Russia may struggle to replace its golden generation

New York: When Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova won grand slam singles titles in 2004, the women`s tour was awash with talk that a long period of Russian dominance was in store.

In the 26 grand slams since Myskina won the French Open, Russia has been represented in 15 of the 25 women`s finals and captured five more titles along the way.

When the US Open began, Russia still had 16 women inside the world`s top 100 and 11 of the year`s titles on the women`s tour have been won by Russian women.

But their presence at the very top appears to be dwindling with Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva, in her first US Open semi-final, the only Russian woman in the top 10.

That compares to a high-point of seven at the end of 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Even in May of this year, five were in the top 10 but injuries and loss of form have seen things change.

Olga Morozova, who reached two grand slam finals as a player and was a leading coach in the former Soviet Union and in Britain, said part of the problem was cyclical.

"I think on the girls` side it was a golden generation with (Anna) Kournikova and all these girls who are still playing now," Morozova told Reuters. "To find these kind of girls again in these kind of numbers will be difficult."

Morozova believes the current crop of female players in Russia have talent but perhaps lack the belief and the desire to make it to the very top.

"(Maria) Kirilenko, Alisa Kleybanova, they are good but they are not tough enough to take the weight being on top of their shoulders," Morozova said.

"I think (young Russian players) are really satisfied with what they get. They win a tournament and they get 60,000 (dollars), it`s a good living and I think they are happy with this."

Morozova said Russia still has a big pool of talented youngsters but the standard of coaching and the convenience of the facilities did not match those elsewhere, particularly in Europe.

According to Morozova, the club system that brought through the likes of Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and others has largely disappeared.

But she did offer a glimmer of hope for the current crop of Russian girls, with world number 22 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova perhaps the best of the lot.

"If Pavlyuchenkova will get herself in good condition there is something there," she said. "She is very talented, she is strong, she is big, she has a good serve.”

"I think she is capable but she just has to work hard and has to do what (Caroline) Wozniacki (the US Open number one seed) has done."

Bureau Report