Tour Takes Its Toll
'I Miss Home So Much'; Chakvetadze, Other Rising Stars Jam Their Schedules
Michael Traikos, National Post
Published: Tuesday, August 14, 2007
TORONTO - With her blonde hair and disarming smile, Russia's Anna Chakvetadze may be the next "It Girl" on the women's tennis scene.
But after competing in six straight events, the exhausted 20-year-old is starting to feel more like the "Sick Girl" of the tour.
Since the beginning of June, Chakvetadze has made it to the quarter-finals of the French Open, won a Tier III tournament in The Netherlands, advanced to the third round of Wimbledon, played two Federation Cup matches, won back-to-back tournaments in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Stanford, Calif., and reached the semi-finals in San Diego.
For her tireless efforts, she climbed two spots in the world rankings, to No. 6. But it was not without sacrifice.
The Muscovite, along with several other players at this week's Rogers Cup in Toronto, recently contracted an energy-sapping cold. That, along with the fact that she cannot quite remember the last time she visited home -- or received a haircut -- and it is not surprising that Chakvetadze had a difficult time keeping her eyes open at yesterday's news conference.
"I'm still alive," a droopy-eyed Chakvetadze joked. "I miss home so much now that I'm away for so much. It's crazy.
"When you're winning so many matches in a row, of course you get tired, but you get confidence. That's why you're playing so much, because you want to be confident before the Grand Slams."
For rising tennis stars, there is pressure to participate in as many tournaments as possible in order to raise their ranking. For Chakvetadze, there is an added benefit: the exposure helps others properly enunciate her name (chuk-veh-TAHDzeh).
"I think in France and Italy it's real difficult for them to pronounce my name," said Chakvetadze, whose friends call her A-Chak. "But they're getting better. When I played junior it was very bad. I even couldn't understand."
Chair umpires have received more practice this year. The fifth-year professional has competed in 15 tournaments in 2007 and heads into the Rogers Cup with an impressive 49-12 singles record.
Still, the hard-working Chakvetadze appears to be a slacker when compared to world No. 3 Jelena Jankovic, who has already competed in 20 tournaments. She also arrived in Toronto under the weather.
"I realize that most of the players are doing it, but it's tough on me," said Chakvetadze, who would much prefer the light schedule of world No. 1 Justine Henin, who has competed in just nine tournaments.
"She won the [French Open], so who cares?"
A Grand Slam has eluded Chakvetadze so far.
She lost to countrywoman Maria Sharapova in the quarters at both the French and Australian Opens.
She also lost to Sharapova, the world No. 2, in San Diego. But it was in the previous round of that tournament where the 5-foot-7, 128-pounder recorded the most memorable victory of her young career, a three-set win over Wimbledon champion Venus Williams.
"It was the biggest win, I think," Chakvetadze said. "It took a lot of power for me, that's why the next day I was really tired. The thing is, when you beat top players, of course you have confidence, but it's just one match. And you have to play a lot of matches in a row to be in the tournament."
Chakvetadze, who lists Troy as her favourite movie, realized last year that a lack of endurance was the Achilles heel of her game. So she worked on becoming fitter and stronger and created a demanding schedule that would test her durability.
"Last year I played maybe two tournaments in a row," she said. "If I played in the semi-finals or quarter-finals, I got tired ? when you get to the semi-finals, you may think it's a good result. But you want to win a tournament."
With four wins to her name this year, Chakvetadze's career has benefitted from the added workload. But the same cannot be said of her personal life or hygiene.
"I have so much stuff to do and I have no time for a hairdresser," Chakvetadze said of her waist-long locks, which last saw scissors more than 12 months ago.
"But now, after a year, maybe I'll cut it --just a little bit."