Thursday, May 17, 2012


(sixteenth in a series)

To the naked eye, Anastasia Myskina never looked like a player who'd make history.

She was skinny and gangly, giving her a somewhat awkward appearance. Her emotions often got the best of her on court, usually leading to angry, screaming outbursts (usually directed at her coach in the stands). She was streaky to the nth degree. She sometimes overscheduled, and often her results showed it. In the age of "Big Babe Tennis," Myskina's game wasn't a powerful one, and she had no overwhelming weapon. She was almost like a Frankenstein's creature stitched together with the various neuroses of all sorts of other players deemed underachievers or to be too-loftily ranked through the years. But the Russian, never scary and imposing, was clever and quick (both on and off court). She had a good, reliable backhand. And she knew how to seize a moment, too. She may not have looked like the prototype for a "champion," but in her heart, she was. Myskina had the ability to get on a roll in any given event, elevating her game to a level where she could beat almost anyone put in front of her, even if she had to first save match point to do it.

In the early 2000's, after Anna Kournikova had made the first inroads in the late 1990's, the Russians were just beginning to (over)populate the WTA tour. But, by 2004, the questions about how long the Hordettes were going to be defined by their "quantity" rather than "quality" were beginning to resonate. In 2003, two Russians -- Myskina and Elena Dementieva -- had finished in the Top 10 for the first time ever. But no Russian woman had yet won a slam title, and none from the current generation had even managed to reach a major final.

But in one two-week stretch at Roland Garros in the spring of '04, all those thoughts became mere footnotes to the actual making of tennis history. By the time Myskina had left Paris that June, the stage had been set for Russia's epic tennis revolution. Nothing would ever be the same.

June 7, 2004 - "Anastasia the Great"

Just call her Czarina... Czarina Myskina.

After seemingly being forever fated to be "near" great, Anastasia Myskina seized upon the stumbles of nearly every other top player in women's tennis and walked away from Roland Garros with a cup (coupe?) full of newfound respect. Of course, as it became increasingly clear that the Russian Horde had descended upon Paris in full force, how could Miss Opportunity have been anything other than a Muscovite? Fittingly, though, in perhaps the purest display of the true depth of the Horde's talent pool, the final two members standing weren't named Anna or Maria (and neither had ever set up camp in Bradenton, Florida, either).

For the past two seasons, tennis brainstormers had wondered if any, besides maybe the Supernova (or possibly the immensely talented, but brain-locking and injury-prone, Nadia Petrova), had the tennis goods to win a grand slam singles crown. After all, all had had their individual flaws somewhat exposed over time. In the case of Myskina and counterpart Elena Dementieva, it was any combination of an inability to control nerves and/or emotions, inconsistency, a deficiency of power or (in Dementieva's special case) an horrendous serve with a knack for bringing even a diehard fan to tears. But at Roland Garros '04, none of it mattered. Well, not until the very end, anyway.

In Paris, the carcasses of talented players fell in both Russians' paths for two full weeks. Whether it be the result of the falls of the excuse-making Venus Williams & Jennifer Capriati, cramping Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, brittle-minded Amelie Mauresmo or aching-bodied Lindsay Davenport, the path to the first all-Russian slam final opened like a gaping hole between the center and guard that the running back burst through for a TD (if desired, insert your own soccer -- err, I mean "football" -- reference here). The semifinals consisted of seeds numbered 6, 7, 9 & 14. Be careful, don't hurt yourself trying to remember the last time anything similar occurred on the women's side of a slam (even at Wimbledon in '99, when Alexandra Stevenson and Mirjana Lucic made the final four, the likes of Davenport and Graf held true to form). Needless to say, both Myskina and Dementieva were fortunate. But that doesn't take anything away from the accomplishment of a pair of 22-year olds who grew up playing each other at the Spartak Club in Moscow -- sometimes for a pizza prize -- meeting head-on in another of the seemingly endless all-SOMETHING (Belgian, Williams, American, etc.) finals in recent WTA slam history.

Myskina has surely earned her full "Great" title. Of course, if the foundation of that notion was solely based on what happened in Paris it might not be enough to convince everyone. With the likes of Venus & Capriati (and, in the final, Dementieva, who went quietly via a 6-1/6-2 score) falling over themselves to commit enough unforced errors to present victories on a silver-plated platter, Myskina didn't often have to extend herself over the fortnight. It's easier to look at her recent past to prove that her Roland Garros title wasn't a fluke. From 2002-04, she hasn't just been the most undervalued Russian, but also the most overlooked talent in all of women's tennis. The top-ranked of the Horde since after the 2002 US Open, Myskina's quietly won eight career titles (4 in 2003, 2 this year), a Tier I in Moscow (the first Russian to do so) and knocked off both #1 Justine Henin-Hardenne and #2 Kim Clijsters in winning a title in Leipzig last season (the first woman to defeat both the top two players in the world in the same European tour event since 1979).

Still, since she was just 1-4 at Roland Garros before her 7-match run this year, a title was unforeseen. Myskina deserves major credit for her ability to "play smart." She didn't have too many bad patches (she squeaked past Alicia Molik in the 1st, and was match point down vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 4th), and was able to prevent her emotions from boiling over. The tactic enabled her opponents to do just enough to lose. If there's an art to that style of play, the Czarina of Russian tennis just perfected it.

Of course, Backspin wishes she'd had to dig out a great performance in the final to put all questionable glances to rest. It was almost a disappointment that the rest of the world didn't get to see any of her brand of entertaining histrionics when things start to go slightly bad. But she remained subdued for a greater goal... so all is forgiven.

But what of Dementieva, "Punch-Drunk" the former? Well, she'd had a mediocre-at-best season prior to Paris (she was 2-4 in the EuroClay season going into RG), and was having a hard time finding the form to match her three-title 2003 success even with the addition of Russia's previously most successful player, Olga Morozova, as her coach. Punch-Sober wasn't exactly clear-headed the past two weeks, but she managed to overcome herself (her 10 double faults in the final equaled her tournament match average) most of the time. Punch-Drunk wouldn't have been able to do that. Of that, everyone can be certain.

There are still more Hordettes elbowing for attention (Miss Kirilenko, you have a phone call from a Miss Sharapova -- she wants her bevy of photographers back), but Myskina's breakthrough victory means the Russians are no longer stuck with talking about their "potential" and answering questions about "quantity over quality." The second Russian slam title will surely be tougher (vs. a fully loaded field) than Myskina's, but Paris will force an ongoing evaluation to rule whether this is the start of something big and not just one of the more surprising endings to a slam in recent memory. The new shiny hardware in the Czarina's trophy case means if there IS to be a "Russian Era" it has now officially begun, but... nous verrons ce que nous verrons (we shall see we shall see).

Oh, and one more thing...

Come now, you know we couldn't experience a Czarina championship without a brief trip into "The Mind of Myskina." Leave it to Anastasia to never exit the stage without gracing us with something to make Backspin smile. Her pre-match meal? Hamburgers! And what did she say to coach Jens Gerlach immediately after she experienced the biggest moment of her career? "Sorry for everything."

As usual with Myskina, she ultimately made the trip worth the price of admission. I'd been hoping something historic would occur in Paris to help commemorate this, the 100th edition of Backspin. Thanks to Anastasia's Whopper (Le Whopper?)... it was at least a memorable two weeks in the city of lights

Myskina's Roland Garros win opened the floodgates for the Hordettes' success. In 2004, the rise of the Russians epitomized the notion that athletes from one sports generation -- often from the same nation -- tend to push each other to greater success by achieving it themselves. It happened with the American men -- Chang, then Sampras, Courier and Agassi -- in the early 1990's, and the same can be said of the Russian women in the 2000's.

One breakthrough followed another. Myskina won Roland Garros, then Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon a month later. By the end of the summer, a second all-Russian slam final produced a third Hordette slam winner in Svetlana Kuznetsova (def. Dementieva) at the U.S. Open. Sharapova then won the WTA Championships and, to end the season, Team Russia won its first Fed Cup crown. Four Russians finished the year ranked in the Top 6, and the nation has been a consistent force in the sport ever since. The nation was crowned Fed Cup champion four times in five years between 2004-08. Two players from the generation (Sharapova and Dinara Safina) eventually rose to #1 in the world, and at least two Hordettes have finished in the year-end Top 10 every season since Myskina and Dementieva first did it in '03. Since Kournikova first broke into the group in 1998, nine different Russian women have reached the Top 10 (two others during the Soviet era, including two-time slam runner-up Olga Morozova in the 1970's, had made it that high while representing the U.S.S.R.), more than all but one (USA) nation in WTA history.

Myskina's legacy will likely be to be the "difficult" answer to the trivia question about who was the FIRST female Russian slam winner but, really, it's fitting that she was her nation's maiden women's champion. Slightly older than most of her countrywomen, she always served as something of a "mother figure" for the Russian players who'd gotten their start at the famed Spartak Club in Moscow. Before Kuznetsova later assumed a similar role on the Russian Fed Cup team, Myskina was the unquestioned "leader" of the (non-Sharapova) Hordette players. In the 2004 Fed Cup final, it was Myskina who played a part in all three of the points (2 in singles, 1 in doubles in the 3-2 score) the team won against France to claim its first FC title. She even posted the best career mark (4-0) of all her countrywomen in the tour's (so far) twenty-six all-Russian tournament singles final matchups.

"Czarina Myskina," as she became to known in Backspin, won her first WTA tour singles title after competing in just her second career main draw event in 1999. She was the first Russian woman to win the Kremlin Cup title in Moscow in '03, and is still the only to successfully defend (2004, defeating Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva and Lindsay Davenport en route) her crown. In Leipzig in 2003, she defeated both the world #1 (Kim Clijsters) and #2 (Justine-Hardenne) to win the title, becoming the first player to do so at a non-slam event in Europe in fourteen years. Myskina was the first Russian woman to reach the Top 5 and Top 3, and to reach #2 (Sept. '04), though she never got to #1. While Sharapova eventually passed her to lead all Hordettes in slam and overall titles, Myskina still ranks high in the Russian record books with her ten career titles on three different surfaces (she failed in her three final attempts to get the grasscourt title that would have completed a Career Surface Slam).

But she never could -- nor did she ever -- top her 2004 season.

Myskina finished the year at #3, with a RG and Fed Cup title in hand. But she came up just short of having her career year being even more rapturous than it nonetheless turned out anyway. After defeating the likes of Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Dementieva in Paris (and becoming the first woman since Margaret Court in '62 to win in Paris after facing a match point, as she did in the 4th Round against Kuznetsova), she went to San Diego that summer and notched victories over Sharapova and Zvonareva, the latter of which after saving nine match points and winning at 17-15 3rd set tie-break, finally winning her own fifth MP. But she lost in the final to Davenport. Myskina very nearly made big news in the '04 WTA Championships, as well. In Round Robin play, she defeated Davenport and Dementieva, but lost to Serena Williams after holding a 6-4/3-0 lead, and being up a break at 3-2 in the 3rd set. She reached the semifinals, but lost a three-setter to Sharapova (after having been 3-0 against her in three previous meetings that season), who'd eventually defeat an injured Serena in the final and become THE Russian tennis headline-grabber of the year.

But that was nothing compared to what happened -- and almost happened -- at the Olympics in Athens.

It was there that Henin-Hardenne got back at Anastasia for swiping away her Roland Garros crown "while her back was turned."

You see, Henin had been the defending champ in Paris heading into the '04 event one year after being crowned a grand slam winner there for the first time. But that was the season in which the Belgian was dealing with fatigue and illness that would eventually be diagnosed as cytomegalovirus. Having won three of the past four slams, Henin attempted to defend her RG crown, only to lose in the 2nd Round, the earliest exit in Paris by a women's #1 seed in the history of the tournament. She wouldn't see action again until late in the summer in Athens where, wouldn't you know it, she met up with her RG title inheritor, Myskina, in the semifinals. The Russian won the 1st set, and led 4-2 and 5-3 in the 2nd, only to see Henin storm back to force a 3rd. Myskina led 5-1 in the final set, and twice served to reach the Gold Medal Match (giving her a shot to add another "first Russian woman to..." honor to her career resume). But Henin completed a ridiculous comeback, and then went on to win Gold.

Myskina, still crushed by her defeat, went on to lose the Bronze match to Alicia Molik and went home with no medals at all. Four years later in Beijing, Dementieva became the first Russian woman to claim Olympic tennis Gold, as Hordettes completed a sweep of the medal stand, with Safina taking Silver and Zvonareva the Bronze. Dementieva, 0-3 in slam finals during her career, claimed her Gold Medal run as the greatest moment of her career, and maintained that her medal was better than any slam trophy ever could have been. She never got to put that statement to the test, though, as she retired at the end of the 2010 season, generally acknowedged as one of the best (and quite possibly THE best) women's player to never win a slam title.

Meanwhile, the magnitude of the Belgian's accomplishment in Athens would be realized later as, after winning Gold after a nearly three-month absence, her illness limited her to just four more matches the remainder of the season. In my "Decade's Best" series, I named it as the WTA's top overall performance (and don't be surprised to see a further Capsulized reminder of that in a few months time... hint, hint). Henin would go on to win three Roland Garros titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007; while Myskina only won three more matches in Paris for the remainder of her career.

It was Myskina's lack of follow-up success to her '04 season that allows her to be listed with the "surprises" and "flukes" when it comes to past slam champs. Surely, her results in Paris for her career lend some credence to the notion. She played the tournament just eight times, with her single title far outdistancing her other results: one Round of 16, one 2nd Round and five 1st Round exits. She produced five quarterfinal results at the other three slams, but never advanced beyond that point elsewhere. She'll always be overlooked and underrated because of that. But Myskina will always have a spot in the Heart of Backspin. Even before her RG title run, back when I jokingly responded to her sometimes which-way-it-up? results by calling her "Anastasia the (Near) Great," I thought she was "a hoot" (my words in early '04... I know, I found it in the archives). Her on-court theatrics and unintentionally charming off-court comments made her, I thought, one of the most entertaining players on tour. "Entertaining," I said, "and, not to be overlooked, a pretty damn good player, too."

She also courted a bit of off-court controversy in her WTA lifetime. She sued over the publication in a Russian magazine of two topless shot taken of her during a GQ photoshoot in 2002. She lost the suit, as she had signed over the rights to the photos, though a question about whether she actually understood what she was signing remained. Also, she was often irritated by the stir created by her seemingly posing nude atop a horse, always making a point to note that she wasn't actually naked during the photoshoot (and that the shot was altered to make it appear as if she was). It all served to contribute to the unique WTA entity that was the Czarina.

But it's the winking at the wonderfully nutty moments that Myskina had a tendency to naturally provide that I'll remember most. I even had a phrase for those flights of fancy that occurred as the Russian sometimes made more "sense" with her endearing, sometimes-broken English than she probably even realized. I called it a trip into "The Mind of Myskina," and I chronicled some of her best comments whenever they happened to occur. It was an oddly entertaining exercise long before the term "Jankovician" entered the Backspin lexicon.

[And, yes, in case you were wondering, Myskina and the equally entertaining -- in so many similar ways, in fact -- Jelena Jankovic DID meet during their careers. Three times, in fact. Fittingly, all three matches went to three sets, including their first match-up in 2002 when Myskina was ranked #33 and the 17-year old Serb was at #328. They also met in the 3rd Round at Wimbledon in 2005. Naturally, the match had started with the Russian taking the 1st set at love, then grabbing a 6-0/5-3 lead and holding a match point, only to see Jankovic storm back to take a 5-1 3rd set advantage, but lose a 10-8 deciding stanza. Myskina went 9-for-33 in break point attempts, but still won in 2:43. It was a match that, at the time, I thought qualified for both "Choke" AND "Comeback" of the season honors. Apparently, the Tennis Gods just couldn't resist getting Their jollies by giving us that one... even if They knew that no one would realize the oddball significance of the pairing until years later.]

In putting together this Time Capsule, I've come to realize how much I miss Myskina. Except for a short entry in the "Decade's Best" series (she came in at #24), I haven't really written about Myskina for five years. So, I'm going to take one more "honorary M.O.M." timeout, just for old time's sake:

-- After a longer-than-it-should-have been match: "I played really well that 1st set, but then I got a little bored. I was thinking, 'When is this match going to finish?,' and the next thing I knew I was down 4-love."

-- "We can't play 365 days a year. We're human beings and can get tired or have a bad day. We can't just go on the court and be a robot."

-- On accepting sympathy from players after returning from an injury: "All of them smile to me. So it's nice. But you never know what they say behind your back.''

-- After being challenged by a lesser-ranked opponent: "I must admit, she surprised me a lot by playing such good tennis today."

-- "My coach even said that I played well. That's really new."

And, my personal favorite, Myskina's various comments during a long grand slam rain delay:

-- (After spending her time eating three doughnuts and playing card games) "I just want a sweet right now, something sweet, because the weather NOT sweet."

-- (When asked if they had doughnuts in Russia) "Yes, yes. Not anymore upstairs, because I ate all of them."

-- (About playing a card game called "Stupid," or maybe not. It was hard to tell.) "Who lost, THEY called stupid. But they cheat, for sure. I have to find out how."

-- (The next day, after still more card games) "I won 50 bucks! I'm really happy."

Of course, Myskina's didn't always charm. She often spoke her mind, especially about the Sharapova family. During the 2004 Fed Cup title run, Myskina laid down an ultimatum concerning her future participation with Team Russia. If Sharapova was on the team, Myskina said, then she wouldn't be on it with her. Myskina spoke out about Yuri Sharapov's behavior, and Sharapova's now-legendary aloofness (she was never part of the close-knit Spartak Russians, having come to America to train at a young age), and stated that she wouldn't be on the team with a player she didn't respect. She backed up her animosity on the court in '04, too, going 3-0 against Sharapova during the 17-year old's breakout season before losing that three-setter in the semis of the WTA Championships.

Ever honest, Myskina's words even foreshadowed the end of her career in 2007. After having ended her '06 early and missed much of '07 after having foot surgery, she returned to Roland Garros after having had a fine time during her period away from the tour. She admitted that she didn't really know why she came back. "I had a great life,'' Myskina said following her 6-1/6-0 1st Round loss to Meghann Shaughnessy. "I don't know why I'm here.'' She had difficulty with her movement because of the foot injury, and her usual defensive skills were absent. "You can see that I'm moving like a big cow now,'' Myskina said. "I can't push, you know, from my foot, from the left foot like I used to. I can't run.''

(Of course, in a footnote to the whole Myskina/Sharapova thing, Sharapova is famously known for once describing her own movement on red clay as resembling "a cow on ice." Did she intentionally-or-not "borrow" and "enhance" Myskina's quote for her own devices? Probably not, but Sharapova has a notoriously long memory when it comes to slights and criticism from other players... so nothing can ever be totally certain.)

In Moscow during her '07 recovery, Myskina discovered a life away from the WTA. And she liked it. "I had a soccer show on television. I have no idea about soccer, but now I'm kind of into that,'' she said. She also did some tennis commentary. "I had the great life these five months in Moscow,'' Myskina said. "So I know how it's going to be after tennis. And it's fine with me.''

As it turned out, Myskina couldn't wait. She never played another match after that Roland Garros loss. Her exit, quiet as it was, quite possibly marked the beginning of the end of the Russian tennis revolution. Once the maiden Hordette slam winner left the stage, others from her generation surpassed her, if not in ultimate (i.e. slam-winning) accomplishments, then in reputation and lingering memory. Myskina won't likely ever be a Hall of Famer, but at least two (and maybe three) of her countrywomen from the same tennis generation will be. Time has served to marginalize Myskina's historical significance. And as time has moved on, maybe so has the dominant Russian era that her slam win in Paris kicked off. But it was a great ride.

The early 2000's generational wave of Russian women was transformative. They won six slam crowns and produced twelve other major runners-up. But while Sharapova and Safina reached the top of the rankings, none ever finished as year-end #1. And while Dementieva, Safina and Zvonareva reached a total of seven finals, they went 0-7, with the latter two becoming more known for their emotional collapses in such big matches as for their ability to put themselves into the situation in the first place. Kuznetsova had maybe the most potential, talent-wise, of the entire group. But the free-spirited Sveta has sometimes seemed disinterested on court over the years, and is constantly searching for the "right" coach to get the most out of her. At this point, even if she manages to win a third slam, she'll be viewed as something of an underachiever, though her two slam wins and Fed Cup heroics will get her into the HOF. Safina's back issues mean her career may already be over, and Zvonareva is showing the signs of a player ready to soon drop from relevance. Since the multi-headed breakthrough of '04, no WTA season has been completed in which a nation other than Russia has produced more singles finalists. But from a high of 38 (with 18 titles) in '08, Hordettes filled just 14 (w/ 7 titles) in '11, the group's worst numbers since 2002. The streak of two Top 10ers in the year-end rankings might end in '12, with only Sharapova a lock and second half surges needing to come from either the enigmatic Kuznetsova, fading Zvonareva or underachieving youngster Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to secure a second spot.

Suddenly, the old "quantity over quality" argument is back in the discussion when it comes to the Hordettes. Really, only Sharapova survives (at the moment) as a legit slam contender. The group has claimed just one slam crown since Sharapova's pre-shoulder surgery Australian Open title in 2008. So far, no member of the next generation has shown similar major-winning ability. They're a talented lot, and the Russian junior stars keep coming in mini-waves, but many are even sometimes more emotionally destructive on court than even Safina or Zvonareva. Additionally, some of the better younger players -- such as Ksenia Pervak, now playing for Kazakhstan -- are deciding to represent other nations with smaller talent pools, allowing themselves more opportunities for support and/or spots on Fed Cup or Olympic rosters. Pavlyuchenkova, now 20, would seem to have the most ability of the new generation. She was once as dominant in junior play as any girl ever was, but fitness and coaching questions (a year or so ago she remarked about how reporters tell her that her game should fit a certain surface, but seemed to have no idea of how to take advantage of the notion, or even if she knew if they were onto something) have caused her to take a step back over the past year. Over the next few years, the fate of the NextGen Hordettes might rest on her shoulders.

But even if the follow-up generation becomes a mere footnote to Russian and WTA tennis history, the Hordettes will always have 2004 in Paris... and then London and New York, too.

Myskina never played after 2007, but she never officially retired, either. As she'll only turn 31 in 2012, a tennis comeback (and rumblings of such a thing do bubble up occasionally with her name attached) isn't inconceivable. But it's not likely, either. She's given birth to two boys since she left the sport, Zhenya (2008) and Georgii (2010). And she's enjoying the life of a Russian television personality, as her penchant for entertainingly speaking her mind has turned out to serve her quite well.

So, while Myskina's legacy might full well boil down to being the answer to a trivia question when things are all said and done, she was really more than that. She isn't the most famous of the Russian champions, but she WAS the first. She's not the GREATEST Hordette, either, but she was probably Backspin's favorite. And, at least around here, that will always mean something.

1974 Wimbledon - Chris Evert def. Olga Morozova
1974 US Open - Chris Evert def. Olga Morozova
2004 Roland Garros - Anastasia Myskina def. Elena Dementieva
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova def. Serena Williams
2004 US Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Elena Dementieva
2006 Roland Garros - Justine Henin-Hardenne def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2006 US Open - Maria Sharapova def. Justine Henin-Hardenne
2007 Australian Open - Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova
2007 US Open - Justine Henin def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2008 Australian Open - Maria Sharapova def. Ana Ivanovic
2008 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic def. Dinara Safina
2009 Australian - Serena Williams def. Dinara Safina
2009 Roland Garros - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Dinara Safina
2010 Wimbledon - Serena Williams def. Vera Zvonareva
2010 US Open - Kim Clijsters def. Vera Zvonareva
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova def. Maria Sharapova
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka def. Maria Sharapova

1988 Czechoslovakia def. USSR 2-1
1990 United States def. USSR 2-1
1999 United States def. Russia 4-1
2001 Belgium def. Russia 2-1
2004 Russia def. France 3-2
2005 Russia def. France 3-2
2007 Russia def. Italy 4-0
2008 Russia def. Spain 4-0
2011 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2

1971 Evonne Goolagong, AUS
1974 Chris Evert, USA
1976 Sue Barker, GBR
1977 Mima Jausovec, SLO
1978 Virginia Ruzici, ROU
1987 Steffi Graf, GER
1989 Arantxa Sanchez, ESP
1990 Monica Seles, YUG
1997 Iva Majoli, CRO
2003 Justine Henin, BEL
2004 Anastasia Myskina, RUS
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Li Na, CHN

2008 Elena Dementieva
2000 Elena Dementieva
2008 Dinara Safina
2008 Vera Zvonareva
[4th Place]
2004 Anastasia Myskina
ALSO: Ex-USSR "Unified Team" duo Natasha Zvereva & Leila Meskhi won 1992 Doubles Bronze

25 Maria Sharapova (2003-12)*
16 Elena Dementieva (2003-10)
13 Svetlana Kuznetsova (2002-10)*
12 Vera Zvonareva (2003-11)*
12 Dinara Safina (2002-09)*
10 Nadia Petrova (2005-11)*
10 Anastasia Myskina (1999-05)
9 Olga Morozova (1969-75)
8 Anna Chakvetadze (2006-10)*
* - active

12 - Elena Dementieva (6-6)
8 - Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-4)
7 - Dinara Safina (3-4)
5 - Maria Sharapova (3-2)
4 - Anastasia Myskina (4-0)
3 - Elena Vesnina (0-3)

All for now.

1987 Roland Garros (Graf/Navratilova), 1987 Roland Garros (Lendl/Wilander), 1987 Wimbledon (Navratilova-Graf/Cash-Lendl), 1989 Roland Garros (Sanchez Vicario-Graf/Chang-Edberg), 1989 Wimbledon (Graf-Navratilova/Becker-Edberg), 1990 Roland Garros (Seles-Graf/Gomez-Agassi), 1990 Wimbledon (Navratilova/Garrison), 1990 Wimbledon (Edberg/Becker), 1991 Roland Garros (Seles/Sanchez-Vicario), 1991 U.S. Open (Connors), 1993 Australian Open (Seles-Graf/Courier-Edberg), 1993 Wimbledon (Graf/Novotna), 2003 & '05 U.S. Open (Henin-Clijsters/Clijsters-Pierce), 2006 U.S. Open (Day-by-Day & Sharapova-Henin), 2001-09 Australian Open (Dokic Down Under)

NEXT UP: Backspin memories of 2004 continue...


Blogger Zidane said...

Thanks for this! I started following tennis in August 2004 (dear Federer), so for me, Myskina had always been a relevant and meaningful player. This new perspective from someone who followed her career prior to 2004 is quite interesting. Plus, this recap of Russian successes remind us that Russian tennis is not doing as good as it used to lately. Still hoping for a Kuznet resurgence in the upcoming years.

Oh, and French comment eight years later, in case you intend to reuse it. "Nous verrons ce que nous verrons" is technically correct, but it reads and sounds odd. We would rather say or write "On verra ce qu'on verra." "On" is like a "we", but used and conjugated as a "he/she/it", unlike "nous", the real "we". This explains why "verrons" becomes "verra" if conjugated with "on".

Thu May 17, 09:48:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Oh, thank you for this, Todd! The wonderful photos, too. I miss the Czarina; there was really no one else like her (though you-know-who does come close). She also reminded me a bit of Safina, with her ability to say crazy-wonderful things after a match.

When I think of Myskina, I hold an on-court image of her as having just a bundle of arms and legs, reaching all all over the place. She did look a bit awkward, but she got the job done.

Fri May 18, 11:15:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


The thing with Kuznetsova, even for this coming RG... you could predict she'll lose in the 1st or 2nd Round, or say she'll catch fire and reach the final (and maybe even win slam #3) and legitimately be able come up with valid reasons for both realities. I was going to do a Capsule on Kuznetsova's '04 U.S. Open win later this summer, but I've decided to hold off on it (going with the '04 Olympics instead) to give her another year before trying to come to some sort of idea where her career might actually be headed over the next few years.

See, I always knew I'd regret dropping that French class in college after half a semester. The professor said, "You Americans, you're too much perfectionists"... and then she sighed and signed the permission slip to let me drop. Oh, Madame Voeckler... you're shaking your head somewhere, I suspect. :D


I think the one of her sticking out her tongue at the photographers after winning at RG is my favorite of her, and one of my favorites of any player. In one instant, it reveals so much about Myskina. ;)

Yeah, I guess the biggest difference between Myskina and Safina was that Anastasia was many times able to be focus all that anger on her coach, then move on and maybe turn things around. So often, Safina's reactions came down harder on herself and she wasn't able to recover.

Of (a little) note, with the actual 10th anniversary of the first "edition" of Backspin coming up soon (right after Wimbledon, actually), I'm going to be putting together something of an "MVP" list to post between RG and SW19. Since, unlike the "Decade's Best" list, it's not (all) about career accomplishments, I suspect that all the fun I had with Myskina will lift her ranking pretty high on that list. The same will be the case with a certain Serb.

Of course, the real brain-cramping thing there will be trying to figure out who should be #1. There are probably two main possibilities, and they couldn't have been viewed more differently in Backspin's eyes if I tried. After all, sometimes the biggest antagonist is actually the most difficult to replace... and, hence, the most "valuable."

Fri May 18, 06:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Ah, the tongue out is indeed one of the great tennis photos. Myskina always ranked high on my "players you'd want to have a drink with" list. I wish she could have stuck around longer; she's a piece of work.

Looking forward to the "MVP" list. I suspect one would want to have a drink with all of them :)

Fri May 18, 10:23:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it's nothing to do with what you write, but perhaps you can compare with earlier Rome or Madrid tournaments. This Rome event is turning into a bit of a farce as almost all top 10 players are out - only Li and Pova left as Serena pulled out because of an "injury" - I didn't see that coming. And I believe that the second semi will see Kerber go to the finals because Maria is not playing at her best. My claim is that all this is tactical, so all top players can get the maximum preparation before the FO. I think it was the same with Madrid last year. How come that people want to pay for tournaments like this and how come that all are allowed to be injury free when they start a slam. I don't believe in miracles but white lies I'm aware of. Am I the only one thinking like this - well then I'm my own problem.

Sat May 19, 07:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Well, Maria is definitely thinking it about Vika :)

Sat May 19, 09:33:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...


I think it's hard to say when people are injured or not...especially having to play at such a consistently high level and forcing your body to the limits repeatedly to compete at your best and to beat the other players. I used to be like you and think they were all pulling out on purpose...but now with the revised roadmap and having to face top opponents so often, I think their bodies sometimes can't keep up.

Also, there are more people who watch the Slams...and I'm not totally sure, but I think the ticket prices are more expensive than the day-to-day events the players saving themselves for majors is also a benefit to the fans.

That being said, Victoria and Serena seem to be taking precautionary breaks...but since they make their money by using their bodies, who are we to say that it's wrong for them to protect themselves. I was impressed with Kvitova's class during the quarterfinals...but at the same time I was thinking that this wasn't a wise move for her.

Sat May 19, 11:16:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, such withdrawals didn't occur as much in Madrid this year (they all just complained when they lost), probably because it was a week longer away from the start of RG. Nadal forced them into swtiching Rome and Madrid on the schedule last year. Maybe they'll switch them back the way they were, then next year Rome will get a WHOLE tournament while Madrid has a series of "wink, wink" injuries in the latter rounds? ;)

On Myskina, though, I'm thinking this was the case, though I'm not totally 100% sure since it was so early this morning, but at one moment the Tennis Channel team (Stubbs & Eagle?) was recounting the first-time slam winners/one-slam wonders of Paris... but never thought to bring up Anastasia. How quickly they forget.

Sat May 19, 11:16:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

I can't wait for your MVP picks! Maybe you you can release your early criteria? Hehe

Sat May 19, 12:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Heroes! Villains! Satisfying Belgians! Aggravating Belgians! Everything in between! Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. ;)

Really, though, this will be an odd list to put together, measuring one player's tangibly "indispensable" qualities against another's that are harder to define. For example, Kuznetsova's wins have never really been "valuable" events for Backspin, but she'll get on the list just because of the old "Kuznetsova Curse."

And then there's... oh, Nadia. Yep, she'll have to make the list, too. ;)

Sun May 20, 01:34:00 AM EDT  

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