Tennis: One Russian left behind
Lina Krasnoroutskaya was a world champion as a junior but she has found the senior tour a far different proposition. Picture / Carolyn Elliott
by David Leggat
You won't find Grand Slam glories on Lina Krasnoroutskaya's resume.
At a time when the Russian revolution in the women's game is in full swing, hers is not the name on the tip of the tennis aficionados' tongues.
That would be Sharapova, Myskina, Dementieva, Kuznetsova for starters.
Yet there was a time when the 20-year-old must have felt the tennis world was at her feet.
At 15 she was the world's No 1 junior female player.
But, at least so far, life on the circuit hasn't fallen into place like a regulation straight setter.
Next week's ASB Classic next week is the start of her third bid to climb towards the game's elite.
Injuries and illness have taken their toll and from a career-high singles ranking of No 25 last January, she kicks off in the main draw in Auckland courtesy of a wildcard, and a ranking of 141.
Krasnoroutskaya (pronounced Kras-no-rout-skaya) had been prepared for the pitfalls once she hit the senior game from the time she was a dominant junior figure in 1999.
"Definitely it was a wonderful start for me, but my parents always told me it's going to be hard," she said. "After one year on the WTA I seemed to be losing to everyone. The tennis was different compared to the junior tournaments and I learnt if I wanted to be good I had to change."
A brief run through the last five years looks like this:
* In 2000, she qualified for the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon. She had four match points but couldn't capitalise against three-time Grand Slam champion Jennifer Capriati in Zurich. Still, good signs for the 16-year-old.
* In 2001 she got up to No 34, reached the last eight at the French Open and won more WTA or ITF matches than any other player except world No 1 Martina Hingis.
* The following year she badly twisted an ankle in the first round at the Australian Open against Conchita Martinez in January. Result: sidelined for eight months. Rest of the year a write-off.
* 2003 was her best year, she felt strong physically. She beat a top 10 player, Monica Seles, for the first time, and won her first WTA title, the doubles at s'Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, with compatriot Elena Dementieva.
The pair reached the semifinals of the doubles at Wimbledon a week later, beating the Williams sisters on the way.
The week before playing in Toronto in August she got dehydration and spent a couple of days in hospital in Los Angeles.
Yet Toronto produced a trip to the singles final, beating then world No 1 Kim Clijsters and the tough Argentine Paola Suarez - a three-set win she labels her finest performance "because I was winning points, not because my opponent was making mistakes" - on the way before losing to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the final.
Krasnoroutskaya looks back and suspects Toronto may have been the start of her latest health worries.
* This year, which began with high hopes for a push towards the top 10, she soon found she had no strength.
"I was trying but nothing was happening," she remembers. "I was working hard but I was wondering why I was doing this. It was hard for me."
Then liver problems set in. She spent two weeks in a Moscow hospital and missed the French and US Opens. The result was that she played only 13 tournaments this year, and none since the start of August.
She doubted whether she would return from that setback, wondered if it was all worth the effort, but insisted she has the determination to battle back again.
Krasnoroutskaya was part of the Russian surge to the top of women's tennis. It began about 10 years ago when the brightest young talents received sponsorship and support.
The proof is in the flood of women sprouting up in the rankings. There are four in the world top six, they won three of the four Grand Slam singles titles this year and look like becoming the dominant nation of the women's game.
"It was a new time for Russia, everything changed, sports business started to come through and people gave money to talented girls they believed in, like Anastasia Myskina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dementieva and me.
"We grew up together, played together in many tournaments and we all get on."
So what of the stories about disharmony between the blond, leggy Sharapova and the other Russians, who reportedly did not want her involved in the Fed Cup final, which Russia won 3-2 over France in Moscow last month.
Krasnoroutskaya treads a diplomatic line but you are left with the feeling she is unimpressed with the teenage diva's behaviour.
She makes a valid point that the other Russian players had their real success when aged about 20 to 22 and had been around the game, and life, a while.
Sharapova won Wimbledon this year at 17. The financial floodgates opened.
"Maria understands she's famous, a celebrity, but for her at 17 to get so much money it is very hard to come through that.
"She grew up in the US and she and her father have big ambitions.
"You know, there is a lot of competition between the other Russian girls but they don't show it.
"They have to meet each other every week and we are all good friends. They have their feet on the ground."
Krasnoroutskaya got married last October to Dmitri, and she hopes Auckland will provide a fresh start in her latest bid to climb out of another trough.
There's no doubting she can play. What she needs is a few good breaks on the health front and on the court.
The Russian Revolution
* The world's top six women are four Russians, an American and a Frenchwoman. Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo hold the top two spots, followed by Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Eleni Dementieva.
* Those four were the dominant figures in the Grand Slams this year. Myskina won the French Open, Sharapova won Wimbledon, Kuznetsova won the US Open and Dementieva was the beaten finalist in Paris and New York.
* They have won 25 tournaments between them and more than US$14.3 million ($19.8 million).
* Further down the rankings, there are seven Russians in the top 15, 10 in the top 55.
* Five of the top 20 women in doubles are Russian, headed by Elena Likhovtseva at No 5 and Nadia Petrova at No 7.
* Petrova won a stunning seven doubles titles this year, while Likhovtseva and Kuznetsova were beaten finalists in three of the four Grand Slams.
* Of those seven, with the exception of 29-year-old Likhovtseva, their best years are in front of them. Dementieva and Myskina are 23, Petrova 22, Kuznetsova 19 and Sharapova 17.
now's the time to make up for it
hoping for a good 2005 and hope she can stay fit and healthy for a long, long time.