Women's tour reads like a Tolstoy novel
By Jerry Magee
June 15, 2004
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Svetlana Kuznetsova (above) played French Open winner Anastasia Myskina better than anyone at Roland Garros.
Behold the Russian women's tennis player. She is as slender as a ballerina. Fit Anastasia Myskina, Nadia Petrova, Maria Sharapova, Elena Bovina and Dinara Safina with ballet shoes and they wouldn't be misplaced in "Swan Lake."
Then there's Svetlana Kuznetsova. A powerhouse, clearly, at 5-foot-8 and 161 pounds. She looks as if she could do a day's work with a shovel if need be.
Not that she doesn't do pretty well with a tennis racket, and at 18 – she won't be 19 until June 27 – she is bound to do a great deal better if strength and the ability to move quickly mean anything in tennis, which they do.
Kuznetsova was on the telephone from Eastbourne, England, yesterday as a means of heralding, first, Wimbledon, which begins Monday, and the Acura Classic, beginning July 14 at the La Costa Resort & Spa. The Acura folks have attracted all the ranking Russian women to their $1.3 million get-together, which is a coup for them, Russia being very big at the moment in women's tennis.
At a recent count, six of the 15 top-ranked players and 11 of the leading 50 on the WTA Tour were Russians, with French Open winner Myskina holding the highest place among them at No. 3 after becoming the first woman from her country to claim a Grand Slam championship.
She did it delicately, as it were. There is nothing forceful in Myskina's game. Her ground strokes are not that piercing, nor is her serve. She might seem to be an heir to Martina Hingis, who got along very well with tactical expertise approaching a genius level until a foot injury interrupted her career.
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At 17, 6-foot Maria Sharapova is making a lot of fans forget about fellow Russian Anna Kournikova.
"Might seem," we said. Kuznetsova said the games of Myskina and Hingis are not at all alike. "She didn't run," Svetlana said of Hingis. "She was like Andre Agassi."
Her point was that in Agassi's matches, it is the other guy who has to do much of the running.
To Kuznetsova, what Myskina has is a lot of fight. "She just fights very much," Kuznetsova said, "and she never gives you an easy game. She runs. And she's clever, you know."
Kuznetsova's assets are more robust. She might not be able to lift a building, but she looks as if she could. With her strength, she could be the most nimble of the Russians.
"Maybe," she said.
A modest sort, Kuznetsova, now ranked No. 9. Also a dedicated individual. She has chosen to make her base not in her place of birth, St. Petersburg, but in Barcelona, Spain, where the climate is more conducive to playing tennis than it is in the place associated with the czars. She acknowledged she misses her homeland.
"But if I want to be something in my life, I have to do something," she explained. "I can be No. 1, I think."
A large statement by a player who has yet to break through in a WTA Tour singles event, but listen to Kuznetsova and one gets the feeling her ambitions are realistic.
"I want to improve my speed, my game, everything," she said. "I'm looking for perfection in everything. It's like I am in competition with myself."
But for one point, it might have been Kuznetsova being acclaimed in Paris rather than Myskina. In her match against Myskina, Kuznetsova, serving, held match point. "But I was rushing too much," she said. She failed on a ground stroke and Myskina was able to complete a 1-6, 6-4, 8-6 conquest. From there, Myskina went on to her straight-set decimation of Elena Dementieva (also due at La Costa) in the final.
This will be only the second appearance in Wimbledon's main draw for Kuznetsova. In her first a year ago, she was among a record five Russian women who gained the fourth round (Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva, Myskina and the stylish Sharapova being the others).
Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, the tour's ranking player, stopped Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals 6-2, 6-2.
Kuznetsova's effort suggested her game fits nicely on grass, but she said she doesn't regard grass as her preferred surface. "Not really," she said. "I think I can play anywhere."
Myskina has chosen not to compete in the Wimbledon prelude at Eastbourne. Her rationale: "Winning a Grand Slam event takes a lot out of you."
Whether Martina Navratilova will determine to play singles at Wimbledon is still uncertain, a WTA Tour spokesman said yesterday. Navratilova indicated she would accept a wild card into the main draw in southwest London, but losing to Elena Likhovtseva 6-4, 6-2 in an Eastbourne qualifying match has left the game's grand dame, a nine-time Wimbledon champion, with second thoughts.
When Navratilova began her return to tennis, she chose Kuznetsova as her doubles partner. A wise choice. According to Svetlana, it was Navratilova who severed their association.
"She wanted to play with an American (Lisa Raymond) in order to get ready for the Olympics," said Kuznetsova, who plans to partner with Likhovtseva in Athens. One thing about the Russians: None of them has won a tournament in California. They will be out to change this at La Costa. They're coming, and they're coming in numbers.