from Sochi to Florida when she was seven. Sharapova’s ambitious father, Yuri, sat with her in coach and upon landing took a public bus to the Bollettieri Academy so she could receive proper training.
"We’ve had totally different ways of growing up and developing our careers," Sharapova snarled. "Even though I train in America, I’m still Russian. That’s where I come from. No one going is going to tell me where I'm from because I know where I’m from. Just because I made the decision to develop my tennis somewhere else -- I think I made the right decision."
With all that said, Myskina said that she would welcome Sharapova on the Russian Fed Cup team and that Maria speaks Russian "pretty well" for someone who has spent 10 off her 17 years in the US.
"Maria has lived in the United States and she's more comfortable in English that she is in Russian," Myskina said. "But if she wants to play Fed Cup next year, why not? We want to have al the good players, because it’s easier to win matches.
Sharapova was bred on MTV and has had more media-training than her compatriot, Anna Kournikova ever had at this age. She rarely has a rough moment. But under an intense spotlight and being questioned about her true nationality, she grew angry and went after questions with same verve that she returns second serves.
You can criticize Kournikova all you like for at times being disingenuous with her tennis intentions, but she always said that she loved living in the US, even though her blood ran Russian red. Sharapova said that being in the US is only a career decision.
"I don’t feel American at all," she said. "I feel this is part of my job. I don’t know where I would be living. I came to the United States because of my tennis. Maybe I would still be in Russia or maybe I would have wanted to live someone else. I moved here because of my tennis, not for anything else."
Sharapova –who takes both American and Russian correspondence courses -- did say that she’s quite comfortable in US culture and would be equally as comfortable in Russia. She’s willing to play for Russia if they ask her. But will they have her?
BOTH gunning for No. 1
Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
Like Myskina, Sharapova wants to dominate the US Open hard court season. Myskina wants it real bad, because she wants to show the world that her tremendous run to the Roland Garros title was no fluke. Because of her relatively low profile, most folks have already forgotten that the 23-year-old Myskina took down Venus Willaims, Jennifer Capriati and Dementieva en route to the crown.
"I really want to win right now, because I want to prove that the French Open was not only one tournament I was playing good," Myskina said. "I am No. 1 in Russian, and I want to be No. 1 in the world. That's motivation for me to win the match."
After chopping down Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams to win Wimbledon, few folks doubt Sharapova's potential, but the Russian crew still thinks Myskina has the edge. Svetlana Kuznetsova says that Myskina is still the smarter player and more creative on hardcourts. Vera Zvonareva (who by the way does think that Sharapova is a "real" Russian) says that Myskina’s experience could be the deciding factor. However, she cautions that Sharapova’s victory should not be seen as surprising.
"She’s going up and up and up," Zvonareva said.
The winner will be determined by who handles the pressure better and whether Myskina --- who owns a 2-0 record against Sharapova including a three-set win at the ’04 Aussie Open and a 6-2 6-1 wipeout at Indian Wells in March – can move the gangly teen around again.
"It's going to be really tough against Maria because now she's playing much better than when we played last time," Myskina said. "She's improved a lot, like her serve and groundstrokes. I might have to try to do something else."
Sharapova says that Myskina’s movement, patience and ability to "trick when you think you have the point" is what sets her apart. She says that Indian Wells was merely a terrible day and with the experience she gained the last few months, she should be a much greater force on Friday.
Even though she easily could be mistaken for a South Florida beach girl, when it comes to discussing her athletic prospects, Sharapova’s eyes become as dark and full of lightening as any Russian athlete’s. She's ready to say "Nyet" to Myskina.
It’s a very big challenge," she said. "I haven’t beaten her yet and I like those kind of challenges."
Well at least Anna has some respect for this country.