Posted this also in GM
but as those pages change quick
here it is again for those that miss it
Myskina set for Wimbledon task
By Sue Mott (Filed: 19/06/2004)
Anastasia Myskina, the new French Open champion
, the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam title, was taken to lunch by Boris Yeltsin last week. "He was very, very p..." - I thought I knew what was coming - "...roud," she said. Ah, wrong then.
Striking out: Myskina is hoping for Wimbledon glory
But pride was a very proper response in the former Russian president and huge tennis fan as the evidence of a cultural revolution was plain for the world to see with not one Russian woman, but two, contesting the final at Roland Garros. Although the spectacle was as compelling as someone beating a carpet for 59 minutes (poor Elena Dementieva being that carpet) it was still both an honour and vindication of post-Soviet Russian society.
Not that the victor was entirely prepared for it. "It was a surprise for me, yes. I thought maybe in my sleep I would win a Grand Slam. You know, in my dreams. But not in real life. When it happened, I was in shock." And more shocks are in store. She was at Wimbledon last week trying to adjust to the faster pace of the different surface and the fact that she now has a recognisable name, one that stands out from the ranks of the Russians who have been gradually rising as a force in the women's game. She is an individual prepared to "kick ass", as her German coach, Jens Gerlach, described it. She is not a chip off the old Soviet bloc, that is for sure.
Far from being dour and repressed, she is sometimes only too outgoing and expressive. "Did you see what she did at the Australian Open?" asked Gerlach, perhaps getting his revenge having lost to his pupil at backgammon over lunch after practice at Wimbledon. "There was one incident during her match against Chandra Rubin in the round of 16. She turned round during the tie-break and shouted `F*** you!' towards me, her mother, the physio." He smiled apologetically. "It was on worldwide television. She was confronted with it afterwards. I was confronted with it.
"I tell her all the time, `Listen, just say it in Russian.' I tell her not to get mad with us. But I do understand she has to realise it, the emotion, somehow. We have been working on it. At the French Open she was much, much better. She kept her focus. It is a work – how do you say it! – in process." Myskina herself has admitted her somewhat combustible nature and, at 23, is ready to bring the more sulphurous of her rages under control. "I am very different on court to how I am in life. I am not quiet on the court." She can say that again. "But at the French Open, I understand that it doesn't help if you yell at somebody. If you hold your emotions inside you, it helps you win. If your opponent sees you yelling or throwing a racket, it shows weakness.
"Sometimes my coach says, `If you do that again, I am going to quit.' But I don't like to lose. I don't like to be a loser. It pisses me off." She smiled shyly, revealing a silver brace across her teeth. "But sometimes I feel really guilty and sometimes I apologise. Maybe I am getting older and understanding life better." Meanwhile Gerlach found himself under siege at the Australian Open from other coaches who criticised his leniency. "They said, `Don't you have any control over her?" It was a charge made all the more contentious by the fact that Gerlach is her former sparring partner and, more to the point, boyfriend. "But I said, `You do your job with your girls and I will do my job with mine.' I don't judge anybody myself." He smiled calmly.
His serenity may owe something to the fact that next time out in a Grand Slam event, Myskina beat everyone in front of her, including Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati. Advantage Gerlach. But she is right. There is a massive dichotomy between mercurial Muscovite on court and the studious and sensible girl she seems to be in civilian life. She is a student at the Sports University in Moscow, studying to be a coach, though it is not a job she intends to take up when she retires. "I have other ideas," she said mysteriously. One of them does not include, as in the case of Serena Williams, becoming an actress.
"Oh, no, no, no," cried Myskina in genuine horror. "I want to help people. To do something to help the world." She would not class herself as an exhibitionist. "No, no. In fact, after match point in the French Open final, there was so much emotion in me that I just wanted to go away by myself. I didn't want to show people how I felt.
" I don't think of myself as a superstar. I don't want to be a person like Anna." In this, she is referring to Anna Kournikova, the former Russian doll of the tennis circuit, who advertised bras and the fact that she was not very good at tennis by the time hype, fame and boyfriends had taken their toll.
"Put it this way," said Myskina, "I want to be a tennis player. I used to know Anna well. But right now she's a different person and lives a different life. Maybe she had goals that were not on the tennis circuit and maybe now she's happy. Maybe her goals were to be rich and glamorous. My goal is to be a good tennis player." It is, therefore, not immediately clear why on the very day we are speaking a Russian tabloid has reprinted a photograph of a younger Myskina in long flowing wig, sitting on a horse, topless. She rolled her cat-like green eyes and looked dangerously irritated. "It is so old, the photograph. No one was interested. Now everyone is putting it in magazines and newspapers," she scowled.
"I think it is a good picture," said her coach helpfully who, after all, was her boyfriend at the time. She turned towards him and muttered something that appeared to contain a number of consonants, especially "z's". "She has told me to be quiet," he explained with enormous affability. "I will be really upset if this picture appears in a newspaper ever again," she said.
The trouble is, old photographs, like old troupers, never die and there is not the slightest doubt that it will reappear somewhere, probably with a digitally-enhanced Tim Henman dressed as Sir Galahad riding pillion. Nevertheless, she is not the sort of woman to implode in a crisis. She was, after all, not the Russian half of the French Open final that served 10 double faults and burst into tears. Yet in her youth, at the Spartak Club in Moscow, coached for 10 years by the mother of Marat and Dinara Safin, Myskina was never the pick of the crop. "I was never the best. I was always fifth or sixth, even in Russia. Tennis was more fun for me than pressure. Even at 18, I was given the choice to give up by my family. I decided to give it one year and in that year, 1999, as a qualifier ranked 288th in the world, I won Palermo. In that moment, I became more professional."
A crucial factor in her development was her father, Andrey Myskin, who was her traveling partner during her early years on the circuit and with whom she conducted the now almost obligatory bust-up for a female tennis player about 18 months ago. "My father was definitely the more into my life. He travelled with me a lot. He gave me a lot of things. But I couldn't go out a lot. He was really strict. I had to be home at 10 o'clock every night. It was really difficult. Now I'm going out, at 23, almost for the first time in my life. But, no, it doesn't make me want to be wild. Definitely not. I have known girls who have been going out since they were 18 or 19, it doesn't make them a smarter or better tennis player.
"Of course, we yelled at each other, my father and I. We had some fights. But for the most part, it was good." Best of all, Myskin taught his daughter hard work. Gerlach is nothing but complimentary. "He gave her a lot of discipline and work ethic. He made her understand what it takes to be a professional. He didn't speak much English and I didn't speak any Russian, but I could see he was a great man. He just kind of clicked. He trusted me to take over from him and he trusted her to carry on the work."
At the heart of these relationships is a Russian enigma. How can Myskina, now dating a Russian ice hockey player, travel the world and win a Grand Slam with a former boyfriend? But the combination of her ambition and the German's efficiency appears to make it work. "Even when she was my girlfriend, I found I could concentrate on the tennis," said Gerlach. "And it's tough to be with somebody 24 hours a day. We never really fought. We didn't split up on bad terms. It's just a choice we made. I had a choice to still hang around. She had a choice to have me as her coach. We just made the choice to give it a shot." A shot heard around the world two weeks ago. "She's always had killer instinct," said Gerlach. "But now she has learned to play the game as well. Her shot selection is better. Her patience is better. Obviously the Williams sisters have the power and the strength for grass. But `Nastia' is very determined." A year ago the Russians were coming. At Wimbledon 2004, here she is.