Russians finish the year with three majors

Updated: November 13, 2004, 12:54 AM ET
By Miki Turner | Special to ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- With five of the top eight players in this week's $3 million WTA Championships hailing from the land of Lenin and Kournikova, Tour organizers should consider renaming this season-ending tournament the Russian Open.

Frankly, I am tired of answering that question. 'How do you feel about the Russians? What do you think about the Russians?' You know, I think they are doing great.
Serena Williams

Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva and Vera Zvonareva might not have names that roll off the tongue, but collectively they've been rolling over opponents this season. They hold three of the four Grand Slam titles; occupy the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and 11th sports in the rankings; and arguably play some of the most exciting tennis on the tour.

The impact the Russians have had on the tour this year is both amazing and somewhat perplexing.

"I don't know. I mean, it's been pretty remarkable," Davenport said. "Obviously, even last year you could tell that there were a lot of good consistent players coming up and then three of them broke through, which was hard to do. I think that they've all motivated each other in the last two years to get better and better.

"But, I mean to have five of the eight here is an incredible feat and well deserved," she said.

For others, the buzz about the Russian players is becoming increasingly annoying.

When asked if she were surprised by their sudden dominance, Williams said: "No, I am not. Frankly, I am tired of answering that question. 'How do you feel about the Russians? What do you think about the Russians?' You know, I think they are doing great. And I really commend anyone to do so well from one country that is not the richest of countries like America or England. So, I think it is awesome."

Even some of the Russian players don't quite know how to explain their success.

"I would never think that we're going to take three Grand Slam titles," said Dementieva, 23. "And I mean we had a lot of good players but not on this high a level. So it's very gratifying for everybody to see so many Russians qualifying for the Championships in L.A."

Sharapova, perhaps the best known of the bunch, attributes their combined success to their work ethic.

"I think we've all wanted to be the best and we've worked hard for what we have achieved," she said. "We've always dreamed of being the best."

At 17, Sharapova is not only one of the best but also inarguably the most marketable of the quintet. With her cover girl looks and booming groundstrokes, she's already poised to become the next big thing in women's tennis. More important, perhaps, is the fact that she's inspiring a whole new generation of Russian girls to pick up rackets.

"Since Maria, there's been more interest (in the game)," Kuznetsova, 19, said. "A lot of girls were jealous -- maybe she didn't do anything for Russia, but I think she brings people to tennis. She brings more girls to try to do this."

While the Russians may soon find strength in numbers, they also find comfort in each other. On the court it might be every girl for herself, but off the court they're as tight as Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.

"We are close, yes," said Myskina, 23, the French Open champion. "We have unity on and off the court. We enjoy each other's company. We're good friends and good competitors."

Added Zvonareva, 20: "Well, you know, of course, we talk Russian to each other and it makes it much easier on the tour, and it helps us. Plus we have a competition between each other and it helps us to raise our level. We all support each other."

That camaraderie will be key as they go up against each other in this tournament and face the world in the Fed Cup two weeks from now. The question is, how much better will they get? And will they be even more dominant in the future?

"I hope so," Kuznetsova said. "Before everybody was saying the Russians are good, but they aren't good enough. They are not good in Grand Slams. Now we've won three Grand Slams and next year we have to see how long we can handle to be on the top. They have to get there, but it is harder to keep your level, you know, and go higher. So, we have all been challenged.

"I mean, it's the best thing in the world," she continued. "It's what you live for, what you work for. I mean, everybody has a different point in their life for what they live (for). But for me, I am in the moment of my life. I live (for) tennis. I enjoy doing this. And, it's my goal, you know. If I wouldn't have this goal, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't play. I wouldn't be on the top. So, that is why I am here."

Miki Turner, a regular contributor to Page 3, is covering the WTA Tour Championships for ESPN.com. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.

ALSO SEE