View Full Version : Ever heard of Natasha Chmyreva?

Dec 5th, 2001, 11:15 AM
She was a very promising player from the USSR in the 1970s. Her career was over before she turned 20. Read the story below if you want to know more.

# # #<br /> Thechampion that tennis lost<br /> <br />The collapse of communism came too late to save Russian tennis prodigy NATALIA CHMYREVA from a tragic fate. NATALIA BYKANOVA tells how the Soviet Union destroyed one of its finest.

“No,” she said the first time I called her. “Let bygones be bygones. Everything is nearly forgotten. I live a very peaceful and quiet life.”<br /> Natalia Chmyreva, the most promising young player of the mid 1970’s, was polite but did not want to talk to the press. She hasn’t given an interview since her 25th birthday, when she quit the sport with not half of her talent realized.<br /> She surrendered the third time I called her. “You can come if you need it so badly”, she said at last.<br /> The former Soviet champion lives in Moscow in a three-room apartment together with her parents and a black cat named Musia. She does not attend any tennis tournaments and even the Kremlin Cup men’s tournament held in Moscow each November fails to draw her attention. “I’m overfed with tennis,” said Natasha “Once it made me the happiest person and once it made me the most miserable.” <br /> “Natasha never fitted into our system,” claims Michael Chesalov, her former hitting partner. “Unlike the disciplined Olga Morozova, Natasha could never keep within the bounds.” In 1980, having won all the winter domestic tournaments, Natasha was expelled from the USSR Federation Cup team and dared to ask the sports bosses why.<br /> “What did you do in Mexico last year?” she heard in reply.<br /> “Just won the World Student Games,” answered the champion.<br /> “What did you do there?” The tone of questioning became threatening. Natasha slammed the door. Her disqualification lasted a whole year. <br /> Few people openly supported Chmyreva at that time. They were afraid that they would lose the opportunity to play abroad if they put in a word for an unwanted person. <br /> Chmyreva was not the only Soviet athlete that was punished with disqualification for spending time with western friends at a western disco. At that time, Russians abroad had to live only in groups, so that everybody was easy to spot. Otherwise one had to write a report detailing where and with whom one spent time.<br /> Natasha never wrote such reports. She only wrote about her victories and impressions of tournaments she participated in.<br /> To enter the journalism department of Moscow University, one had to produce at least five published pieces to the examining commission. Chmyreva became a student in 1975 and graduated in 1985, spending twice as much time as one needed for the degree because of tennis. These ten years included the rise and fall of the great Soviet tennis hope. <br /> The rise of the young Muscovite was as swift as her game. Her mother, Svetlana Sevastianova, chief and coach of the “Dynamo” tennis club in Moscow, and her father Yuri Chmyrev, track and field coach, dreamed of making a world star out of their daughter from the time she was seven. All the family talks centered around Natashas great future. <br /> Svetlana had her own definite approach to her child’s upbringing. “We didn’t want our daughter to have any complexes. She was the best. Why shouldn’t she know it and behave accordingly, like a queen of tennis?” <br /> All this, combined with a lively emotional nature, resulted in some extraordinary gestures from Natasha. “She never chose her words and could thus hurt somebody unconsciously,” remembers a former rival. <br /> Chmyreva could carelessly abuse an umpire, or change her shirt without going to the locker room. She was the first to shock conservative Moscow audiences by playing without a bra and it was Chmyreva who introduced to Russia a new on-court hairstyle: she tied up her loose red hair with a band like an American Indian.<br /> “What a controversial person you are,” Ted Tinling used to say to her, and, fittingly, he always used contrasting colours when making Natasha’s dresses: white and black, pink and black, light blue and black. Natasha keeps them all washed, ironed and untouched in a wardrobe. <br /> Chmyreva brandished an athletic game more often seen in men’s tennis and her rare sense of the ball meant that she had the ability to play any stroke. On hard courts it was practically impossible to stop her. A hurricane. <br /> Natasha was used to risk, since she spent most of her childhood climbing trees and jumping from garage roofs. On court, she always rushed forward, enjoying the taste of risky flight that the serve-volley game gave her. <br /> The famous theoretician of Soviet tennis, Professor Semen Beltis-Geiman, patronized Natasha. To him, Chmyreva was the personification of what he considered the ideal tennis player.<br /> The professor introduced a new scoring system in domestic junior tournaments in the ‘70’s. For the volley or service winner, the umpire would award two points instead of one. That’s how he tried to stimulate an active, aggressive game. For the two years that this system was functioning, it took Natasha not more than several minutes to beat her opponents. <br /> With the rise of Chris Evert, tennis fashion changed totally. Most of the newcomers imitated her style, but not Chmyreva. At a World Team tennis event in 1977, she beat Evert twice, signaling a wider victory for the adventurous player over the mechanical baseliner. In 1975, a 19-year-old Martina Navratilova did not return to Czechoslovakia after an American tour. Natasha always returned. “My parents and friends live in the Soviet Union, I have too many roots in this country,” Chmyreva replied to those who asked her why she didn’t defect. Natasha had more complexes than she thought. <br /> Chmyreva returned to the USSR after that World Team Tennis event in 1977, knowing fairly well that it was her last time in the United States. Preparing for the 1980 Olympic Games, Soviet rulers forbade Soviet athletes from participating in competitions in which athletes from the Republic of South Africa took part. The USSR were afraid that black African nations would boycott the Games. But as it happened, it was Africa that was fully represented in Moscow. The whole civilized world ignored the 22nd century Olympiad because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. <br /> Pre-Olympic prohibition closed the world arena to Soviet players, as practically every tournament had players from South Africa. At the last tournament played by Soviets abroad, the situation turned dramatic. <br /> “I don’t want to recall it. I felt very much ashamed,” said Natasha. Olga Morozova agreed to talk about it. <br /> “It was in Washington in the first round of doubles competition that we had opponents from South Africa. We couldn’t play and had to think of an excuse. So we finally said that Natasha had stomach troubles and skipped the match. In the singles, Natasha had a South African opponent in the second round. She didn’t play. At press conferences we were bombarded with questions and had to lie. Natasha couldn’t stand it and got very nervous because of the necessity to lie all the time.”<br /> When the Iron Curtain slammed down shut behind her, the 18-year-old Chmyreva was ranked 13th in the world. She never got over this step. Having won by that time all the world junior tournaments except the French Open, which she was never sent to, holding two junior Wimbledon crowns and beating half the top 10 world players, she was shot down at the start of her flight and never recovered from the blow. The steeper the flight, the more painful the fall.<br /> Morozova was sceptical when assessing the potential of her former opponent.<br />“Natasha had a lack of self-control and an unbalanced character,” said Olga. “It’s hard for me to say whether she could have achieved more or not. Her character could lead her to failure.”<br /> But the unbalanced Chmyreva at the age of 15 beat the very balanced Morozova right after her great success at Wimbledon ’74, where Olga lost only to Evert in the final. Three years later, Natasha won two matches against Chris, the iron lady of tennis.<br /> Alexander Bogomolov, Natasha’s former mixed partner, thinks differently:<br />“Chmyreva became unbalanced only when she understood she was not allowed to have a perspective of her own, due to the country’s policy. She knew she could achieve more and the impossibility of realizing her emotional and physical talents caused stress.”<br /> Soviet officials never displayed generosity when it came to the money sports stars earned. When, for reaching the semi-final of the Virginia Slims of Chicago in ’77 Natasha earned $5000 prizemoney, sports leaders decided that $280 would be more than enough for her. But it wasn’t the final figure, as they kept back the price of living allowances. As a result she had $180 out of her $5000. Very fair arithmetic, isn’t it?<br /> At that time, any talk of prizemoney was considered disgraceful. Russians were all brought up to false morality. Nowadays we reap the fruits of that idiocy.<br /> But when you have a great aim to sustain you, even money is something you forget about. “It was all the same to me to eat a hamburger for lunch or a good piece of beef. The only real thing was the victory,” explained Natasha. <br /> Although Chmyreva was very excitable in her play, her emotions never spread beyond the tennis court. At school she was known more as the best student in English class: she still knows the language perfectly. <br /> “ It seems to me that sometimes emotional behavior on the court was the result of the great desire of her parents to make her a great player,” said Alexander Bogomolov. “The aim to win by any means was set up before the girl and implemented in her mind too early. Children can’t stand such constant pressure and stresses are inevitable. <br /> At 15, Chmyreva won through the qualifying at Wimbledon but wasn’t included in the main draw of the tournament. Englishmen thought that the All England Championships were not child’s play, even if the child won the right to participate. Times change.<br /> In Melbourne at the 1975 Australian Open, Chmyreva reached the semi-finals and on centre court lost a tough match to Martina Navratilova, who was two years older. Most other tennis stars at the time were of mature age and Natasha looked like an infant prodigy among them. <br /> Natasha first felt herself like a beautiful lady and not just an awkward teen at a White House reception. “In 1976 at the Virginia Slims tournament of the best 16 players,” remembers Natasha, “I was welcomed by President Ford. There were luxurious limousines that took us to the White House and a portrait of Jaqueline Kennedy on the wall. Ford shook me by the hand and asked something about Breshnev.” <br />The Soviet leader preferred hockey to tennis and never invited tennis players to Georgevsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow. <br /> After 1977, Chmyreva trained with all her might so that she would still be in contention for the top after the Moscow games in 1980. In 1978 she won the championships of the USSR, in 1979 the World Student Games. By the time the Moscow games were over, Chmyreva was only 22 and had time again to conquer world tennis. The term of her disqualification had come to an end. <br /> But at that time, Olga Morozova became the head coach of the USSR national team and at the first coaches’ meeting declared: ”I need Chmyreva only as a hitting partner for the young promising players.” So Chmyreva’s career was ended. <br /> Olga dreamed of creating a teenaged national team which would reach the top of world tennis. The dream came true and her players twice played in the final of the Federation Cup. But not Natasha. At that time there was no other way for Soviet tennis players to participate in pro events abroad other than as a member of the Soviet team.<br /> That was the heaviest blow. It took Chmyreva years to overcome the deep stress caused by the failure of all her hopes and the impossibility of self-realization. The former coach of Andrei Chesnokov, Tatyana Naymko, in discussing the way in which the Soviet tennis system stifled individual talents, remarked very correctly, “We’ll never have our own McEnroe in the Soviet Union”. It is a comment pertinent to Chmyreva’s situation. <br /> So Natasha lives with no great interest for life, reading, watching videos, chatting with friends and never asking, “Who won Wimbledon this year?”

the cat
Dec 5th, 2001, 02:44 PM
Monacao, thanks for posting this amazing, yet terribly sad story. It was a phenomanol read! I had read a story about Natasha once before on the internet. So I had some understanding of her situation. It was just terrible how she was handled and ruined by the Soviet system. And for what? Talking to Western people? Or going to a Disco? Amazing! Now, all thse years later, there are several talented and attractive female Russian tennis players making a living and earning fans all around the world. And there are oodles of lovely Russian junior girls ready to make a name for themselves playing tennis on the WTA tour. That's all Natasha ever wanted to do. It's tragic that it never happened for her.

Dec 5th, 2001, 03:54 PM
If you or anybody else has got additional information, please post. I believe it is one of the saddest, yet little known stories in tennis.

Chmyreva reached the Australian Open semifinals in 1975, the US Open quarterfinals in 1976. She played her last tour event in 1977, when she was still 18, reaching the semifinals of the Virginia Slims of Chicago losing to the legendary Margaret Court.

After that Soviet players could not compete on the professional circuit. Only exceptions were the Davis Cup and the Federation Cup. Chmyreva helped the USSR reach the SF in both 1978 and '79. It was amazing considering that was their only international appearance.

Chmyreva was No. 2 in the Soviet Union behind Olga Morozova. They played a memorable match at Wimbledon in 1976, the first all-Soviet match on Centre Court which Morozova won in three sets.

Dec 5th, 2001, 05:53 PM
I'll post translations of pieces about Chmyryova from Olga Morozova's book "Tennis only" later today.. Don't have time to do it right now, sorry.. There is also a little picture of Morozova and Chmyryova ( and, I think, Natasha is really a Big<br />Babe ) in that book, I can scan it, but I don't know where to post it.. I do think, though, that while the career of Chmyryova was somewhat tragic, she herself was mostly to blame. You can't blame the Soviet system for that - at that time it was a given fact that that system existed, just like sun dawn and sun set, you can't change that. So she had her great tennis talent, she had her love to freedom, and she loved her country. She had to sacrifice one of these three, and she chose tennis.

the cat
Dec 5th, 2001, 06:11 PM
Ys, you're not exactly sympathetic. Are you?

Dec 5th, 2001, 06:17 PM
Well, cat, I am sympathetic.. It was not her fault that she was born in the USSR. But demonizing Morozova is what author seems to be doing, and I don't like the idea. We lived in that system, and there was nothing we could do about that except for trying our best in what we were doing. Even the biggest revolutionary of Women's tennis, BJ King adviced Morozova to join Communist Party to lobby interests of Russian women from inside the system, rather than being an outsider. And of course, I believe, things were oversimplified by the author too.

Dec 6th, 2001, 02:35 AM
being an unfulfilled potential is one of my greatest fears in life. that and being old i think are my 2 greatest. such a sad story, i hate to hear of things like this. but i respect her so much for being so strong. olga does seem to be "demonized", was she really a bitch or no? or maybe i had some critical misreads and came out with the wrong concept of her. i know olga m is one of olga p's favorites, therefor it matters to me a lot. pobre natalia <img src="graemlins/sad.gif" border="0" alt="[Sad]" /> but you know what, she did kind of chose it, people change and maybe her own personal reasons kept her from tennis, not just a political system. <img src="confused.gif" border="0">

the cat
Dec 6th, 2001, 11:44 AM
It is a shame Natasha was cruelly penalized for wanting to be a human being, and do normal things!<br />Thus, her career was ruined. And that seems much too high a price to pay for going to a disco and talking with western friends. I wonder what Anna Kournikova thinks about Natasha and her tragic story.

Dec 6th, 2001, 12:35 PM
As much as I liked the story, probably ys is right. You had to live in that system to know what it was like. You could have adapted to it and that's what Morozova did. I mean in the west they were demonizing the USSR the whole time as if they were the only ones to blame, the bad ones all the time.<br />ys: What about that Morozova book? When did it come out? Is it only in Russian? I had heard about it and looked for it on Tverskaia street while in Moscow but could not find it. It was not on sale at the Kremlin Cup either.

Dec 6th, 2001, 01:08 PM
It sounds like Natasha Chmyreva was a forerunner for the likes of Natalia/Natasha Zvereva.

Both Natashas didn't fit in well. <br />Both 'rebelled' in their own sort of way. <br />I guess with the change of time - Zvereva had a little more success at what Chmyreva first attempted to do.

Zvereva ended up challenging the Soviet Tennis Federation on keeping her prizemoney.

Guess both of them were/are free spirits and played inspired tennis.

Olga Morozova - Zvereva was under her in Fed Cup back in the late 80's/early 90's no? <br />I remember John Barret once mentioning how Zvereva would vex Morozova with her constant tactic of drop shots.

<br />I heard Olg M now coaches in UK and her daughther plays for Britain???

Dec 6th, 2001, 04:30 PM
Morozova was the Fed Cup captain for the USSR and moved to the UK in 1991 just before the USSR collapsed. She was never Zvereva's personal coach and I heard they had a bit of a fall out.

Morozova used to work for the LTA but now is only a consultant I think. She does some commentary for NTV. I think her daughter went to college on a scholarship in the States and was actually coached by Stella Sampras at UCLA.

Dec 7th, 2001, 12:40 AM
I got Morozova's book an year ago in Globus bookstore ( my favourite bookstore, right near the KGB building <img src="smile.gif" border="0"> ). There was several other notable tennis books there, which I was silly enough not to buy, like Tarpishev's book. I did buy two books about Kafelnikov though. I'd really like to know more about Soviet tennis, I hope that other prominent figures of Soviet tennis, like Metreveli or Dmitrieva would write something too.

Yes, AFAIK Morozova lives and works in England now, I am not sure whether she works for LTA or some private club. According to the book it is correct what you wrote concerngin her daughter. Also she writes there that her daughter was a promising player, but didn't become a pro because of nagging injuries.

<br />Well, Olga Morozova seems to be very strong person. She wanted to be successful in the sport despite of the system, and apparently she succeeded. In her book she has no problems giving Chmyreva credit, calling her an excellent player with very good technique, great arsenal, very fit, clear Top 10 potemtial, etc. She calls Chmyreva "mentally unbalanced" though.. She explains there what that means.. Nothing in terms of politics or having to face state clerk though. But she says that the story with South African "boycott" could have badly affected Chmyreva. In the book she seems to carefully avoiding showing animousity to anyone at all, including Chmyreva. But one piece, namely the one describing the athmosphere before their Wimbledon Round of 16 match suggests that some kind of animousity did exist.

But the article in this thread does not make much sense to me. It could not be Morozova that would ban Chmyreva from playing, could it? Even if Morozova would not select Chmyreva for national team, there was still Soviet national championships where Chmyreva could have proved that she is the best. According to the book, Chmyreva did play for national team regularly up to 1980. As Morozova once said:"To become the best in our sport it is necessary to sacrifice the best years of one's youth to this dream, reject all temptations of usual life and live only for that dream. But you don't know what is happening in one's soul. Maybe one is happy about curren existance: you are young, rich, travel all over the world, loved<br />by fans. But youth doesn't last long..."

<br />Also, it looked to me that some kind of rivaling clans, groups have always existed in Russian women's tennis. Morozova tells in her book that she also had to switch to some rivaling tennis club in Moscow at some point. So, given that she and Natasha were from different coaches, different clubs, very different characters, we might think that all that could contribute to their relationships becoming more than just rivalry. Perhaps they were a dementieva and a kournikova of that time.<br />We could, for instance, speculate of what was the real reason of Elena Dementieva leaving the Spartak club. That said, that she did it because her coach Islanova was too focused on her son and didn't pay enough attention to other juniors. But, well, Islanova was not the only coach of the club, I believe that Preobrazhenskaya (Anna's coach ) was still there, and Marat left for Spain soon after that and that would give Islanova more time, and some other players (Myskina, right?) stayed at club and managed to develop into great players. So what was the real reason? What is the real reason of Anna-Elena animousity ( sorry, but I just don't buy that it ios just because Anna doesn't talk to other Russian girls ).. I don't know..

Speaking of Dementieva and Kournikova, and different groups in Russian tennis, it seems to me that these two major figures of contemporary Russian tennis are also centres of some certain groups right now. There is a pro-Kournikova group, and also anti-Kournikova group in Russian tennis establishment ( players, coaches, jounalists ), the second one now built around the anti-Anna, namely Elena Dementieva. It is a sad fact, but an interesting phenomenon nonetheless.

One of that pro-Kournikova group seems to be, in fact, Olga Morozova. She is always defending Anna in media at any opportunity ( nothing strange about that, I try to do it here too ), besides for her it admittedly is a kind of family-business-related issue. Up to the end of the last year Morozova was quite complimentary of Dementieva. But as Dementieva started challenging Anna as being country's #1, Morozova, as it seems to me, became a bit skeptical. Like when in the beginning of 2001 one of Dementieva's coaches announced that Elena is ready to become a Top 10 player, and with some work can be Top 5, Morozova said-:"I would not dare to say this kind of things. It is not that simple. But probably he is the greatest coach".

<br />Some related links:

You can buy Morozova's book here:

<a href="http://www.ozon.ru/detail.cfm/ent=2&id=35302" target="_blank">http://www.ozon.ru/detail.cfm/ent=2&id=35302</a>

or see a publisher preview here:

<a href="http://www.vagrius.ru/books/na/moroz_01.shtml" target="_blank">http://www.vagrius.ru/books/na/moroz_01.shtml</a>

or read the whole book in electronic version here:

<a href="http://lib.km.ru/page.asp?id=7681&p=1" target="_blank">http://lib.km.ru/page.asp?id=7681&p=1</a>

To read Morozova-related materials, her interviews or articles by her here:

<a href="http://tennis.km.ru/PersonsMorozova.html" target="_blank">http://tennis.km.ru/PersonsMorozova.html</a> <br /><a href="http://www.7days.ru/w3s.nsf/Archive/2000_242_sport_text_zigmund2.htm" target="_blank">http://www.7days.ru/w3s.nsf/Archive/2000_242_sport_text_zigmund2.htm</a><br /><a href="http://www.7days.ru/w3s.nsf/Archive/2000_291_sport_text_zigmund.html" target="_blank">http://www.7days.ru/w3s.nsf/Archive/2000_291_sport_text_zigmund.html</a><br /><a href="http://www.atrus.ru/mpl/face?id=5378&template_file=print" target="_blank">http://www.atrus.ru/mpl/face?id=5378&template_file=print</a>

Another article, sort of an obituary for another Soviet star - Marina Kroshina:

<a href="http://facts.kiev.ua/July2000/0707/05.htm" target="_blank">http://facts.kiev.ua/July2000/0707/05.htm</a>

Dec 7th, 2001, 01:20 AM
thanks again ys <img src="graemlins/wavey.gif" border="0" alt="[Wavey]" />

the cat
Dec 8th, 2001, 01:55 PM
Ys, thanks for posting all of this great information. I do remeber Olga sayng about Dementieva and Kournikova at the 2000 U.S. Open, something along the lines of, Dementieva doesn't get alot of attention because Kournikova took it. I was shocked to read that. Olga is very frank. And I think she must resent Anna in some way. Maybe it's because of Anna's fame and money. The other Russian girls just don't have the kind of fame and money Anna has. And they never will.

[ December 08, 2001: Message edited by: the cat in the hat ]</p>

Jul 3rd, 2004, 04:59 PM
I remember reading a little article (2-3 lines actually) in Soviet Sport in 1979 (or 80? sometime not long before the Olympics) about Natalia Chmyreva being disqualified for "violation of sports regime" (not sure how to translate "нарушение спортивного режима" correctly). Pretty standard accusation, could mean pretty much anything (about the same time hockey player Boris Aleksandrov was disqualified by federation, for drinking I think).

I didn't know much about Natasha and about tennis in general back then. There was almoust no information about tennis at all.