#1 - JRL 7208
June 3, 2003
Russians hog the limelight
Russia, it seems, cannot stop producing world-class tennis players. While Spain celebrates the emergence of a raft of brilliant youngsters in the men's game, Russia is creating all the stories in women's tennis.
Nadia Petrova will become the first Russian to appear in the semi-finals of the French Open women's event for 28 years when she faces Kim Clijsters on Thursday.
And the player she beat in the quarter-finals, 18-year-old compatriot Vera Zvonareva, ensured there would be no fifth straight all-Williams Grand Slam final when she beat Venus on Sunday.
Russian tennis fans, though, will be wary of hailing Petrova and Zvonareva as potential Grand Slam champions.
They have seen such promise before, most famously in Anna Kournikova who has not only lost her place in the world's top ten but in her own country's.
Elena Dementieva, too, has flirted with the top echelons of the women's game, only to fall back again alarmingly.
After such disappointments, Petrova and Zvonareva's progress will have been particularly heartening.
Zvonareva, who won her first title in Croatia earlier this year, was fearless in her destruction of third seed Williams.
The teenager was far from intimidated by the imposing reputation of her opponent and said afterwards she had always "believed in my chances".
"If you go on to the court and don't think you can win you won't win," she added confidently.
Petrova, whose father was a hammer thrower and whose mother won bronze at the 4x100 metres relay at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, is yet to win her first title but she will surely not have to wait as long as Kournikova.
The 21-year-old has been hampered by injury and missed most of last season with a foot problem.
Now fully fit, her big-serving game, is beginning to frighten the world's best.
In Paris, she took out three-times champion Monica Seles in the first round before ending the hopes of 2001 winner Jennifer Capriati in the fourth round.
Her tactics of attacking the net behind her fierce serve frustrated Capriati and could prove effective at Wimbledon, where she reached the fourth round in 2001.
And both Petrova and Zvonareva know that if they cannot sustain their form, they are likely to find a queue of compatriots ready to take advantage.
Zvonareva admits that friendly competition between the young Russians only serves to motivate them further.
"We've known each other since we were six or seven," she said.
"Lots of boys and girls have been playing in Russia since seven or eight. I think everyone wants to be the best. People love tennis in Russia right now."
RUSSIA'S TOP TEN
10 Anastasia Myskina (21)
13 Elena Dementieva (21)
20 Elena Bovina (20)
21 Vera Zvonareva (18)
29 Elena Likhovtseva (27)
35 Tatiana Panova (26)
37 Svetlana Kuznetsova (17)
48 Lina Krasnoroutskaya (19)
58 Dinara Safina (17)
76 Nadia Petrova (21)
Age in brackets