Petrova ready to steal Russian thunder
By Bill Barclay
1 hour, 3 minutes ago
With Maria Sharapova's preparations hampered by an ankle injury, Nadia Petrova has emerged as the Russian force to be reckoned with at the French Open.
The 23-year-old Muscovite has supplanted her glamorous compatriot as the Russian number one having risen to a career-high third in the rankings with three tournament wins on clay this season.
Those titles, in Amelia Island, Charleston and Berlin, have given her a real sense of belief that she can claim her first grand slam triumph in Paris.
By far the most significant of the three was her win over defending French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne in the Berlin final on May 14 to end a run of four defeats by the Belgian in the last 12 months.
"I'm glad that I was able to overcome her in the final of such a tournament on her favorite surface," Petrova said.
"I'm so happy. I wanted to beat Justine. All the hard work has finally paid off. My ultimate dream is to win a grand slam.
"I'm really comfortable out there and have being playing very consistent for some months now which gives me a lot of confidence."
Petrova's consistency is undeniable.
She also took the Doha title this year, meaning she has won four tournaments already in 2006. She had only one career title to her name at the start of the year.
The Russian has reached the quarter-finals or better of the last four grand slam events but her best performances have been saved for the French Open, where she won the 1998 junior title.
She reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2003 and last year, when Henin-Hardenne again beat her.
Tall, powerfully built and with an ability rare in women's tennis to serve-volley as well as trade blows from the baseline, Petrova has all the tools to break through and take a first grand slam title.
A pectoral muscle injury, which she believes was caused by adjustments she made to her service action during the Berlin final, forced her withdrawal from the Italian Open last week.
"I've played lots of long matches and it has been a strain for my arm," she said.
Provided it heals, the rest will have done the 1.78m-tall daughter of former international athletes no harm before her bid to join 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova in Russia's grand slam winners' club.