Shvedova's great surge

Yaroslava Shvedova has a smile that gave no hint of the kind of ferocious player that she is. on the court, she out-hit most, including sania mirza, whose strengths are her hard-hitting shots.-AP

The Russian entered the tournament as a replacement and walked out the winner. She came in ranked outside the top-100, but now finds herself on the ascent, writes Nandita Sridhar.

Forget pay parities and choc-a-bloc schedules. A sizeable non-Russian bunch in the WTA Tour will soon have bigger worries to deal with — like taking a step in the locker room without treading on a ubiquitous Russian toe; going through at least one round in a tournament without facing them, and hoping that something would sterilise their multiplication on the Tour.

The consequence of the Russian phenomenon goes beyond a surge in phonetically challenging surnames. These girls are good, strong and ruthless. They're here because they deserve it; they're on top because they win; they win because losing is not what they had in mind when they took up the racket. The Russians want to win. Looking good in the process might have ancillary benefits that will help them ink deals off the court. On court, the lipstick matters half as much as giving the opponent the stick. Gentle returns maketh not a title winner, backhand bombs do.

Take Yaroslava Shvedova, for example. The 19-year-old spent the better part of her childhood living in Chernogolovka, a town near Moscow. She jokingly claimed that it would take her just 10 minutes to walk from one end of the town to the other. At the Sony Ericsson International WTA event in Bangalore, Shvedova walked in with a smile that gave no hint of the kind of ferocious player that she is. On the court, she out-hit most, including Sania Mirza, whose strengths are her hard-hitting shots.

Shvedova entered the event — ravaged as it was by Serena Williams's pullout — as a replacement for Iroda Tulyaganova and walked out the winner. She came in ranked outside the top-100, but now finds herself on the ascent.

What was refreshing about the Russian was what she brought to the court. A flowing mane and a mile-long smile — she was lensmen's delight notwithstanding her graceless gait. Shvedova served big, bludgeoned powerful backhands and still summoned the energy to shriek in disgust whenever she missed a sitter.

The doubles winners Yung-Jan Chan (left) and Chia-Jung Chuang.-K. GOPINATHAN.

The only time Shvedova showed signs of a struggle was while trying to explain her maiden WTA win. "I just played," she first said. The reality then sunk in. "After I won the trophy, I felt like Sania. Crowd was supporting me. Defeating Shikha (Uberoi) and Sania was a major morale-booster for me. Bangalore is a great city and I would love to come here again next year," she said.

Meanwhile, Sania had big problems dealing with Shvedova's serves in the quarterfinals. "Her second serve had so much kick in it that it was going over my head," said the Indian. "She is possibly one of the biggest servers after Sharapova (Maria), but even Sharapova doesn't have such an effective second serve," she added.

Whatever doubts people might have had about Shvedova's victory against Sania, that it was a fluke, were dispelled when the Russian beat the top seed, Mara Santangelo, in the final.

The 19-year-old is not alone in her success. Her countrywomen seem to appear out of nowhere and find themselves in WTA summit clashes. Most of them fit the Russian bold-blonde-beautiful prototype, armed with huge weapons, great athleticism and the burning desire to succeed. The WTA top-100 list has 16 Russians (as on February 25, 2007), with five of them in the top-10.

With more Eastern Europeans in the fray, especially Russians, the number of super-fit and strong big hitters will increase manifold. It will take extraordinary effort to consistently beat them. Sania Mirza will be more than aware of that.

Sania tried her utmost to climb out of the difficult situations in the quarterfinals, but found the Russian too hot to handle. Slowing down her game might have been the only solution then, but it would have been unfair to expect Sania to experiment with a style of play alien to her slam-bang style when under pressure. It wouldn't be a bad idea if she could consider this strategy and work on it as a possible option against other such marauding Russians.

The Russian success is a cultural phenomenon. Nadia Petrova once told `The Scotsman' that Russians take to tennis because they see it as an opportunity. "Why do we dominate? Well, it's partly down to the size of the country and how many talents there are. But it is also because many players start with nothing at all and tennis can give them opportunities. There is a generation that grew up and competed together and pushed each other on. We all grew up differently and have our own style, but physically we are all strongly built, with a winning spirit and character," she said.

The Russian girls might hone their skills in different parts of the globe, but they share the same bloody-mindedness that comes to them naturally and culturally. For a week, Bangalore showed us what exactly happens when a Russian wants to win a tennis match.

The Results Singles final

Yaroslava Shvedova (Russia) beat Mara Santangelo (Italy) 6-4, 6-4.

Doubles final

Chia Jung Chuan & Yung-Jan Chan (Taipei) beat Su-Wei Hsieh (Taipei) & Alla Kudryavtseva (Russia) 6-7 (4), 6-2, 11-9.