Latest Russian To Emerge Draws Her Country's Best
BY TOM PERROTTA
January 23, 2007
MELBOURNE, Australia — Russia has produced yet another fine talent in the world of tennis, and on Wednesday she'll take her chances against her country's reigning queen, Maria Sharapova, in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
The 19-year-old Anna Chakvetadze may be a month older than Sharapova, but she's a novice in terms of Grand Slam success, having reached her first major quarterfinal at this event. She'd prefer her run did not end there.
"If I use my game plan, you know, right, then I can win I think," she said after dumping no. 8 seed Patty Schnyder in the fourth round, 6–4, 6–1.
Unlike many of her Russian counterparts — such as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, and Vera Zvonareva, who gave Sharapova a fair challenge on Monday — Chakvetadze is more of a thinker than thumper. She's not too tall (5-foot-7) and her frame is slight. While she hits impressive groundstrokes, she wins because of her speed, anticipation, court positioning, and, on good days, her ability to wait patiently for openings. Tracy Austin, the former world no. 1 who is a commentator for Australian television, said in an interview on Monday that Chakvetadze has much in common with the tour's best tactician, Martina Hingis, minus the volleying expertise.
"It's the way that she uses the court, the way she is always balanced," Austin said. "She doesn't really look rushed."
Chakvetadze was flattered by the comparison but suggested there were some differences between her and Hingis.
"I think I hit the ball a little harder than Martina does," she said. "I'm trying to play smart. It's not all the time I can do that."
Chakvetadze is perhaps quicker around the court, too, and with less effort.
"Some people seem to put a lot of effort into everything they do," Austin said. "Someone like [Jelena] Jankovic, you feel like she is working so hard every point, digging and grinding. Chakvetadze, she just seems to kind of be there."
Since last October, Chakvetadze has won 16 matches (including a walkover against Sharapova in Moscow) and three titles while losing once. In that time, she's beaten Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, Dinara Safina, and Jankovic. But she said her victories over Petrova and Ana Ivanovic, in San Diego last year, convinced her that she could compete against the game's top players. At the moment, she's traveling without a coach, accompanied only by her father, Djambuli.
"He's not like my coach, he's just my dad," she said. "He's helping a little bit. I'm just trying to think by myself."
An injured Sharapova forfeited her match against Chakvetadze in Moscow, but the last time they met before that, in Los Angeles in 2005, Chakvetadze came to tears after letting a winning opportunity slip away in three sets. So far at this year's Australian Open, Sharapova has not overwhelmed her challengers. She nearly lost in the first round to Camille Pin, a pesky scrambler who used 100-degree heat to her advantage. Against Zvonareva, Sharapova almost blew a two-break lead in the second set, but charged back from 0–40 to serve out the match, 7–5, 6–4. If Chakvetadze can stay with Sharapova early, she'll have her chance.
"I'm just trying to stay calm because when I am excited I can't play tennis," she said.
The winner of Sharapova and Chakvetadze will meet the winner of Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis, a rematch of last year's quarterfinal. Clijsters won that one in three sets and then had to retire in the semifinals against Amelie Mauresmo. The 24-year-old Belgian is playing her last Australian Open, and seems in form to win her second major title.