Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Triangle: Sveta, Marat, Roger
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Triangle: Sveta, Marat, Roger 06/06/2009 - 3:21 PM

Svetaby Pete Bodo

Roger Federer may not have that elusive Roland Garros title in hand just yet, but according to Svetlana Kuznetsova, he gets an assist for the one she won today, as she derailed Dinara Safina's drive to validate her world no. 1 ranking by taking her first Grand Slam title in three appearances in major finals.

And, in a bizarre turn of irony that even Kuznetsova acknowledges, you can also dole out an assist to another man - the brother of the woman whose dreams she shattered today.

Kuznetsova won in a blowout, 6-4, 6-2 that left Safina barely able to wallow through her runner-up speech in a monosyllabic monotone. But in all fairness, it was her misfortune to play one of the most talented and mercurial players of top pros - one who had faced and overcome the challenges Safina has had such trouble navigating as she's become a contender at majors: finding just the right balance between aggression and prudence, between being emotionally too high and emotionally too low, between self-belief and humility. Kuznetsova passed her trial by fire when she won the U.S. Open singles title in 2004.

In retrospect, that massive if seemingly premature dose of success turned out to be a mixed blessing for Kuznetsova; today, she finally got to enjoy the upside of all she's been through. She handled the climate of the final like she was designed for it: sure-handed, determined, focused. Kuznetsova took command of the match early and put loads of pressure on her opponent. "She (Dinara) must learn to deal with this," she would say in a more private setting after her official presser. "But it's hard and I can feel for her, but you have to do it."

But it was about her own downside that the new Roland Garros champion was most articulate when she sat before the world press, wearing a white sports jacket with some sort of sparkles embedded in the fabric, her streaked blonde hair still pulled back in that pony tail that may be the perfect symbol of her makeover. And that's a transformation that may be deep-reaching.

We don't like to put too much stock in appearances, but sometimes they tell us a great deal. And for long periods in the interim since Sveta won that first major in New York, she seemed oblivious to how she looked, to the point that she sometimes seemed disheveled, unprepared, unprofessional. This mattered because the carelessness and the lack of self-respect that it implied showed in her patchy, undisciplined game - and her results. And while the implications of all this may be discomfiting, it's undeniable that tennis players, especially top players, are generally very fastidious about their appearance and, if anything, overly conscious of style, grooming, and fashion. Their workplace, after all, is in the public eye.

This isn't the most comfortable issue for anyone, including Kuznetsova. When she was asked if it was true that she had no contract with Fila (whose garment she wears), she just replied, "No comment." How can you blame her?  Wouldn't you feel a little hurt if you were, like Kuznetsova, a perennial Top 5 player, and nobody thought enough of your overall talent and appeal to offer you a contract?

Safina Anyway, let's return to the downside, rolling the calendar back to a little over 12 months ago. After she lost in Rome, Kuznetsova left for Moscow, which disappointed her coaches at the Sanchez-Casals Tennis Academy. She told them she didn't want to train; furthermore, she didn't want to return to Spain. She was discontented, and so deeply that over the following months there were times when she wanted to quit tennis. "I never felt it," she remembered, "But I said it."

One of the people she said that to was her friend and confidant, Marat Safin. "I said, 'Marat,' I don't know, maybe I should not play. He said, 'Okay, are you crazy or what? You have unbelievable opportunities. You just have to play.'"

Kuznetsova says that was the worst period for her, and it lasted for most of last year. She really felt the urge to move back to Russia, to Moscow, a longing that panicked some of her acquaintances and advisers. "I had so many people telling me, you won't be able to play here (Moscow), you won't be able to train here, because it's too much information; it's too much destruction, too much night life, or whatever."

Kuznetsova lost in the first round at the Olympic Games in Beijing; given her deeply-felt and oft-expressed patriotism, it was a devastating blow. She lingered at the Olympics, and one day took a gaggle of Russian female basketball players to see the tennis. At the facility, they saw Roger Federer and appealed to Sveta to get Federer to pose for a picture with them.

Sveta rolled her eyes, just remembering the incident. "You know how I love Roger," she said, "and I never came to him myself to ask for a picture. But it's easier to do something like that for other people so I did go to him. And I was looking at him and he was looking at me and he said, 'What do you want?' "

When Sveta told him, he said, 'Sure, no problem,' and posed with the girls. He also had a 10-minute talk with Kuznetsova - the first conversation she'd ever had with the icon. She told him about the terrible time she was having making a decision about where to live, and she says he told her: "Look, it's up to you. You can only depend on yourself. You can control it. If you can live in Moscow and concentrate, do this. If you cannot. . .  only you can judge, you know."

Only you can judge. . . somehow, those words, she says, made that light bulb go on over her head. Of course! With the advice ringing in her ears, from a source she so admired, Kuznetsova made her final decision to re-locate for good at the end of the year. She returned to Moscow and began to work hard; soon she hired a new coach; fittingly enough, it was the Billie Jean King of women's pro tennis in Russia, Olga Morozova. Although the relationship did not last (Morozova has since been replaced by former doubles specialist Larissa Savchenko), Kuznetsova gave Morozova, along with Savchenko, significant credit for her win today.

Kuznetsova's friendship with Marat introduces a strange element in this saga, and one that may seem not entirely fair to Dinara. But Kuznetsova sees no reason for Safina to feel threatened or uncomfortable about her closeness with Marat. "There are many, many more tournaments, and she (Dinara) works very hard, she will win it one day. But it's true, me and Marat, we're similar - we hang out a lot, we talk about serious stuff. We go to places - I don't even want to get into what kind of places. . .

"So maybe I am more like him than is Dinara, yet she looks unbelievable like him. She walks like him, her backhand is like Marat's, her hands. . . I don't think she has pressure because of him. She is No. 1 now and anyway I always say pressure is something that just you can put on yourself. So Marat and I, we still friends. He help me a lot last year, with agents and stuff. And he texted me after the match, 'Congratulations.'"

Like some of the best Russian novels, Kuznetsova's personal history is a complex narrative simmering with psycho-dramatic undertones. I don't know about Roger - he seems to have a typically Swiss appreciation for the cut-and-dried. But Marat, now there's a guy who understands. It's quite a triangle.

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Posted by marat 06/07/2009 at 06:24 AM

it has been
she does
Number 1 ranking

Posted by marat 06/07/2009 at 06:28 AM

a shame to be world number one!

Posted by Jimbo 06/07/2009 at 06:28 AM

If Marat was the only guy in the world, Sveta would still not be interested romantically. Hardly a secret in the tennis world that her interests pull in a different (and no less worthy or respect, I might add) direction.

Good article from Pete and I'm glad to see Kuznetsova take a second GS.

Posted by Master Ace 06/07/2009 at 06:53 AM

Finally, Svetlana got the One-Slam wonder tag off her. Until she won at Stuttgart, her last title was 2007 New Haven when Agnes Szavay retired and the last completed match was 2006 Beijing against Amelie Mauresmo. During this fortnight, she was tested at the QF stage by Serena Williams like she was at the AO, the match went on a similar pattern with Svetlana leading by a set and a break. She served for the match but lost serve then Serena started her steamroll and was serving at 6-7,7-5,3-2(40-0) except that Svetlana changed the script and dug into her reserves to win the nect 5 points to break. Once that happen, she broke to win the match at the end. That gave her the belief that she can win the French Open and on Saturday, it came to fruition.

Posted by tennisgal 06/07/2009 at 08:12 AM

Svetlana and Steffi Graf look alike - they could be sisters.

Posted by marat 06/07/2009 at 08:49 AM

steffi is very fit
svetlana has lipids all over

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 06/07/2009 at 08:54 AM

Bonjour Everyone!

I have just returned from having a most wonderful French meal.

It saddens me though I realize Rafa wont be playing.

Ok have to move on I know.

My thoughts and my prayers will be with Roger of course.This is his dream and I for one hope he can win.Allez Roger!

Master Ace I agree with your thoughts regarding the Womens Final, I am happy the right woman won.

Posted by Angel of the Surf (Dinara Safina the new WTA #1) 06/07/2009 at 08:55 AM

Great article Pete, I am so happy that Kuzzy won even though I really wanted Dinara to win.

My mind boggles at what those two talk about, but it is refreshing to know that Marat is a deep thinking guy. I bet they go to heaps of museums and art galleries together. Or maybe not.

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 06/07/2009 at 09:23 AM

"My mind boggles at what those two talk about..."

Angel, I think she's the designated driver of this relationship:)

Posted by Azhdaja 06/07/2009 at 10:55 AM

ahahahaha...the comments for the RG men final is closed in the middle of the match!???'re a fake!
you didn't want the people comment on what they've seen on the field?? Apparently...

RAFA and DJOKER please come back!!!

Posted by Pspace 06/07/2009 at 01:54 PM

Aww...Roddick's a sweetheart:

props to fed.... thats an unreal accomplishment and puts and end to the GOAT question in my humble opinion

Posted by svelterogue 06/07/2009 at 02:28 PM

damn have only seen it now. the parallel between sveta and marat, winning slams five years apart...

and then there's the parallel between roger and andré agassi... winning the fourth surface ten years after going pro or something...

gives me the shivers.

the people who won this year's FO deserved to win it. but then it's always that way at a slam... so what the hail am i sayin'...

Posted by Zico 06/07/2009 at 03:04 PM

It's strange. Am I the only person here who thinks Kuznetsova is very attractive? And those FILA people! Screw them!

Posted by luxsword 06/07/2009 at 03:14 PM

"Kuznetsova's friendship with Marat introduces a strange element in this saga, and one that may seem not entirely fair to Dinara."

Sorry Mr Bodo, but this is just complete BS. I don't see any pb or any matter of interest about Marat being friend with Kuz. Dinara and Kuz being friends might make it tough for them when playing against each other, but that's about all.
Putting Marat and Triangle in the title is just trying to put drama where there is none. I guess blaming Marat for not being in Dina's box was too last year...

I'm sorry for Dina, too, especially as she clearly didn't play her best yesterday. It could have been a much better match, whatever the outcome. Glad for Kuz, though, she deserves this title.

Posted by Nancy J 06/07/2009 at 10:19 PM

Posted by Samantha Elin, Soderling has friends. 06/06/2009 @ 5:09 PM

Forgot to add, a few days ago, Serena was called out immediately and rightly so for the same kind of presser.

Oh, Sam. For once, I'd love the shortest presser in history from a loser -- "Before you reporters ask me the stupid questions you always do, let me just say that I got my ARSE WHIPPED, and if you saw the match you know why! Thanks, and I'll see you at the next tournament!" Of course, they'd get fined for that.

Instead, you have pundits asking that infamous dumbest question on earth -- why did you lose? Obviously if the player lost something didn't go well for them! It's practically not the losing player's fault when they answer with the typical excuses/reasons of, "I didn't play well-my best/My serve was off/my bh-fh had no sting/I didn't play the big points well/I had too many errors/I couldn't convert break points, I was tight, I was tired after playing too much/ my jury flared up, etc...."

Serena refuses to learn how to "play the "press" in my opinion. She tells the truth when they ask her questions! She shows her emotions. If she felt cheated, she says so! If she feels she's the best player, she says it. When she considers herself the next "it" designer or scriptwriter or actress -- she shares it with glee. So, the naysayers say she has no humility, she has no respect, she's a flake, she's not living in reality -- whatever it is they're saying this week.

Serena needs to learn from Graf and stiff arm a few reporters! Of course, she'd have to do it with more smiles and charm. But, Serena would probably get drilled for that too.

Posted by barry (not Barry) 06/08/2009 at 01:02 AM

Pete, thanks for the interesting background on Sveta and Dinara. i was pulling for both players to play well, and although Dinara didn't play at her best, she didn't play poorly, either. Sveta simply had her game on, as she had most of the tournament (except when she temporarily hiccupped against Sam and Serena). It's pretty easy to predict a future in which Sveta and Safina each win several GSes before their careers are finished, and it couldn't happen to two nicer and more personable athletes.

Posted by Bibian Mukasa 06/08/2009 at 06:51 AM

Hi, I love both girls (Steva and Dinara. Congs to the victor. I did though feel Dinara's pain. But as Steva said, her turn will manifest. She has just to look at what happened yesterday. Fed in 3 finals at Roland Garros and destiny struck. Dinara you will do it, you are not just a lovely girl but hugely talented. Can't wait to see you at ALL ENGLANG CLUB - Good luck for the future.

Posted by tennisfan76 06/08/2009 at 08:24 AM

luxsword - I couldn't agree more. During Marat's 2nd round match at Wimbledon, John McEnroe made at least one comment about him not being at his sister's first GS final. Yeah, because that's the reason she lost. Nothing to do with Ivanovic playing better tennis. Jeez. Pete seems to like creating a melodrama out of a perfectly normal situation. Sveta mentioned some time ago that she and Marat were friends, so as usual Mr Bodo is a bit late to the party.
I like Dinara, but am concerned about the fact she's now reached 3 GS finals and underperfomed in each one. I watched the AO final and feel she was totally outclassed by Serena, but the other two seem like nerves got the better of her. Unlike Pete and some TW posters, I think Dinara should be more like Marat in one important respect: big match temperament. Apart from two slams, he reached two more finals and helped Russia win 2 DC titles. Dinara seems to panic in important matches in a way Marat rarely does. Oh, he swears in Russian and breaks racquets when things go badly, but that's frustration not panic imo.

Posted by Lynne Danley 06/08/2009 at 01:49 PM

The thing that struck me the most as I watched the match was the difference in the maturity level of these two players who are actually the same age. Kuznetsova was so calm, while Safina was so hysterical. I like Kuznetsova and I'm glad she won, but I felt for poor little Dinara Safina. Am I the only person out there who can see that she is in love with her coach? Maybe it's because I'm 60 and have been around the block. Anyway, her despertaion to please him is personal as well as professional, and it's a shame because it's so distracting for her. She must learn to do it for herself. The personal dynamic is what made the match interesting. They both handled the results very well under the circumstances, though. And they both have more class in their little fingers than that pathetically uncouth Serena has in her whole body.

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