Self-belief is her asset

The Sunfeast Open title is a bit special to Myskina as it has helped her get back to winning rhythm.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

S. PATRONOBISH

ANASTASIA MYSKINA'S Grand Slam feast at the Roland Garros last year unleashed a Russian revolution. She has now become the mascot of her country's ascension to prominence. Her heady dash to the No. 2 spot in the world rankings was another pioneering feat last year. But things suddenly turned sour early this season as her form dropped and she was shunted out of the elite 10 of WTA rankings. Titles ran dry as she made early exits from almost all the tournaments. Self-belief is the biggest asset of a professional player, says Myskina. Armed with this weapon she restarted her quest back to the top. And she achieved the mark winning the Sunfeast Open. A relaxed Myskina spoke at length to The Sportstar about her game, philosophy and goals after claiming the title.

Question: You have won 10 WTA titles in eight years, including one Grand Slam, what do you have to say about it?

Answer: I think that's pretty good. I think only (Maria) Sharapova has so many titles in my country. I am happy that I won my 10th title here. It has been a tough year and I am happy that I could do something this year.

Where do you rank the Sunfeast Open in the order of titles you have won so far?

Every title is special for me. It is not that I like one more than the others. Of course, the ones I won at Moscow (in 2003 and 2004) are a bit special because I won them at home. The one I won here is also special as I needed a title to get back to the winning rhythm.

You started a tennis revolution in your country by winning the French Open last year. How do you feel about it?

Reaching the final of the French Open was something unbelievable for me and (Elena) Dementieva. We had never hoped that such a thing could be possible before we reached the final. Winning it was a very satisfying experience as I really worked hard for that. I was struggling in the clay court tournaments before the French Open but when I won the big title, I just could not believe it.

What really makes the Russian women dominate tennis? Is it a spontaneous happening or a result of a planned development programme?

It is a programme stressing on discipline. When I was a kid we were put through a tough regimen. We had competitions every year and all the trainees had to participate in them. The trainees who were not strong enough were discarded. So we had to work hard on power, though it was quite difficult as a kid.

Is the present system of development an off-shoot of the sports policies of the erstwhile Soviet Union?

Yes, the emphasis on discipline in training is a part of the old system. That is to say one had to work very hard to break into the priority status extended only to a few top players in the country. Of course, you would like to get inducted into this group to get the financial support for travelling around to play tournaments. The competition was very tough as there were plenty of good girls trying to get into the top slots. And this helped us get stronger.

You and Elena Dementieva were both coached by Marat Safin's mother. How is she as a coach?

She is nice as a person, but a very tough coach. You have to strictly follow her orders as she is a disciplinarian. I am thankful to her as the training we received from her laid the foundation for what we are now.

How's the sponsorship scenario in Russia? Is it helping the players?

It is good and getting better. People have realised our potential as we have so many good kids across the country, so they are more than willing to help. The sponsorship scenario is bright and many players are benefiting from it.

Even the former President of Russia, (Boris Yeltsin), is coming out to help the players. He arranges the finances for the top-20 junior players to help them travel across the world and play tournaments. He has also got a few senior players in the tour as advisors. I am also a part of that.

Last year you finished at No. 3 in the world rankings but failed to maintain it this year. Is there any particular reason?

My mother got sick early this year and it became tough for me to focus on the game. But now it is better and I am enjoying my life again. It is all part of life and you have to get used to such things.

You have said that your poor form in the early and middle stages of this season was also due to the fact that you did not get much time to rest and recover at the end of last season. How are you placed now for the season ahead?

This year it is much better. I'll finish the tour in November. Last year I finished in December and got hardly a week to rest, which was not enough. I am looking to play four more tournaments and will try to get as many tournament points as possible.

Is there anyone in your family who played tennis at a professional level?

No. My father plays tennis for fun. He used to play soccer when he was a kid but nothing after that.

When did you decide to take up tennis as career?

As a kid I played tennis for fun. But when I won my first tournament (an ITF $10,000 meet in Batumi, Georgia, in 1997), I realised that tennis is actually my job. I was then 16 and I had to decide whether I would go for higher studies or become a professional player. I chose the second one because I was confident after winning the title.

Was the decision your own or did someone help you?

My parents backed me a lot. They are very important in my life and they supported me in becoming a professional tennis player.

What do you think is the most important aspect ruling one's professional career?

Discipline and self-control. You have to move around alone for most of the time playing tournaments. You tend to deviate from tennis as there is no one to control, and you tend to do all other things. There are many temptations but as professionals we should have the discipline to say `no' to things away from tennis.

Is it presently possible to be a versatile player? A player who can be equally good on all kinds of surfaces?

Why not? The Russian players have proved it. They have the power and the game to be good on all kinds of surfaces. They play well on clay, on grass and even on synthetic surfaces. It is difficult to win all because of the severe competition with the top names like (Kim) Clijsters, (Justine) Henin (Hardenne), (Lindsay) Davenport, (Amelie) Mauresmo giving tough competition to the Russians.

In this tough competition will you be able to break into the top-10 again?

I really want to be back in the top-10 and I think I'll be able to do that. If I play the way I played in this tournament, then it is going to happen soon.

What are your strengths?

I think it is movement. As I could make out from playing in this tournament, it was good movement on court that helped me win matches. My best came in the final because Karoline (Sprem) was hitting the ball very hard and I had to get the ball back effectively. So, movement is the most important thing to me.

Coming to women's tennis in India, Sania Mirza has broken into the 30s. What do you think about her future?

I think she is good. I only played her in doubles here and I think she hits the ball hard enough like any top player in the world. I do not have any formula for her that will help her go higher in the rankings. Her coach will be in a better position to do that. But I can say age is on her side and she has lot of years to improve her game and play better. She has a really good future.

You seem to like charity and you recently participated in the Habitat for Humanity campaign supported by WTA. What really drives you to that?

I really want to help people. I feel better if I am able to help people with my contributions. If you are earning enough, you can give something for charity.

What are your hobbies?

I do not have much time for hobbies. I love to spend time with my family and friends. I love to see other sports, especially ice-hockey, when Russia plays against other countries.

Finally, what is your message for the up and coming players who want to be professionals?

You need to have a goal. It is really important to have one. And second is self-belief. You need to believe in your own self as it will help you come back stronger from all situations.