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Russian women ready to break title drought

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Aug 24: After a phenomenal year in 2004 when they won three out of the four grand slam tournaments, it looked as if the Russians would take over women's tennis.

That year Anastasia Myskina became the first Russian woman to win a grand slam title when she beat compatriot Elena Dementieva in the French Open final.

Maria Sharapova, then 17, soon followed that by lifting the Wimbledon crown before Svetlana Kuznetsova prevailed over Dementieva in yet another all-Russian final at the US Open.

Many tennis experts predicted that Russians, with four players in the year-end top 10 rankings and almost a dozen in the first 50, would soon monopolise the WTA standings.

Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev boldly predicted a ''Russian tsunami'' would sweep through the women's game.

The threat has failed to materialise, however.

Although Russian women have had some isolated successes, they have now not won a grand slam title for almost two years.

Even reaching a final has been a huge stumbling block since 2004.

Kuznetsova finally broke the jinx at this year's French Open before losing to Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Tarpishchev says there is no need to panic.

''Objectively, (Amelie) Mauresmo, (Kim) Clijsters and Henin -- the three players who head the world rankings -- are there for a reason,'' Tarpishchev, who also heads Russia's Davis and Fed Cup teams, told Reuters in an interview.

''Right now they are more consistent than any of our girls but it's only a matter of time before we start winning again.

RECORD NUMBERS

''Just look at the rankings. We have four players in the top 10 and probably another five or six who are capable of moving there,'' he said.

''So by sheer numbers we have a much better chance of winning any of the major tournaments than any other nation.'' Tarpishchev pointed to various reasons why Russian women had been unable to repeat their 2004 successes.

''Injuries seem to be a part of the game nowadays, just look at (Nadia) Petrova,'' he said.

The 24-year-old Muscovite rose to a career-high number three in the world in May and was considered a top contender at the French Open after winning three consecutive titles on clay at Amelia Island, Charleston and Berlin. Groin and hip injuries saw her chances go up in smoke, however, as she lost in the first round at Roland Garros before withdrawing from Wimbledon the following month.

''Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva also had to deal with various injuries over the last two years,'' Tarpishchev said.

''In addition, each one had some other problems. Sharapova, for example, had to deal with changes to her body as she grew taller.

Kuznetsova had some psychological problems, stemming from that doping case and also dealing with her father.'' Kuznetsova was wrongly accused of a doping violation by a Belgian sports minister on the eve of the 2005 Australian Open.

She said afterwards that the negative publicity had affected her preparations for that season as she struggled to regain her form of the previous year.

The daughter of well-known Olympic cycling coach Alexander Kuznetsov, she also wanted to become more independent and move away from her father's influence.

NERVOUS STRESS

Tarpishchev said Dementieva's main problem has been a lack of variety in her game.

''Her game is becoming a bit one-dimensional and obviously her serve still gives her lots of problems,'' he said. ''All that adds to a lot of nervous stress and causes mental breakdowns.'' Tarpishchev said time was on the Russians' side.

''Most of our top players are much younger than the top three (Mauresmo, Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne) and if you take into account that (Lindsay) Davenport and both of the Williams sisters are near retirement age, then our chances are looking even better.'' Tarpishchev identified Sharapova, Kuznetsova and Petrova as the players most likely to break Russia's title drought.

''All of them have the game and the talent to be a dominant force in women's tennis for many years to come,'' he said.

''Whether or not they are able to achieve that depends solely on their hard work, dedication and mental toughness.

''Some of our other players, especially the younger ones, need a bit more time to mature,'' he added.

''But certainly, I wouldn't be surprised if any of them were to win a grand slam. They all have a chance. In any case, the future of Russian tennis looks as bright as ever.''

REUTERS

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