|Topic Review (Newest First)|
|Jun 29th, 2008 07:59 AM|
Re: Natalia Zvereva, The Russian Rebel
Nice to read these articles once again.
|Dec 14th, 2007 08:56 AM|
Re: Natalia Zvereva, The Russian Rebel
Thanks for the articles. It just reminds me that Zvereva didn't get enough credit for blazing the trail for other Eastern European players. What she did against the Russian Tennis Federation is monumental.
|Dec 11th, 2007 10:15 PM|
Re: Natalia Zvereva, The Russian Rebel
DADDY'S GIRL NO LONGER by Natalya Bykanova
Article from Australian Tennis Magazine (January 1993)
Women's tennis has its share of notorious tennis fathers. NATALIA ZVEREVA'S was one of them. But the 21-year-old Russian gave her father the boot. Now she's kicking on. "I miss my mother and my native city Minsk," Natalia Zvereva told me. No mention of her father, Marat Zverev, whom she always referred to as her one and only coach.
The family idyll lasted until 1991. At Birmingham that year, Natasha appeared not with her father but with her boyfriend Dmitry Tatur, a former pupil of the same Minsk tennis club where Natalia learned the game. Marat never approved of his daughter's choice.
"Shallow person," was his angry comment on Dmitry and he did his best to keep his daughter away from the handsome young man. The father failed and soon failed twice, as Natalia hired a new coach, Juan Nunez, who had previously worked with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Zvereva thus became the first top woman player to escape her father's influence. The escape has turned into an impressive comeback for the young woman who was French Open finalist at 17. She won three Grand Slam doubles titles in 1992 (Wimbledon and the French and US Opens) with Gigi Fernandez to take her total to seven. She was a quarterfinalist in singles at the French Open and Wimbledon. She climbed as high as No.1 in the world in doubles.
Natalia's battle for independence from her father was inevitable. Even as a young child she expressed and stuck to her point of view. "My first independent step happened at school," recalls Natasha. "I was asked to run on the May 1 celebrations. But I never ran well and feared I would finish last in front of the whole stadium. So my answer was no. They kept trying to convince me but I didn't come. When holidays were over and everybody returned toschool, the class blamed me for letting them down. But I never promised anything, just told them I wouldn't come. And I didn't.
"A few years later, while still a kid, the whole world witnessed her rebel character. In 1989 Zvereva publicly accused the Soviet Sports Committee of robbing its leading athletes. Only after her stand did other Soviet sports stars raise their voices for justice as well. Zvereva's fight was strongly supported, if not inspired, by her father. "Is it fair," Marat would often ask me, "to be paid the same for the best and worst performance?" For reaching the French Open singles final in 1988, where she defeated Martina Navratilova among others. Natasha received $900, the same as she would have got for losing in the first round. Father and daughter stuck together and got what they wanted: total independence from the country's sports ministry and the right to keep Zvereva's prize-money. But the triumph came at a price. "The fight against the system overshadowed the tennis," maintains Olga Morozova, the only Soviet Wimbledon finalist and later coach of the national women's team. "Natasha lost her balance and concentration. She was no longer as deeply involved in tennis as at 17, when she broke into the top 10.
"Natasha never accused her father of being behind her drop in the rankings from to 27 in 1989, at least not publicly. She still nominates her peak 1988 year with her father as the best time of her career. "I didn't even notice me being a top player," she says. "The hard work seemed to be a joy. Everything came so naturally. I hit madly and every ball was in. No other thing mattered to me at that time but tennis.
"Morozova dreamed of seeing Natasha among the three queens of tennis: Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Natalia Zvereva. The first half of 1989 had Graf at No.1, Sabatini at No.3, and Zvereva, the youngest of the trio, at No.5.
But by the end of the year, Zvereva became not a symbol of Soviet tennis might but a symbol of the emerging perestroika. As the father-daughter union turned into the "us-against-the-world" partnership, Natasha received bad press from some journalists, who accusing her of being selfish and ungrateful for demanding to keep her prizemoney. People back at the club in Minsk wished for her to lose. In truth, Zvereva has never had much time for journalists, but at this time father and daughter even stopped talking to Morozova, associating the national team coach with the regime. "Marat didn't allow anyone near her," recalls Morozova. "Natasha stopped listening to my advice, though before, I never had to repeat anything on the court.
Father and daughter started training on a half-court, hitting balls at slow pace and concentrating on variety: topspin, slice, dropshots, half-volleys. The game, limited to half a court, required thorough footwork, accuracy and ball sense. Zverev taught his daughter to attune herself to the game, her body, the racquet, the ball. His theory could only be shared by his closest relative and he was lucky that the most gifted pupil he ever got happened to be his own daughter. She was the only one who could be made to listen. And she listened.
Zvereva was first spotted as a great talent when she was 12-years-old. She drove opponents crazy with deep topspin and unpredictable dropshots. Also noticeable was that she was inseparable from her father; a graceful kid with a wood racquet and a grey-haired man always in the same ski wool cap and down-at-heel trainers. Zverev never cared about his appearance and even when he had enough money to buy something more presentable, made Natasha blush at his choice. His main requirement of clothing was that it be comfortable to play tennis in. No one ever remembers seeing Marat wear a tie. He never minded the style in which he lived either, preferring close to court barracks to a five-star hotel. A coach at the Minsk Central Army Club for more than 30 years, Zverev acquired a reputation as a strict, unsociable man. Looking at his screwed-up blue eyes, you could never know whether he was being serious or ironic.
On the court Marat was a strict teacher and punished Natasha for mistakes without mercy. "He could order her to hit against the wall for three hours," recalls Marina Selikhova, an opponent from junior days. "Marat was rude to Natasha, though I never saw him striking her. But he was strict and unpredictable in anger. She feared him.
"There is a tragic explanation for Marat's strictness with his daughter. Years before, his eldest child, a son, died when still a boy. He was a talented athlete, his father's hope. In a gym he climbed a basketball board, smiling and mimicking to his Dad. In Russia there are many such indoor halls used for tennis, basketball, volleyball and handball. Many kids climb basketball boards. But none died doing it.
Marat's son was the only one. Somehow, the board became unhinged and buried the boy under its weight.When Natasha started to travel from one junior tournament to another, her father was always there, never losing sight of her. The memory of his son's death haunted him. "My father is always with me," Natasha told me some time back. "Most of the time I spend touring with him. Dad always teaches me what to do, how to live. Sometimes it's hard to bear."
At the time she was growing from the Daddy's Girl into the independent young lady. But the transformation wasn't yet complete. "I don't know what I am saying now," she added with a smile. "Probably I will regret it very soon."
Apart from Zverev's inflexible character, his method of teaching also came under criticism at the Minsk Club. Charged with teaching outdated methods and techniques, Marat was dismissed as coach in the early 1980's. Natasha was also immediately expelled from the club. To have his daughter continue her training, Marat applied for the only vacancy available at the club: decorator". As decorator, Marat went on coaching Natasha. His wage was 90 roubles a month, less than half a coach's salary at that time. The disgrace lasted two years and Natasha shared all the bitterness of being an unwanted person. It showed in her shy, complex manner off court. Natasha never spoke much and when invited to join a social gathering, would rarely come. She feared being a burden, an unwelcome guest. The girl preferred to spend time reading alone and was the only young player to take a book with her wherever she went. For her, books were the best company; they couldn't hurt her with words or deeds. "Even when Natasha decided to join us, she would sit most of the time silent," remembers Selikhova.
When she was 12, the authorities noticed this quiet, industrious girl and selected her to the USSR national junior team. She received her first set of Western-made tennis clothes. That was nine years ago. Today Zvereva is a millionaire, with career earnings approaching $2 million. "I dream about a black Mercedes convertible," she told me recently, "but in Florida this color will be too hot."
It is in Florida that Natalia now trains, sharing a coach and apartment with Dutch pro Brenda Schultz. Coach Nunez, who led Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to her French Open win in 1989, was introduced to Natasha by American millionaire Jim Levy, her former sponsor. "He is the right person I need," says Natasha. "I found the balance in my game and life and the taste to fight. It's right here. "To understand what she means one should compare her love in 1992 with the previous year, when she reached rock bottom by losing to American Linda Harvey-Wild in the second round at Wimbledon. "I am pretty satisfied with what I have," were her words of more than a year ago. "At the time, she could have easily experienced doubt and regret about her decision to leave her father and hire Nunez as coach. But the decision was made and the second chain fell. Zvereva had recognized herself as an individual. At 20 she was ready to make her own decisions and be her own master. "She is a strong person," boyfriend Dmitry was the first to admit. Her father would be the last. That is why there was no going back to her father, even though Natasha was burdened by her worst ranking in four years.
The first vindication of her decision came at last Year's French Open, where she battled with Graf for three sets in the quarter-finals, and won the doubles with Gigi Fernandez. At Wimbledon she did the same - last eight in singles (with wins over Conchita Martinez, Lori McNeil and Zina Garrison) and a second Wimbledon doubles crown. That was something to be proud of; Zvereva had never before reached two Grand Slam quarter-finals in a year and never won two Grand Slams in a season. Not bad for someone whose independence is just one year old.
|Dec 11th, 2007 10:09 PM|
Re: Natalia Zvereva, The Russian Rebel
Soviet tennis ace Natalia Zvereva told her country’s sports officials she wants to keep her winnings and buy a Benz
By Dave Scheiber
Sports Illustrated May 1, 1989 pgs. 24-26
This wasn’t your average breakfast hour at the North Redington Beach Hilton. Tourists with Mickey Mouse T-shirts and bleary- eyed businessmen pressed against a railing 10 feet above a stretch of West Florida sand, while another handful of early risers gazed down at the commotion from the balconies of their hotel rooms.
It was just past 7 a.m. on April 19, and 18- year- old Natalia Zvereva of the Soviet Union, the eighth- ranked woman tennis player in the world, was ready for another round of television interviews. Three… two… one: Now she was speaking live via satellite to Good Morning America’s Charles Gibson, retelling a tale that had thrust glasnost with an American twist onto the nightly news.
All this attention was focused on Zvereva, who possesses one of the most formidable backhands in the game, because she had shown the Soviet Tennis Federation the back of her hand. The week before, she had announced that she would challenge her country’s system of withholding prize money from its athletes by starting to keep the lion’s share of her winnings and that she had signed a contract with ProServ, the Washington, D.C.- based sports -management firm. She backed up her words by pocketing a $10,000 paycheck two weeks ago at a tournament in Amelia Island and another $2,300 last week at the Eckerd Open in Largo. In the past she had made do with a weekly allowance of about $800. What’s a motherland to do?
And what’s Zvereva going to do with all that money? She’s a voracious reader of romance novels and a faithful viewer of music videos. "If I’m boring from the other shows, I just turn on MTV," she says in a lapse of her usually fluent English. But what Zvereva really likes is cars, and although she doesn’t have a license and is still learning to drive, she has her heart set on one in particular. "A big red Mercedes- Benz,’ she says. "A 500 SEL. It’s the best car there is."
And Zvereva could easily afford such a car, if she finally gets to retain her earnings- which has not been the case with most of the $500,000 she has amassed since turning pro last May. "The other players on tour get to keep their money," she says. "They’re working. It’s not just a hobby. It’s professional tennis. So if you win a lot, you have to have your financial reward."
Whether she will get her wish should be decided this week in Moscow, where the Zvereva contingent was scheduled to meet with tennis federation officials about her decision. She may not receive a warm reception. Victor Galaev, general director of Sovintersport, which oversees the commercialization of Soviet athletes abroad and is pretty money itself, said as much last week in New York. " The tennis players are fully supported," said Galaev. "They get coaches, doctors, everything. Our tennis players didn’t win a bronze medal (in Seoul), in spite of their promise. Unfortunately, they didn’t manage to fulfill their obligations."
And Zvereva won’t be alone in her attack on the system. After winning a tournament and $28,000 in Nice on Sunday, Andrei Chesnokov, the U.S.S.R.’s top male player, announced that he, too, wanted to pocket his prize money. Chesnokov, 23, said he had been permitted to keep "maybe $10,000 to $12,000" of the $500,000 he has won since turning pro in 1984. I won $59,000 at Orlando last year, I got $496 from the federation," he said. "Can you believe that- $496?" Chesnokov, who is No. 30 in the computer, wasn’t optimistic, although he intended to "talk to some people" this week. "It’s impossible to talk to the federation," he said. "There’s only one way to do it. Zvereva found the way."
Zvereva indicated the direction she was heading during a tournament in Hilton Head, S.C., on April 9. Moments after losing to Steffi Graf in the final, she joined NBC commentator Bud Collins in front of a camera on the court and stole the show by boldly lamenting her lack of financial incentives. "It’s just a piece of paper," she told Collins, holding the runner- up check for $24,000. The crowd cheered wildly. Stunned, Collins said nothing.
Three days later, at Amelia Island, Zvereva was upset by Regina Rajchrtova, who is ranked No.1333. Afterward, Zvereva complained that she "didn’t feel good motivation to win" because she wasn’t allowed to retain her winnings. "Maybe I need a therapist," she said.
She went on to say that she had a different remedy for her unhappiness and that she would reveal her "secret" the next week in Largo. Defection rumors swirled about the grounds. To quash the speculation, Zvereva decided to reveal her secret at Amelia on April 14. She said that she had recently signed with ProServ and would begin receiving her prize money directly. She would continue to pay a percentage of her earnings to the Soviet federation and to represent her country in international play, but she would now call the financial shots.
Two days later, Zvereva and Larisa Savchenko defeated Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver to win the doubles title. The victory was especially sweet because it came on Zvereva’s 18th birthday. Her present was a check for $10,650. During the awards ceremony, the spectators sang Happy Birthday. Tournament officials gave her a cake and a bouquet of ballons, which Zvereva gave to a fan to release into the sky.
When Zvereva arrived in Largo, the press was waiting. At first she held her own, patiently stating her case to NBC Nightly News and the New York Times after a 6-3, 6-2 opening round victory over Kate Gompert. However, after granting an interview to Good Morning America the next day, she appeared drained and overwhelmed. Finally, when it came time that afternoon for a photo session with SI, Zvereva broke into tears and walked away. A tour official consoled her with small talk of rock music and Disney World. Zvereva eventually regained her grip and consented to pose briefly.
The pressure was still mounting by Thursday’s second- round match. Zvereva, seeded second, looked shaky from the start and lost 6-4, 6-1 to Petra Langrova, a qualifier. Afterward, Zvereva said, "I knew I was going to lose. It’s been a pretty tough week."
The subplot in this play- for- pay showdown is an escalating cold war between ProServ and its archival, the International Management Group. ProServ represented Sovintersport and the Soviet Tennis Federation for three years. But in March the Soviets switched to IMG, giving it the right to manage all its tennis players.
IMG insisted that its contract with the tennis federation gives it exclusive rights to all the players from the U.S.S.R., including Zvereva.
"The Soviets told us that our contract stands as far as they're concerned," says Stephanie Tolleson, IMG’s vice- president for tennis. "That contract says specifically that we manage all Soviet tennis players, men and women, outside the Soviet Union. They’re saying Zvereva was outside of her rights in signing with ProServ."
But Sara Fornaciari, Zvereva’s agent at ProServ, has a different legal opinion. She maintains that under U.S. and international law, an individual has the right to make his or her contract. "Our position and Natalia’s position is that she didn’t consent to be included in that group," says Fornaciari.
The federation will have the final say. If it enforces the IMG contract or forbids Zvereva from keeping her prize money, there may not be much left for ProServ to dispute. Zvereva has said that if an agreement can’t be reached with Soviet officials, she’ll quit tennis and earn a living elsewhere.
Last week, she seemed optimistic. First Olga Morozova, the Soviet women’s coach, phoned from the U.S.S.R. to give her the green light to enter the European Open in Geneva on May 22 and the French Open one week later. Then came a call from someone with the federation. Zvereva suggested that the official had said her situation could be worked out, but she refused to be specific. " It will be very difficult, but there’s a chance," said Zvereva.
How much of her winnings does she think she will be allowed to keep?
" I believe it will be more than a half," she said.
Such a thought would have been unheard of not long ago in the Soviet Union. For one thing, the U.S.S.R. didn’t produce any players good enough to make big money. But with the addition of tennis to the Olympics, the Soviets have started to make strides in developing stars in the sport. Now, two other women from the U.S.S.R. Savchenko and Leila Meshki, are among the top 40, and four men- Chesnokov, Andrei Chersakov, Alexander Volkov and Andres Vysand- are ranked in the top 100.
Then there’s Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, which created the atmosphere in which a teenager can publicly challenge national authority- and possibly get away with it. "If she had said what she did five years ago, that’s the end of her," says Martina Navratilova, who defected from Czechoslovakia in 1975. "She’d never go out (of the U.S.S.R.) again."
However Zvereva fares with the Soviet Tennis Federation, she has plenty of support. Her mother, Nina, and her 22-year- old brother, Jaroslav, are pulling for her back home in Minsk.
Her father, Marat, who’s also her coach, has been at her side through most of the controversy. "I don’t think there’s anything out of line with her request," he said.
Savchenko has yet to ask for her prize money, preferring to wait and see what happens this week in Moscow. Does she regard her countrywoman as brave?
"Maybe so," she says.
|Dec 11th, 2007 10:05 PM|
Natalia Zvereva, The Russian Rebel
Profile - Natalia Zvereva, The Russian Rebel
(Tennis Magazine, August 1990)
Do you want what I want?
Desire not a thing.
I hunger after independence,
Lengthen freedom's ring
-From Metallica's song "Eye of the Beholder"
Natalia Zvereva, soft-spoken and conservatively coifed, seems a most unlikely zealot of heavy metal music. In the music's angry frenetic strains, though, this Russian tennis star hears far more than mere cacophony.
"I think when I am listening to Metallica, it gives me an energy," she says of a favorite group. "When I'm listening to it, sometimes I put my finger on the Walkman, and imagine some energy wave or shock wave goes through my body, to my soul, to my brain.
Sometimes, when I have a bad spirit, when I'm feeling lonely, I listen to it." Sometimes when you're a 19-year-old girl standing up to the Soviet Union, that's all you can do.
"Natalia is a pioneer in our country, for the tennis players and for the other athletes," says Soviet national tennis coach Olga Morozova. "She was the first one who did it." What Zvereva did was give the communists who govern Soviet sports a course in capitalism. Incentive-based wages. Play for pay. It was not a course those graying, dark-suited bureaucrats wanted to take.
Eighteen months later, Soviet players no longer must send all their winnings home to Mother Russia. Zvereva herself owns a red Mercedes, a wallet fat with credit cards and enough rubles to send your average Russian reeling. But her ranking, which plunged from No. 8 to No. 27 during those months of official threats and fist-pounding negotiations, has not recovered fully. Nor has her spirit. Being a hero is hard.
To outsiders it appeared that Zvereva launched her individual revolution in April 1989, at the Family Circle Magazine Cup in South Carolina. There, during the post-final award ceremony, she made an impromptu protest on national TV. "This $24,000," she said, raising her runner-up check overhead, "it's not money, just a paper." But watching from the stands, her father Marat Zverev, knew the fought had begun years before. "I've always had a rough, primitive sense of what's fair and unfair," says Marat, a kindly 58-year-old whose eyes always seem to smile.
Up flew his internal red flag when in 1986 Zvereva won her first paychecks on the pro circuit - and Soviet officials snatched them away sooner than the ink of her endorsement signature could dry. But, as Marat knew, the Soviet tennis federation had supplied Zvereva with equipment, court time, coaching and travel expenses and a stipend that ranged, as she became increasingly successful, from about $300 to $900 a week. what's more, Marat says, "I didn't know what could be done about it, what the rules and the law were."
Marat was no stranger to rules, however, nor to breaking them. as a boy in the Stalin era, he was rebellious and uncontrollable. During the four years he lived at an army school while World War II was raging (his father died in the fighting), he would disappear for three or four months at a time, until the director finally booted him at age 15. A few years later, the Kiev institute for Physical Education expelled him, too. Marat finally graduated from a similar institute in Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, and settled into a junior tennis coaching position at the Central Red Army Club. At age 8, Zvereva began tagging along to his workouts, but only after Marat won several arguments with his wife, Nina, a former volleyball player who didn't want her daughter's life centered around sport.
Marat passed onto Zvereva the craftiness that had kept him among the top 15 Soviet players in the early 1960s. "His style was quite different than the others," says Yuri Aivazian, a Soviet sports official. "More slices, more placement, like her. I saw her in a tournament when she was 12, and I was impressed that she played a smart game. Not just hitting the ball like the others."
It was a good time to be an official-impressing 12-year-old. Tennis, about to become an Olympic sport, had been placed on the priority list of Goskomsport, the national sports bureaucracy. Money was put into training jjuniors with promise, and the best were sent onto the pro tour. By the end of 1987 the world's No. 19 was Natalia Zvereva, a spunky 16-year-old whose droll brand of humor made her a press conference favorite. During one laugh-in, a reporter asked what she planned to do with her prize money. "Why?" parried Zvereva. "Do you want a loan?"
At the 1988 French Open Zvereva beat Martina Navratilova on her way to the final. "Not my idea of glasnost," huffed Navratilova, and Marat seconded the notation when Soviet officials took nearly all of his daughter's $123,000 runner-up check. By this time, Zvereva had donated more than $500,000 to the federation's coffers. "She won such a big sum of money, and it wasn't fair," Marat says. "That's when I went back and raised my voice. I got a very hard response. It was the first time I realized what a totalitarian government meant."
Still, he sensed a softening in some of the bureaucrats, and as glasnost, perestroika and Zvereva's success continued on their timely convergence, the two began testing the system. Zvereva - along with Andrei Chesnokov, the Soviet Union's top male player - made tentative complaints to the press, cumulating in her paperwaving protest at the Family Circle Cup. But it was five days later, at the Amelia Island tournament, that Zvereva checkmated the Soviet Union. There she called a press conference to announce that she'd signed a contract with the management agency ProServ - a move designed to seize control of her prize money.
"The officials and the national sports committee were shocked," says Aivazian, for Zvereva had defied a Soviet law barring athletes from signing their own management contracts. No longer a voiceless name covered by the contract between the Soviet Tennis Federation and another company, International Management Group (IMG), Zvereva now could call her own shots. "IMG had singed a contract to represent the federation; ProServ signed a contract to represent Natalia," says Sara Fornaciari, Zvereva's ProServ agent.
ProServ than fanned the publicity flames to protect Zvereva, who in less than two weeks would return to the Soviet Union and an uncertain fate. "I hope it will all be over soon," an exhausted Zvereva said in one of several TV appearances. The media eagerly told Zvereva's tale, delighted by this comely capitalist who claimed she couldn't wait to buy a red Mercedes.
That line was not playing well in Red Square. She was crucified in the Soviet press for being selfish and greedy. But for Zvereva, it was simple self-interest. "In Russia, when you stop playing tennis there is nothing for you in the future. Nothing. Here in the U.S., you can go do whatever, especially when you have the name like Chris [Evert]. She's welcome to do broadcasting, exhibitions, everything. In the future for me, there is nothing."
When father and daughter finally returned to the Soviet Union, officials detained them and pressured Zvereva to renounce the ProServ contract. Zvereva was also told to endorse her most recent prize money checks, totaling $12,950. "I just didn't sign them," she says. "I don't know what happened to those checks."
The Soviet officials soon realized they could only quash Zvereva's capitalist coup by keeping her within the country, they only place their laws applied. Such a move, though, would not lend itself to the good game of glasnost. Thus began months of endless meetings among Marat, ProServ and the Soviet sports officials to negotiate the percentage of prize money Zvereva would keep and the percentage she would give to the tennis federation in the form of a tax.
As tournaments approached, the government frequently used its control over Zvereva's passport as an intimidation tactic. "They always tried to propose something just before she was leaving," says Severine Chinsky, part of the ProServ negotiation team. "There was always this threat that she wouldn't be able to leave."
Actually, Zvereva never was barred from competing, but during the remainder of 1989 she became a master of the tank. That is, she purposely stank, losing in the first or second round of six out of 10 tournaments. "In the U.S., if a person isn't paid for his work as he deserves, he won't work," she says. "If I'm not getting paid, I'm not going to work. No way."
While the prize money percentage was resolved in October (she kept approximately 65 per cent of her 1989 earnings), the trauma dragged into the spring of 1990 as Marat and ProServ began lobbying for a complete break from the tennis federation. This would give Zvereva, rather than the federation, the last word on her tournament schedule, endorsements, exhibitions and means of travel.
"It's really hard," said Zvereva in February, weary from living in an uneasy limbo. "I think nobody from the American players has this problem, this kind of pressure. I just want to be like them."
During those months, Zvereva shrouded herself from reporters with sullen evasiveness. Says Bud Collins, who had held the microphone during Zvereva's $24,000 protest at the Family Circle Cup: "I've never been able to have a decent conversation about it with her since. I asked her about it months later, nobody was around - she burst into tears." "She's had to harden herself because of all the pressure," explains ProServ's Betsy Brown, who works closely with Zvereva. "And it was tremendous, from both the government and the press."
Days before she was scheduled to leave for a tournament in February, Goskomsport officials met with Marat and Zvereva for one last shot at keeping her within the federation. They threatened she would be dropped from the Olympic and Federation Cup teams. "Marat said, 'No way,' recalls ProServ's Chinsky. "Natalia didn't say a word."
Back in Minsk for a month preceding the French Open, Zvereva and her father lived in an unfamiliar tranquility. They were not summoned to Moscow for a meeting. They were not told that Zvereva might be kept home from Paris. Says Brown: "When [the sports officials] stop fighting, it generally means we've won."
Now existing in a separate peace from the Soviet tennis federation, Zvereva and Marat pay and play their own way on the pro tour. "They can still come up with something new against us," Marat says. "I'm waiting for something to happen. Not something in particular, but I try to be ready.
Meanwhile, Zvereva's public displays of dejection bespeak the wounds rendered during her revolution for one. While her play has nearly recovered - two tournament wins in 1990 boosted her to No. 12 - she reveals only a shade of the spirit that once lent star quality to Soviet tennis.
At this year's Family Circle Cup in April, where the fight had gone public one year earlier, Zvereva sullenly deflected questions about her prize money situation. Later that week though, she talked to Tennis about her longest year. Asked if she'd been frightened to return to the Soviet Union after signing the ProServ contract, Zvereva paused, then laughed self-consciously. "Don't choke me up," she said, wiping teary eyes. "It's been a long time, and I kind of forgot about those bad things."
When you're battle-weary at age 19, sometimes that's all you can do.