14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal was named Spain’s flagbearer for the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics Games:
Nadal was chosen as the country’s flag bearer for the 2012 London Games, but had to pull out with an injury and was replaced by his friend Pau Gasol.
“For me it was an amazing feeling when I was told I would carry [the flag] in 2012. It was terrible news when I had to pull out of London. I’ve missed Grand Slams and Davis Cups in my career but the toughest thing was the 2012 Olympics.”
Rafa won the gold in Beijing in 2008 and it remains one of the biggest moments of his career:
“To see the Spanish flag being raised to the accompaniment of the national anthem as I stood on the winner’s podium: well, it was one of my life’s proudest moments.”
Stay tuned for more Olympics coverage on Tennis Buzz.
Tokyo 2020 unveiled the official emblems of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Harmonized Chequered Emblems. The logo replaces the first choice which was scrapped last year after the designer was accused of plagiarism.
The new design was selected following an open competition. Four designs were shortlisted out of 14,000 received from all over the world:
— Tokyo 2020 (@Tokyo2020) April 25, 2016
According to its Japanese designer, Asao Tokoro, the design represents different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. It incorporates the message of ‘unity in diversity’.
— Tokyo 2020 (@Tokyo2020) April 25, 2016
Sticking to the iconic green and gold, the athletes will don a green and white striped blazer with prominent national coat of arms on the upper pocket. The names of every Australian gold medallist since 1896 are embroidered in the lining of each blazer.
Tennis has provided Australia with one gold, one silver and four bronze medals. Edwin Flack, the winner of the 800m and 1500m athletics titles in 1896, also played in doubles tennis at those Olympics. His partner was an Englishman, George Robertson and the pair won bronze.
Elizabeth Smylie and Wendy Turnbull won bronze in the women’s doubles at Seoul 1988 and Rachel McQuillan with Nicole Bradtke did likewise at Barcelona 1992. At Athens 2004, Alicia Molik won Australia’s first individual tennis medal, a bronze in the women’s singles.
Stay tuned for more Rio 2016 coverage on Tennis Buzz.
Interview by LANCE!, December 2015, translation by Tennis Buzz:
In his private life, Gustavo Kuerten has plenty of reasons to smile. Less than a month ago, the 3-time Roland Garros champion he started surfing and playing beach tennis again. His disposition for sports is something he cultivates.
In addition to celebrating the 15-year anniversary of his victory of the Masters Cup in Lisbon, on December 4th, a title that propelled a Brazilian to the top of world singles ranking for the first time, the former tennis player celebrates another important victory.
Pain, the cruel sequel of being one of the most successful Brazilian athletes, has decreased considerably in recent months. And it has allowed him to remain closer to the form that led him to be the best in the world for 43 weeks.
At 39, Guga focuses on tennis promotion projects and laments the waste of talent in Brazil, as well as the current political scenario in the country. Yet he asks for optimism.
He talked to LANCE! reporter during the inauguration of a Lacoste store, a brand of which he is an ambassador, in Rio de Janeiro. He talked about his recent projects, recalled his career and kept the characteristic critical spirit of his post-tennis life.
Q: Who is Guga today? What is your routine and your goals?
Tennis is still the foundation of my challenges, but in a different way. Today, my contribution is more than 15 years ago, when I was the best in the world. We have several initiation projects, academies, tournaments and full contact with the development of the sport. That moves me, because there is still much wasted talent in Brazil. The idea is to gather athletes across the country. The number of potential players who can play with a racquet is even less than 5%. It’s difficult to have professionals and amateurs tennis players. This is what most moves me on a daily basis. I enjoy being involved with sports and education. I was raised this way and managed a successful career in this world.
Q: What about your personal life?
In parallel to the projects and partnerships, I spend time with my children and family. My life is much more controlled now than when I was an athlete (laughs). Before, we surfed that wave that was carried by the intensity of the circuit. Today, I can plan the series at sea and surf in accordance with the tide. So I think that my contribution is even higher in order to generate a return with more quality and depth, to be at the right time at the right place and thus promote tennis in an interesting way. It is what has been happening in the last ten years.
Q: What do you not miss at all from your tennis career?
Ah, hotels … packing my suitcase and go to the airport! Yeah, that was the worst part (laughs). Each week, I had it twice. Usually, it was on Sunday evening after a final. I came on the same day and on Monday, had to undo everything in another hotel room. I used to wake up and be confused, thinking that the door was on one side, but was on the other, because I had already changed my room and not remembered. I also went to the wrong floor because I had been on that floor the week before (laughs). This is part of an athlete’s life and for South American tennis player, in particular, it’s very hard. You go out for two or three months, not just a week or two. It’s difficult…
Q: How is your body, particularly the hip, and what hurts the most: the pains of a former athlete today, or the pains from you life as an athlete?
Thank God I got back to surfing three weeks ago. For the first time in a long time I also played beach tennis again. I can hit some balls, but but the dialogue with the court is still complicated. It is somewhat frustrating, because my physical capacity is limited. But, in relation to pain, things are much better. Hopefully, my ability to exercise will gradually expand, because it is what I like to do. I love playing with my kids, running after them. I went from two, three steps to 15. It was a victory! This year, I had a brutal effort. I spent two or three hours doing exercises and physiotherapy to achieve this condition.
Q: Do you still do physical therapy?
Yes, I do constantly. It is a sequel of my career. Recently, I spoke with Andre Agassi and he even asked me about the hip. It’s the price we pay for investing so much and so deeply to reach our limits. The matches are sometimes the easiest part. Practices are very hard. In 1997, when people saw me for the first time, I had already spent thousands of hours on the court making absurd demands on my body. It is also part of understanding this process. The advantage I have today is taking time for things to happen with more tranquility. If every year I improve ten meters in my performance, it’s ok. I will soon be back on court (laughs).
Q: Do you watch Federer these days? What do you remember of the times you faced him?
Federer is an example in all aspects. His tennis skills are absurd. If I had to choose the top ten tennis greats, he would be among them. Among the five, three, two, also. He must be. It is difficult to define who is the best of all time, because it is unfair to compare. But he is the guy who will always be considered one of the greatest. He is a spectacular person, with a special charism for tennis, a unique kindness, decency and exemplary conduct. And this guy was my contemporary! When I see today him, I get the feeling that the circuit is not so far from my path.
Q: You said you used to cling to a greater challenge to overcome something smaller that was in front of you on the courts and have even given this tip to Bellucci. Does it apply to your life, on a daily basis?
A common parameter between my professional life and now is having a positive outlook on all aspects. In tennis, it helped me a lot. We already live through so many complicated situations that if I try to see the bad scenario, an avalanche of pessimism comes over me. It works to always look at things very positively. Even my injury. Looking enthusiastically, with hope, facilitates and reduces the negative impact of situations. There are few cases where we really suffer. Sometimes we mourn for bullshit. The difficult thing is to practice it in everyday life, but it’s what I’ve been trying to do (laughs).
Q: What political unrest the country currently faces makes you reflect?
I am increasingly convinced that the only way for Brazil to reach a transformation is through education. People tend to think that the poorer classes need it, but our main political figures show that the largest fortunes often give the worst examples. Education must rinse the country, with decency and respect. People should understand their responsibilities, not just from the legal aspect. Brazil is increasingly trying to compress society with laws and obligations to escape crime, diversion, corruption, but does not promote good conduct or decent ways of living. For those who believe that you need to deviate from the straight line and create shortcuts to grow, there will be no law in the world that can stop them. And there’s no money in the world that can build projects with all this going on. So, we need to invest in people and think long-term educational projects to have larger ranges of answers.
Q: And the Olympics? It is an answer?
We have a postive time and an interesting results’ prediction. I believe that Brazil will break the record for medals at the Olympics. But it’s always little. Our achievements are small compared to the opportunities that appear. We are limited by a very drastic and dramatic national scene. You can not require that the Olympics work well if the country is not doing well in education, health, infrastructure, security. The basic requirements have to be major changes. The sport, the culture and the arts will suffer the same positive interference, but as long as we stay in this mantra to invent laws, do by force and compel people to follow certain rules, things will not work.
Q: What to do in the current scenario?
You have to guide, teach people how to conduct themselves, to know their rights, obligations and responsibilities. And thus get a more collective benefit. I venture to say that Brazil today is more individualistic than ever before. Previously, the country had no money, but thought more collectively. Today, I see the country is in more favorable economic conditions, but everybody wants it all for himself. We are infected by a serious lack of public services and the examples that come from governments. People see the differences around them and it reflects on their actions. It is sad to see our country suffering all these difficulties and know all the potential that exists in this nation.
Q: After eight years of retirement, you still attract the interests of brands and media. How do explain you are still a target?
It is still an opportunity to convey values and concepts with which I work, such as sports and education. I don’t seek a shortcut, a misconduct that leads me to achieve results without merit. I got where I am with effort and discipline. This is an asset and a fundamental background that I need to share. Brands give me that possibility. Because it’s hard! We paddle, row, row and go nowhere. Receiving a hug is good (laughs). It’s a big challenge. You can not make a transformation alone, it is a privilege to count on big brands and deliver a key message to the country today to cultivate persistence in people. We’ve all tend to get tired with the day to day and want to throw in the towel. But we must persist and endure the almost unbearable situation in which our country is, and move on.
Photo credit: Paulo Sergio/LANCE!Press
Interview by Philippe Maria for l’Equipe, June 6, translation by Tennis Buzz.
Former world number one Steffi Graf, while on a visit to Paris, talks about her difficult year in 1988, when she completed the Grand Slam. An unmatched performance that Serena Williams could achieve this year.
Q: You are in Paris this weekend, did you spend some time at Roland Garros, do you still follow tennis news?
I follow results through various media, but with much hindsight. These last four days, for example, I was in Hamburg for my foundation and I haven’t followed what was going on in Paris.
Q: So we won’t see you playing the Legends tournament anytime soon.
No, I’m very busy elsewhere, and it would not be possible physically. I would have to prepare myself, and I don’t have the time nor the desire to do it.
Q: Back to 1988, how much do you remember about that year?
I especially remember the extreme fatigue I experienced in New York. I felt an expectation around me that was not mine, that became oppressive and simply kept me from focusing on my tournament. It was terrible.
Q: This Grand Slam or rather Golden Grand Slam, since you also won gold at the Seoul Olympics, was not a personal goal?
No! It was absolutely not a goal of mine to complete the Grand Slam. As with other things in life, I am someone who advances step by step. In fact, this notion of Grand Slam fell on me during the Wimbledon tournament. The media no longer stopped talking about that. And it reached its highest point in Flushing Meadows. It was absolutely terrible. Everyone was telling me about that, but I didn’t understand this expectation. You have to remember that I was only nineteen. I was literally exhausted!
Q: Even if you had not had a very difficult tournament to the final…
Yes, but in the final, Gabriela Sabatini gave me trouble and the end of the match was complicated. Mentally and physically, I was at breaking point. I remember that at the end of the match cramps began to arrive.
Q: The Grand Slam was not your personal quest. Nevertheless, what did you feel immediately after your success?
Relief. Immediately, I was not aware of the scope of this feat. After my victory? I could not enjoy. Of course, we did celebrate, but I was especially exhausted, and that lasted several days. I can’t say I was proud of what I had accomplished. I was relieved it was over.
Q: And you had to play the Olympics in Korea.
Yes, but I took a break after the US Open. I continued to work out but I hung up my racket. And finally, I loved these Olympic Games, I had a lot of fun. The atmosphere, the fact of finding myself in a team with all German athletes, it did me a world of good, even if the end of the tournament was tougher. It was refreshing.
Q: You end your year with a defeat in the semifinals at the Masters. This final false note was not too hard to digest?
Absolutely not. The season was over, and it was the most important. Today, players can take breaks in their season. We, we played all year. We stopped late November and we set off again for a new season at the end of December. It was really hard to bear.
Q: Twenty-seven years later, what is your opinion on this year like no other?
I find it incredible that I could cope with all that, with the pressure to complete the Golden Slam! It is the fulfillment of my career. Although I have never played for records or for the number one ranking, I think I can be satisfied with me.
Will Serena Williams complete the calendar Grand Slam this year?
- Yes (80%, 33 Votes)
- No (20%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 41
By Steeve Goldstein, from “World Tennis” – May, 1988
“Would you like tea?” asks Andrei Chesnokov‘s mother with a giggle and a friendly smile. “Or maybe you’d like something stronger?” The visitor considers her request, knowing that tea is not a simple thing when offered in a Soviet household. Tea is fine, he says, and within moments the table is groaning under a burden of bread, caviar, fish, meat, sweet piroshki, pickles and a steaming silver samovar filled with tea.
Across the table, Andrei Chesnokov sits grinning. He has seen it all before. Chesnokov, the prodigal tennis-playing son, is home in Moscow for a change and Valentina Nikolaevna, his vivacious, plump, russet-haired mother, is spoiling “Andrewshka” for all he’s worth; and, of course, his friends.
Completing the foursome is Chesnokov’s girlfriend Natalia Bykova, a member of the Soviet women’s team who’s ranked No. 134 in the world.
Today is a day for friends and celebrations at the modest three-room Chesnokov apartment on Academic Chelomaya Street in the south-west section of the Soviet capital. In a few hours, the tall, Nick Nolteish Chesnokov will go off to a restaurant for another party where friends will wish him luck in his endeavors for the year. Big things are expected of the world’s No. 28 player.
In a few days, it’s back to the courts. Chesnokov usually practices during the winter at the Chaika (Seagull) sports center in the heart of Moscow, a complex with two indoor courts, two outdoor courts and a heated swimming pool. There he is joined by Soviet No. 2 Alexander Volkov (No. 91 in the world), who has come to Moscow from his hometown of Kaliningrad to practice prior to leaving the Soviet Union and joining the Nabisco Grand Prix tour. Together they comprise the best Soviet tennis duo in years, potentially the best ever. Yet, life for them in the Soviet Union is not really comparable to that of the best players in other countries. Life is simple and unglamorous, and tennis fame makes little difference. Socialism is for sportsmen too.
More than 700 miles away, in the city of Minsk, the capital of the Belorussian Republic, Natalia Zvereva, ranked fourteenth in the world, is bashing forehands across the net in the cavernous, hump-backed Palace of Tennis, a half-built tennis complex that is, nevertheless, one of the best in the Soviet Union.
“Molodets,” yells Olga Morozova, meaning “excellent one.” She watches eagerly as the long-legged brunette moves to the ball, pounding it in her best Steffi Graf imitation. Morozova must be thinking, Was it only two years ago that I thought Zvereva might not be strong enough? As coach of the women’s national tennis team, Morozova is paid to make such judgments.
On another court, Natalia Medvedeva, ranked No. 200, is hitting with Larisa Savchenko, No. 17. Morozova has to be careful; when she says “Natasha,” five heads swing in her direction. Only 9 of her 14 charges on the women’s national team are not nicknamed Natasha.
The session in Minsk, an ugly city rebuilt on the ruins of World War II devastation, is one of several sbors (gatherings) that Morozova runs each year for the women’s team. These camps usually last two weeks, including daily morning and afternoon practice sessions preceded by vigorous calisthenics. When the women aren’t on-court, Morozova has them playing indoor soccer or basketball, anything to increase fitness, have fun, and create a feeling of camaraderie.
Zvereva is an established star, while Medvedeva is one of the team’s most exciting prospects. She lives in Kiev and is finishing secondary school. She is coached by her mother, Svetlana, who was one of the best tennis players in the Ukraine. Medvedeva’s brother Andrei, 13, is a member of the Soviet junior team and is her most reliable sparring partner.
The normally effervescent Morozova grows contemplative as she watches Savchenko and Viktoria Milvidskaia, No. 260 right now, but highly touted for the future, hit on the green Bolltex carpet. “If I had Savchenko’s body and Vika’s head I could have won the Grand Slam – twice,” Morozova says. Although she is one of the most famous athletes in the Soviet Union, the 1974 Wimbledon finalist sometimes permits herself to indulge in what-might-have been reveries, but mostly she concentrates on what might be in this, the heyday of Soviet tennis.
The Russians are coming. To the Rolex Orange Bowl. To the French Open. To Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. To the Nabisco Grand Prix and Virginia Slims circuits. They are coming in greater numbers, with more sophisticated skills and better equipment than ever before. They are the progeny of the first tennis renaissance in the Soviet Union since the seventies successes of Morozova and ’73 Wimbledon runner-up Alex Metreveli.
The reason is simple: With its return as a medal sport to Olympic competition after an absence of 64 years, tennis has been elevated in the complicated sports hierarchy of the country. In the Soviet Union the Olympics mean everything. All that glitters is gold, silver and bronze. That is what the Soviets care about most and if there’s a chance to win an Olympic medal, then tennis takes priority with Goskomsport, the state sports committee. But that’s a big “if.”
“If we win medals, we will get everything,” says Morozova. For now, the Soviets are building new courts and renovating others to compensate for a woeful shortage throughout the country. Plans are under way for a national tennis center in Jurmala, a Baltic seaside resort near the Latvian capital of Riga. Because they are fed up with the inferior balls produced by the Red Triangle factory in Leningrad, the Soviets have purchased better ball-making equipment, and have also been producing rackets with equipment bought from Kneissl. There are currently about 200,000 tennis players in the Soviet Union, not many in a country of 290 million people, but more than double the number before tennis went Olympic. For boys, tennis doesn’t begin to approach the popularity of hockey and soccer, but it closely rivals gymnastics and figure skating as a favorite for young girls. Wimbledon has been broadcast four or five hours a day on Soviet television the last two years. Sovetsky Sport, the national sports daily, has increased its coverage of tennis, too.
Among the crop of new, exciting players is Medvedeva, strong and tall with a classic athletic physique, Yelena Brukhovets and Natalia Biletskaya, both barely 16. Among the men, 17-year-old Andrei Cherkasov is a comer and the laconic Volkov is finally showing signs of doing some of the things predicted of him as a talented junior. Leila Meskhi, ranked No. 42, is continuing the tradition of good Georgian players and is probably the best female player to come out of that republic. Her coach and fellow Georgian, Timur Kakulia, should know. A former Davis Cup teammate of Metreveli’s, Kakulia once reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon and is considered one of the country’s all-time best.
Metreveli, by the way, returned to his native Georgia to work in the republic’s sports ministry. Insiders say that powers in the tennis federation at that time didn’t want Metreveli to usurp their authority, and he was never invited to take an active role. The former star then worked as a journalist for the Georgian news agency. Now, friends say, Metreveli is planning to open a tennis “cooperative” club in his native Tbilisi.
The tennis federation did not make the same mistake twice, however. In 1982 Morozova was named coach of the women’s national team. Yet Morozova has refused to bow to sexist images; extremely energetic, Morozova, 39, is the Soviet link with the international world.
“Because I have a name and success in the past, sometimes it helps me get respect,” she says one day while relaxing in her large (by Soviet standards), nicely decorated flat on Ryleyeva Street (Olympic figure skating star Irina Rodnina is a neighbor), within walking distance of the Chaika facility. “But also they are jealous. Some men resent my success. I’m trying to have a system,” she continues. “But it is very difficult. It’s a very individual sport and when you have a team you have to treat everyone individually. I have to have the same idea as the people who first coached them. But I’m working for the big result.”
According to most “knowledgeable” sources emanating from the West, Soviet athletes are either genetically engineered or taken directly from the cradle to sports institutes where they receive rigorous training and frequent injections of hormones and steroids. The athletes and their teams are accorded the reddest of red-carpet treatment and live in dwellings palatial by Soviet standards. Soviet tennis players are the first to laugh at this characterization. If only it were true, especially the housing part, they say.
Under the Soviet system, a tennis player who shows promise is encouraged to attend a special sports clinic after school where he or she comes under the guidance of a regular coach. Eventually, he’s invited to join one of the sports clubs that exist in every city. These clubs bear impressive names like Dynamo, Spartak or Locomotiv, or the famous Central Red Army Club. The clubs have special coaches and plentiful facilities for use by the membership, who pay a nominal fee.
Morozova, who grew up with the Dynamo club, was shaped there by a coach named Nina Teplikova. Childless herself, Teplikova’s young students were her family and she developed a very personal relationship with them. Morozova, who started playing after borrowing a neighbor’s racket and hitting balls against a garage, joined Dynamo when she was 11. Morozova’s daughter Katya, 9, definitely has the right genes. She is already a member at Spartak, where her father, Viktor Rubanov, is a coach.
The clubs run tournaments and from there the players have a chance to join the national team. Morozova won’t take a player until she is 13 or 14, but will make a scouting trip to see talent. There are also special sports boarding schools, where kids live away from home and practice constantly.
“I’m against special schools,” Morozova says firmly. “You should live at home and get that human warmth so it’s not tennis all the time.”
If Morozova is interested in recruiting a young player for her team, she calls the player’s parents and talks to them. It was easy to phone Medvedeva’s mother in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, and obtain permission, because Svetlana Medvedeva coaches her daughter. In Brukhovets’ case, Morozova called her coach first; then her mother came to Moscow from their home in Odessa to talk with Morozova.
“I propose the kind of tournaments she should play and then, if she has good results, she can go on to satellite and junior events in other countries,” Morozova says. “No one has said no.”
It becomes the task of the coach and parent to work out a program of study for the child at school. If Morozova is needed, she will speak to school officials as well.
Home life is sporadic. Some of the players travel quite a bit and have to keep up with their studies on the road. At home, they have daily practice sessions. Zvereva wants to be the best at everything, so she stays up late
even on tour to work on her studies. Medvedeva, on the other hand, just cares about getting by.
Former player and current television commentator Anna Dmitrieva is critical of the Soviet system, saying that children are often selected for special attention at their schools at the premature age of 6 or 7. “This is much too early,” she says. “Usually, it is only the parents who are interested at that time, while the children themselves don’t really get interested until they are 9 or 10. Only about two percent of all children are picked to get coaching, so many children who mature later fall through the system.
“We have a big country,” adds Dmitrieva. “in Czechoslovakia, nothing falls through.”
Andrei Chesnokov‘s parents divorced when he was 3, so Andrei stayed with his mother, an engineer. While still in grammar school, Chesnokov’s class was visited by a tennis coach. He was the first sportsman to come to the school, and the impressionable youngster thought tennis would be a good way to stop his mother from nagging him to go outside and play.
When Chesnokov was 8, his tennis class at school was visited by a local tennis coach named Tatiana Naumko, who picked out the best and took them to nearby Sokolniki Park to play. Naumko found an exceptional prospect in a lanky boy with a laconic manner. By the time Chesnokov was 9 he had won the winter championship in Moscow. At age 10, he went to a “young pioneer” summer camp and idolized a kid four years older who played tennis; that cemented his interest in the game.
Chesnokov progressed steadily and came to a crossroads after winning the national championship at 14. Authorities wanted to take him away from Naumko and put him under male supervision. “We have a lot of women tennis coaches who work with children,” Naumko says. “I think men and women have different qualities and add to each other.”
Yet officials in Soviet tennis circles felt Naumko should give way to a man; that once a certain skill level had been achieved by a male player his coaching should be strictly male. Naumko and Chesnokov stayed firm on their alliance and the tennis federation was forced to relent. Says Chesnokov: “I didn’t think of getting someone else.”
Naumko doesn’t always travel abroad with Chesnokov. That responsibility is shared by different coaches, among them Naumko’s husband and Shamil Tarpischev, coach of the men’s national team. When Chesnokov is in Moscow, he practices nearly every day with Naumko.
Andrei Cherkasov, 17, another bright star on the Soviet horizon, also has a female coach, Natalia Rogova. The 1987 European junior champion, he also was a finalist in the junior U.S. Open and Orange Bowl. Now he is a member of the Soviet Davis Cup team. What makes Cherkasov’s rise even more remarkable is that he comes from the city of Ufa in the Urals, a place with no tennis tradition, where the summers are short and the winters severe. Rogova, who moved to Ufa from Kishinev, discovered Cherkasov and became not only his coach but also – in true Soviet tradition – a second mother.
Why the predominance of women coaches for young boys? Dmitrieva says that there are few men willing to work with children at a beginner’s level. Thus, a strong bond is formed between female coach and male student at an early age. Furthermore, she believes there is no reason to switch to a male coach as the player gets older – as long as he is happy.
“What we really need for our top players is coaching at a very high level,” she says. “But we don’t have any men who are that good, that expert. If we speak of our problems in tennis, this is our biggest problem. Practically speaking, we don’t have a (male) coach who can lead a player to the top.”
Timur Kakulia, who Dmitrieva thinks will one day be a very good men’s coach, acknowledges that coaching is a big problem. “I’m using books by Americans and other top players to teach my kids how to play tennis,” he explains.
Alexander Volkov, who shocked everyone this year by qualifying and then reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon before losing to Anders Jarryd, is now coached by Valeri Shklar. But his first coach was Shklar’s wife, who was a better player than her husband. Now Volkov has become a solid Soviet No. 2 behind Chesnokov. Late in maturing – some Soviet critics used to say he seemed to fall asleep on his feet – Volkov appears to have finally gotten his wake-up call.
Born and raised in Kaliningrad, a western Soviet city on the Baltic Sea near the Polish border, Volkov started to play when he was 10 purely out of curiosity. Though a natural right-hander, Volkov broke his right hand as a boy and began playing left-handed. Until two years ago, he hit two-handed off both wings, a la Gene Mayer.
When at home, Volkov practices with Shklar at the Dynamo club. But he often comes to Moscow to practice, staying either at the Hotel Sport, not far from the Chesnokov home, or at the Chaika sports center hotel, one floor below the swimming pool.
Interviewing Volkov at the “hotel” was a shock. The entrance was little more than a hole in the wall, the rooms were small and cramped, and the place reeked of sweat and grime. It was little more than a youth hostel, a far cry from a sumptuous facility like Van der Meer’s or Bollettieri’s. Perhaps the Olympics and the thought of succeeding in a suddenly reputable sport awakened Volkov’s interest. “It is more attractive now,” he admits. “It’s more popular and there are more possibilities due to it being an Olympic sport. When young people played before they didn’t see any prospects.”
Families sometimes play an important role in the development of Soviet tennis stars, but a majority of players don’t have tennis parents. Medvedeva and Zvereva grew up in tennis families with parents as coaches; so did a new face on the team, Anna Mirza, 17, whose father coached in Moscow. Bykova’s parents were both good players.
Marat Nikolayevich Zverev is a dead ringer for John Updike, but Morozova looks at him and sees a closer resemblance to Peter Graf or Roland Jaeger. “He is my biggest headache in coaching,” says Morozova, describing the tension created when a coach tries to deal with a player whose parent is also a coach, and, therefore, always on the scene. Yes, even in the Soviet Union.
Though Morozova is in charge of the two-week camps, she almost always invites the coaches of some of the players. At the camp in Minsk this group includes Kakulia, who coaches Meskhi; Anatoly Volkov, who has three
Moscow-based players (Svetlana Parkhomenko, ranked No. 117, Bykova and Eugenia Maniukova, No. 291); Anatoly Teterin, who found Savchenko in Lvov; and Sergei Zhitsky, Biletskaya’s coach.
Only one really gets in Morozova’s way – Zverev. Zvereva is impatient and somewhat bored during the camp. She bristles when Morozova attempts to correct mistakes. “I’m used to playing with my coach,” she explains later, referring to her father, who coaches the Central Red Army Club. “He understands my game.”
Zvereva may not appreciate the differences in Soviet tennis since Morozova’s salad days. At that time there was no women’s national coach, and no camps. Now there is more money to support the team and a more organized approach to learning the game and perfecting skills. “The girls now have a more professional approach to practice and work on the court,” says Morozova.
On another level, there are potential problems for Soviet players and the federation that have nothing to do with slice backhands or kick serves.
In the age of glasnost, the fever of “grab-most” has finally infected top-ranked Soviet players. The players’ expenses are covered by the federation, which also doles out a $25 per diem to players on tour. Members of the national team receive what amounts to a monthly salary, ranging from about 150 rubles per month up to 250 for such stars as Zvereva and Chesnokov (about $250 to $430). They also receive bonuses for Davis Cup competition.
The main bone of contention, of course, is that the prize money goes to the federation. Morozova estimates that Savchenko has put more than $200,000 in Soviet coffers and Parkhomenko at least half that. (The two form a top-rated doubles team that last year upset Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.) Zvereva has begun what may be the most profitable longterm fund-raising for the federation with a contribution of about $60,000 in 1987. “We have given the federation more than they have given us,” says Morozova bluntly.
Shortly after losing the final of the New Zealand Open in January, Chesnokov aired views that he has held privately for some time. “I don’t like playing for $25 a day, for sure,” he told reporters. “If I win the U.S. Open, I get just as much as if I lose in the first round. I would like to keep some of the money, everyone would like to get some money, but we can’t,” he added. “Every year we have this problem, butthey say, ‘Maybe next year.’ It’s always next year.”
Next year may have finally arrived, especially with Zvereva putting on the pressure. No Soviet official wants to preside over a high-level sports defection. “I really want a percentage of the prize money,” says Zvereva.
“I’m just 16 but I understand what it means when I’m finished playing tennis. How can I live and work?”
The Soviet tennis federation is all too aware of the problem. With many institutions subject to Mikhail Gorbachev’s sweeping economic reform, it’s likely that the state sports committee may soon have more control over its own purse strings.
“It is really a problem,” admits Victor N. Yanchuk, head of the Soviet tennis federation. “We will come closer to deciding this problem after the Olympics. But it’s unfair for someone to say he wants to keep all the money himself, after not spending a ruble for training, travel or coaching before he became a star.”
Star. Not a word that is thrown around lightly in the Soviet Union. Not a word even heard in the households of Andrei Chesnokov or Natasha Zvereva, but a word that could soon be applied to them or one of their teammates.
The Russians are coming indeed. A tennis revolution has begun in earnest.