By Craig Gabriel in Moscow
When Anastasia Myskina, the 2004 French Open winner, played on the tour she attracted more than her fair share of attention. She had this impish look about her; she was slender, tall and had closely cut hair. She was incredibly attractive, almost Audrey Hepburn-esque.
Her life has changed completely since those days. She is now a mother to two boys and there is a third baby boy on the way in March, and she loves every minute of her life now. She says she wouldn’t want to change anything in her life, except when it comes to Fed Cup.
“When I watch the girls live in Fed Cup, I think it’s really nice memories,” she said. “When I watch tennis on TV I go to sleep but Fed Cup is great memories and I think it would be nice to step on court but when Fed Cup finishes I think it’s fine … I like my life.”
Being a mother is so different; it’s not that it’s quieter or faster, it’s just different.
“Being a mum is tough – you understand what’s good for you and the babies while tennis is just a game, it’s fun because you have a different life when you step on the court but when the baby is sick you go crazy,” she said. “When I lost a match it was really bad time, now I know it was a great time, so being a mum is tougher.”
She says her two sons are very different; the older one is more attached to her and the younger one “more with papa”. She said laughing: “The next one is also a boy. I have like a soccer or hockey team. No tennis, for men I don’t think it’s a good thing!”
Tide is turning
By Chris Archer in Moscow
When this year’s two Fed Cup finalists won their semifinal ties back in April – the Russians whitewashing Italy 5-0 and the Czechs edging past Belgium 3-2 – the destination of the Fed Cup trophy in 2011 looked likely to be heading to Russia.
The Russians have a strong Fed Cup pedigree in recent years, winning the title four times since 2004, and they still have considerable strength in depth with four players ranked inside the world’s Top 20.
And Russia are also benefitting from home advantage in the form of Moscow’s impressive Olympic Stadium, which is expected to attract a sell-out crowd for the weekend’s action.
But fast forward six months from the semifinals, to today, and there are signs that the tide has begun to turn. No longer are the Russians such strong favourites to lift the trophy for a fifth time, and some would even argue that they’re not favourites at all.
That is certainly what the Russian captain, Shamil Tarpischev, is saying. “I think we were the favourites, but now I see the chances for both teams as 50-50,” he commented in a press conference on Wednesday.
This is largely down to the form of Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic’s top player. At the end of 2010 the left-hander was ranked No. 34 in the world, now she is the world No. 2 and reigning Wimbledon champion, and to cap it all off she won the year-end WTA Championships in Istanbul last week.
All that remains for Kvitova is to help the Czechs win the Fed Cup title, a feat that has eluded them since Czechoslovakia triumphed for the fifth time in 1988. But the in-form youngster knows it won’t be easy.
“It’s very nice that we’re in the Final,” she said. “If we win it will be something amazing for us and for Czech Republic, but he have to win three points which will be really tough against Russia.”
Petr Pala, the Czech captain, is also playing down his team’s chances, but it just might be that he’s quietly confident. “I consider the Russians to be slight favourites,” he explained. “We come here as the underdogs, but we come here to win.”
One thing is for sure, this Final is shaping up to be one of the closest for years and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if the doubles rubber on Sunday evening proves to be decisive.
A stadium for all occasions
By Craig Gabriel in Moscow
There wouldn’t be too many indoor stadiums anywhere in the world bigger than the Olympic Stadium in Moscow, which was originally built in 1980 for the XXII Olympiad. It has a seating capacity that is estimated to be up to 62,000, depending on the event being held there.
It was used for basketball and boxing during the Games but has hosted everything from Davis Cup and Fed Cup tennis right through to the World Bandy Championships (a sport the Swedes tend to excel at) through to the tackiest of all musical events – the Eurovision Song Contest.
It has been eight years since the Olympic Stadium has hosted a final of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, but this will be the first year that a Russian Fed Cup team has played a final here. In 2003, USA lost to France in a final hosted on neutral ground.
Since then, Russia has played and won Fed Cup on home soil twice: in 2004 at the appropriately named Ice Stadium in the dead of winter, and in 2007, at the Luzhniki Stadium. Naturally they hope this cavernous stadium will keep the trend moving in the right direction when they play the Czech Republic this weekend.
The Olympic Stadium has also hosted three Davis Cup finals. The Russians lost back-to-back against Sweden and USA in 1994 and 1995, but then got things going on the right path in 2006 against Argentina.
For the Fed Cup Final this weekend the stadium will seat 7,800 and is expected to be sold out. Russia is chasing a fifth title while the Czechs have never won it as an independent nation, but did so as Czechoslovakia.