By Ed Pearson
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the Russians were not interested in tennis, but under the flag of the USSR it was only Olympic sports that were given sufficient funding to garner any realistic chance of success on a global scale.
There is a certain irony, then, that the Russians take on the Czech Republic in the Olympic Stadium in Moscow this weekend with a shot at winning their fifth Fed Cup title in just eight years.
And such is the strength in depth of women’s tennis in Russia that captain Shamil Tarpischev has a staggering 12 players in the current Top 100, four of which are in the Top 20, that he can call upon.
After world No. 7 Vera Zvonareva was forced to withdraw from this weekend’s final with a shoulder injury, Russia had the dilemma of choosing between Ekaterina Makarova (ranked No. 51) or Elena Vesnina (No. 57) as her replacement. No other country in the women’s game has such a strong bench.
So why is it that tennis, and in particular women’s tennis, is thriving in Russia? According to Tarpischev, one of the biggest factors in the development of the sport in this country was Boris Yeltsin.
The former Russian president appeared on television during his tenure at the top wearing shorts and a t-shirt and carrying a tennis racket and all of a sudden the sport was booming.
Thanks to the exposure that came with an endorsement from Yeltsin, more sponsors became interested in tennis, which inevitably led to better results and it’s now that the Russians are reaping the rewards.
As for why the Russian women are outshining their male counterparts, Tarpischev has an answer for that too. He believes it’s easier to coach girls because they react better and recover faster than men when faced with disappointment or difficulty in their careers.
He also puts the women’s success down to the fact that the transition from juniors to seniors is simpler in the women’s game and that it’s easier to find a hitting partner for a woman than it is a man.
With a lifetime of tennis experience and four Fed Cup titles (not to mention two Davis Cup titles) to his name, it’s hard not to think that Tarpischev knows exactly what he’s talking about.
By Chris Archer
The world of tennis court testing is not one that many people are familiar with, but this is the world that the ITF’s technical team inhabit, and two members of that team are in Moscow to carry out some analysis ahead of the Fed Cup Final.
First stop was at Moscow’s recently opened Tennis Park, a 10-court facility which is one of a number of new tennis centres popping up around Russia’s capital city. And on the agenda was an ITF Recognition Test on the courts that have just been laid.
The purpose of such a test is to assess the quality of the court manufacture and whether it reaches sufficient standards. The assessment has two parts: 1 Star measures the court dimensions and evenness; and 2 Star calculates the court speed. We await the results!
Attentions have now turned to the Olympic Stadium, the location of this weekend’s Final. The testing here doesn’t involve the court itself, but the HawkEye system that has been installed to assist the officials with their line calling.
The guys from HawkEye have been at the venue all week, putting in place 10 cameras at strategic positions around the court that determine whether the ball is in or out when it lands close to the line.
It’s the job of the ITF’s technical team to test the accuracy of the HawkEye system. This is done using a high speed camera, set up along one of the lines, and a canon that fires balls to land close to the line in question.
The footage is then analysed frame-by-frame and compared with that of HawkEye, thus establishing the system’s precision. The test is then repeated 50 times at different spots around the court.
Tiring work, particularly when it needs to take place in the evenings when the practice sessions for the players are done and dusted. And because the testing is carried out before the tie gets under way, the team don’t even get to stay and watch the action!
Larisa is quite savvy
By Craig Gabriel
Larisa Savchenko was born in the Ukraine, played as a Latvian under USSR and now works with the Russian Fed Cup team as a coach. The delightful 45-year-old who collected 66 doubles titles and who had wins over the likes of Martina Navratilova, Gabriela Sabatini and Hana Mandlikova says she enjoys her life now as a mother of two, a boy and a girl but to some degree also misses her playing days.
“I prefer both times,” she said smiling. “When I played on the tour it was a nice time and when I finished it was also a nice time but it took a little time to get used to not playing. It was a new life coming and I like it and I also like coaching. I love it.”
She feels “it’s not tough being a mama”. Her philosophy on parenthood is to “understand your children and speak the same language”. Of her two children she says her son is the naughty one, but that he has a great sense of humour.
“When he does something wrong he says ‘it’s a joke mum, it is my humour mum,” she explained.
Asked if she had the choice if she would like to be playing in the present era or the past, she said without hesitation the past.
“Playing in the past was easier and it was fun, everyone was easy and close,” Savchenko said.
Czech captain Petr Pala has some difficulty with this famous tonguetwister: "Petr Pala picked a pickled pepper".
Petr Pala (CZE) - tonguetwister