By Alaric Gomes, Staff Reporter
Published: December 22, 2007, 00:23
Dubai: For the moment, there seem to be just two people who believe that Maria Kirilenko can be among the top 10 players in the swaying world of women's tennis. One of them is her coach Eric Van Harpen and the other is Kirilenko herself.
"I came to Dubai with a purpose, and that was to win this tournament," Kirilenko told Gulf News after her straight sets win against fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina in last week's final of the ninth Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge at the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa.
There is no gainsaying as to what a win can do to boost the confidence of a player. But more important is the will and thirst to continue the winning streak as the petite Russian satisfyingly kick-started her preparations for the upcoming season.
"I have always believed in my ability as a player. I have played some solid tennis and that I why I am where I am supposed to be in the rankings. And that is also the reason why I win," Kirilenko said.
Her last triumph came exactly three months ago when she tamed another Russian - Maria Koryttseva 6-0, 6-2 to take home her first trophy for 2007 at the Sunfeast Open held in Kolkata, India.
She kept up her good work, reaching the final of the Hansol Korea Open the very next week, before falling to former world No 1 Venus Williams in a three-set final.
After this came a slump that saw her suffer four consecutive first round crashes at the AIG Japan Open, Kremlin Cup, Zurich Open and the Generali Ladies Linz Open.
"This sort of fluctuation in form is normal for any player on the Tour. But the main thing is to have the belief and the conviction that things can be better at the next tournament," Kirilenko said.
It is this confidence level that both she and her coach have firmly believed in. To his credit, Van Harpen has coached several top stars of yesteryear, including the pugnacious Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and the gutsy Patty Schneider.
"But with due respect to all of them, Maria stands out as the best listener. She is so eager to listen to what I have to say to her after each match, after every training session, at any time, on or off the court," Van Harpen said.
"These are the signs of a good student. The coach can be the best, but ultimately it is the player who has to deliver on the court. Winning is an attitude and it can be pretty contagious. I am confident she can keep this winning touch going into the new season," the coach said.
The coach and his pupil returned to their Valencia base to continue their preparations for the new season.
This includes rigorous physical conditioning, an early departure for Down Under to tune up for the Australian Open.
"She has the appetite for playing big games and she has the ability to push her way right through to the top 10 on the WTA Tour," he noted.
"She has made a start here, and I am confident that she will keep climbing steadily up the rankings in the next few weeks. I can only see her progressing through this year, unless of course, there is some sort of injury," Van Harpen added.