I thought I would share, although I'm sure most of you have seen this already.
From the Sunday Times -
Tennis: Myskina back in the red
Anastasia Myskina returns to defend her French Open title, barely able to remember what it feels like to win a match
Cast your mind back to the French Open champion who celebrated victory by poking out her tongue in a gesture of cheeky jubilation. Remember, too, the compassion she demonstrated when comforting the distressed lifelong friend she had just beaten. As women’s finals at Roland Garros go, the 2004 edition between Anastasia Myskina and fellow-Muscovite Elena Dementieva may not have been one to enhance the reputation of the women’s game. In fact, one seasoned Parisian tennis sage was heard to mutter that if Suzanne Lenglen had been looking down from on high at the contest to win the trophy named in her honour, she would have averted her gaze in dismay long before match point.
For all that, Myskina seemed to add something fresh to the sport; first, definitive proof that the long-predicted Russian domination was at hand; and, unlike some of her immediate predecessors, she seemed smitten by tennis and committed to her task. That was a year ago, and much has changed; most noticeably the joy seems to have been consigned to history. This was supposed to be an enjoyable year for the 23-year-old who also led Russia to a maiden Federation Cup title. Instead, returning to the scene of her greatest glory seems to be a burden. “It’s not much fun being out there at the moment,” Myskina admitted. Her recent results underline the fact, with opening-round defeats in her past two tournaments and just one victory on clay this year — against a player ranked 112.
NI_MPU('middle');A shoulder injury has been used as a convenient excuse and was cited as the reason for her withdrawal from the traditional French Open warm-up in Rome, but the malaise runs far deeper than that.
Myskina is exhausted after the demanding nature of the sport allowed her less than two weeks’ rest between the end of the 2004 calendar and preparations for this year’s long haul. Last year she played 109 WTA Tour and Fed Cup matches, singles and doubles, compared with Serena Williams’s total of 48. World No 1 Lindsay Davenport played 90, Maria Sharapova 89 and Dementieva 90. However, a determination to honour all commitments saw Myskina play during that short hiatus, travelling to Estonia for an exhibition that she had agreed to months previously.
Her focus has been further compromised by a close relative fighting a serious illness, and it’s easy to understand her anguish when she says: “Sometimes I play good tennis, sometimes I don’t.”
Sadly, for most of this year, the latter has applied. Her last competitive performance provided irrefutable proof that her mind was not on the trivial matter of getting a tennis ball back and forth across a net.
Julia Schruff is Germany’s third-ranked player, but the 22-year-old is hardly the player to fill the void left by Steffi Graf. Indeed, she will be hoping to register only her second win in five Grand Slam tournament attempts this week, but 107th-ranked Schruff exposed the limitations of a clearly demotivated Myskina in Berlin two weeks ago.
An hour after the match, as light rain dampened the Rot-Weiss Club, Myskina’s coach, Jens Gerlach, cut a disconsolate figure. On a happier occasion, he was the target of the tongue poking, but now he sat on a step, shook his head and reflected on the spate of double-faults, unforced errors and, most worryingly, innocuous shots from Schruff that were allowed to skid past without any real effort to chase the ball.
“This is tough, really tough,” he lamented. “It’s not because she is injured. She just doesn’t want to be playing tennis at the moment. I hated some of the things that I saw out there and I’ve got two weeks to put that right. I hope the desire to go back to Roland Garros will revitalise her. All year I’ve thought she is not proud enough of what she has achieved and maybe she needs to go back to realise everything. For a while last year she was No 2 in the world, but she didn’t enjoy the experience as much as she should have done. There is no doubt 2004 took its toll.”
Stuttgart-born Gerlach is a curious character. After graduating with a degree in marketing and business, he tried his luck on the men’s Tour, but the peak of his playing career saw him establish a modest doubles ranking of 1,131 in the world. Deciding that coaching was a better option, he gravitated towards the women’s tour and was appointed by Myskina in the late summer of 2002.
The pair became a romantic item and Myskina’s results were good enough to get her into the world’s top 10, but the relationship ended within a year. “That made things a little difficult for us working together,” Gerlach said. “In some ways it still does, but we finished on a good note and came to the decision that it would be best for both of us if I carried on as her coach. And what happened last year is proof. But I cannot deny this year has been a disappointment. It’s not the sort of thing I was hoping for.”
For a while it seemed the break-up was getting a public airing as Myskina went through a phase of verbally chastising Gerlach on court when her performances weren’t good. As any rule-abiding coach should, he sat courtside and said and did nothing. “I know 95% of the people thought I looked like an idiot, but I know how she is and the way she thinks,” he said. “This is the toughest time we’ve experienced.”
Moscow Dynamo ice hockey star Alexander Stepanov replaced Gerlach in Myskina’s affections and the couple are having a house built on the outskirts of Moscow. She insists her tennis career will not be a long one, with marriage and motherhood winning over any desire to attain veteran status on the circuit.
“Right now she just wants to get back to Moscow at any opportunity. She is a very family-orientated person and she just loves the place,” said Gerlach. There was a time, not too long ago, when Myskina was the self-appointed leader of the Russian troupe — Maria Sharapova excluded, of course — that took up residence in the top 10. Now she seems to be distracted from the task of simply competing, and it is not the pressure of repeating last year’s Roland Garros success that is causing such anguish.
I hope she decides what is best, and goes with it! Best of luck to Myskina this week!