Monte Carlo 1990: Chesnokov wins the title

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

When the red clay dust had finally cleared on Friday night, the semifinal matchups were hardly as glamorous as might have been expected. Leconte, building on his victory over Mancini, had become the story of the tournament locally, by beating Andres Gomez and Horst Skoff. He would play Thomas Muster in one semifinal, Muster having beaten Aguilera. Often when a player pulls a huge upset, he has trouble coming back the next day. True to that form Aguilera had been a shadow of himself after the Edberg victory. The other semifinal matched Sanchez against Andrei Chesnokov, the talented Soviet with the great deadpan sense of humor.

Chesnokov – Chezzy to everyone on tour – could easily have been a stand-up comic. His English was a good deal better than he liked to let on, although he would occasionally end long speeches in English by looking at his companion and saying, “You understand the language I am speaking?”
In any language, Chezzy was funny. But his postmatch interviews in English had become legendary. Chezzy understood English but was not fluent. When someone asked him a question in English he had to translate it to Russian in his head, grasp it, think of the answer in Russian, translate back to English in his head, and then answer. Often this brought on long pauses. He also had developd an instinctive habit of starting his answer to any question with the words “but no … yes.”

A year ago, he had announced that he was tired of turning 90 percent of his money over to the Soviet Tennis Federation. By year’s end, after some lenghty negotiations, Chesnokov had been given permission to keep his prize money, as long as he agreed to play Davis Cup and the Olympics for his country. It was similar to Natalia Zvereva‘s deal. That made him happy.
Chezzy was never very happy with his tennis, though. He was as fast as anyone in the game and, even though he rarely betrayed emotion on the court, an intense competitor. All week Chezzy had been playing down his chances. After he beat Jaime Yzaga in the third, 6-2 6-1, he said he was happy to be in the quarterfinals but didn’t expect to go any farther. When he then whipped Marc Rosset, the six-foot-six-inch Swiss who could easily pass for Harpo Marx, he said he really wasn’t playing well. Someone asked Chezzy how he would get ready for the semifinals. “But no … yes. I go to disco,” Chezzy answered. “Maybe I loosen up that way.”

About the only thing Chezzy loved better than going to a disco was talking about it. If he spent as much time in discos as he claimed, he never would have beaten anyone. On Saturday he beat Sanchez in a strange three-setter. Sanchez dominated the first set, Chezzy the second. When Chezzy went up 5-3 in the third, he looked to be in control. But as he had done against Becker, Sanchez came back, winning three straight games to go up 6-5. Chezzy held serve to force a tiebreak, then surprised Sanchez by playing attacking tennis throughout the tiebreak. He won it 7-2. Chezzy, like most Soviets, is an excellent chess player. He had outthought Sanchez at the end.
Chezzy, of course, said he had no chance in the final. Muster had hammered Leconte; Chezzy didn’t think he could beat him.

“Thomas is playing very, very well,” he said. “But also I think maybe I take him out tonight. Buy him a vodka at disco.”

Chezzy was nowhere near a disco that night. but he played the next day as if he had taken some kind of elixir. Muster dominated the first set, grunting and pounding away on a hot, sunny day made for him. Down 5-3, Chezzy went to the afterburners. He won four straight games to take the set in seventy excruciating minutes, then was flawless the last two sets and won, 7-5 6-3 6-3. When the two-hour-and-forty-minute match ended, Chezzy threw his arms into the air, exhausted and thrilled.

The awards ceremony in Monte Carlo is second only to Wimbledon’s in simplicity and dignity. A representative of the royal family, Prince Albert in recent years, comes on court to present the trophies. No speeches, no endless thanking of sponsors. When the trophy has been presented, the flag of the winner’s country is raised above the scoreboard and his anthem is played. During the Soviet anthem, one of the loveliest in the world, Chezzy stood at attention, not rigid or melodramatic, just respectful. He was clearly moved by the moment. He was not alone.

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