Sister Serena has said she sometimes wakes up feeling that she’s a Russian. Probably because in her business she’s surrounded by so many of them. Five in the current Top Ten. Sixteen in this Wimbledon draw, and 6 others who didn’t make it all the way through the qualifying tournament.
However, only one Russian doll has conquered the Big W — Maria Sharapova as a 17-year-old in 2004 – while Sister Serena has won it twice, 2002-03, and Sister Venus five times, 2000-01, 05, 07-08. Maybe the Russians, for all their success, would like to wake up feeling like a Williams?
Olympic champ Elena Dementieva smiles at the thought after her third round win over compatriot Regina Kulikova, a qualifier. Elena credits the “very tough competition” among the Russians for their leading the world. “That competition is what makes us work hard and improve our game. I think it’s always good to have lots of girls practicing all together, trying to be the best one. It always helps with the motivation. We have no problem with motivation, you know. Everyone is trying to be the best, trying to get on the Fed Cup team, trying to be in the Olympics even. This is what keeps us going, I think.
“We do practice together sometimes because most of the girls come from different parts of the country, but we get together in Moscow. I think it’s difficult to be the only top one in a country because you don’t feel like somebody is coming after you, and you may feel a little bit relaxed. We don’t have this kind of problem.”
Svetlana “Koozy” Kuznetsova, who recently won the French Open, adding it to her 2005 U.S. Open title, feels, “Hard work has been part of our lives, all of our lives. We work harder to be a success. I think it started with our grandparents in the Great Patriotic War [World War II]. They had to work and fight hard to stay alive, and passed that on to our parents, and they passed it on to us. It has been a hard life in Russia.”
Russia’s Top Tenners today: 1, Dinara Safina; 4, Dementieva; 5, Kuznetsova; 7, Vera Zvonareva; 10, Nadia Petrova. This is the broadest lineup since the U.S. dominated in the 1980s, led by Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin with 6 in the Top Ten in 1981-82-83.
Now Serena and Venus, Nos. 2-3, are the lone Americans to inhabit that elevation. They have the best competion – each other – and they learned hard work from their parents.