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Friday, September 30, 2005

Russian Girls take Interest in Tennis after Maria Success

The example of Maria Sharapova, who has risen to the top of world tennis, is inspiring a new generation of Russian teenage girls to head for the courts hoping to emulate her sporting and financial success.

Maria Sharapova

“The phone has been ringing around the clock for registrations since mid-August,” says Igor Volkov, a coach at Moscow’s famous Spartak tennis academy, told News24. The academy now has 190 places compared to around 30 in 1994 but since Maria became the first Russian woman to top the WTA world rankings last month, they’ve had to turn eager teenagers away. “I would like to become as good as her and earn as much money as her,” said 15-year-old Yuliya Livotova.

Maria Sharapova, the blonde tennis star with the top model looks , coming from Siberia, won Wimbledon last year aged just 17. Since then her advertising contracts have netted her over $18 million and by many accounts she has become the biggest earner in women’s sport. Russia now leads women’s tennis, with seven players in the top 20 global rankings compared to just three from the U.S., a country that used to be a traditional leader in the sport.

More success came their way last weekend when a team inspired by Elena Dementieva successfully defended the FedCup defeating France 3-2 in the final in Paris. “The reason we are the best lies in the Russian character, we are more resilient,” said Volkov. Coaches at the Spartak academy, where the buildings have seen better days and the fences are left to rust, earn just $200 a month. Many promising teenagers leave for Europe and the U.S., as Maria Sharapova did, to look for better facilities.

“It’s a pity the (Russian tennis) federation does nothing against this,” said a former coach of first Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova, Larisa Preobrazhenskaya, 78, who fears Russian tennis will lose momentum. Russian parents realize the problems but also know the opportunities that tennis offers and are prepared to put everything into developing their children’s careers. Sharapova’s parents took her to the U.S. when she was only eight.



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