Russian women advance to Fed Cup tennis final

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MOSCOW. (Alexander Gorbunov, sports commentator, for RIA Novosti) - Even before they began, the semi-finals of the Federation Cup, the women's equivalent of the Davis Cup, were marred by external factors that could have dashed Russia's hopes. Despite the obstacles, the girls managed to beat the United States.

The sports community was shocked by the visa ordeal of Shamil Tarpishchev, who had served as captain of the Russian team for many years. He applied for a U.S. visa in late May, but joined his team just a day before the start of the first singles match - Anna Chakvetadze against Vania King. Exhausted and stressed out, he had had no time for proper training.

Tarpishchev is a member of the International Olympic Committee and a respected figure in the world of tennis. In all probability, his name had once appeared on some terrorism watch list, and the State Department could not remove it from its computer. Paradoxically, the world's "most democratic nation" eventually granted him the visa, making this hassle look ridiculous.

He does not think for a second that his visa ordeal was meant to weaken the Russian team. Quite the contrary, the U.S. Tennis Federation and the national Olympic Committee did all they could for him to arrive in Vermont as planned, five days before the start, but without success.

Tarpishchev was happy to see that his visa hassle had served to unite the new team (none of its members had played matches against the Americans before). A seasoned coach (this last tournament was the 100th time he had coached Russian players in the Davis and Federation cups), he is confident that in tennis, team spirit and commitment to victory are a very, if not the most, important factor.

In Vermont, the Russian players displayed an incredible hunger for victory, and they succeeded. True, nobody could beat the U.S. team's leader, Venus Williams, who was stronger than Nadezhda Petrova and Anna Chakvetadze. Petrova has never defeated Williams. On the second day, Tarpishchev did not let the 19-year-old newcomer Alla Kudryavtseva play against Venus, although at Wimbledon she came close to beating the American star. But maybe his decision was prudent - Venus is in excellent shape and is the number one player in women's tennis. In the last six months, Kudryavtseva has jumped from 168th place in the world ranking to 59th, and will take part in three Grand Slam tournaments. The usually reserved Tarpishchev is pinning great hopes on her future.

Matches against other players decided everything. After Chakvetadze easily beat King (6-1, 6-3) and Petrova crushed Meilen Tu (6-1, 6-2), the outcome depended on the doubles. Tarpishchev assigned Yelena Vesnina to play with Petrova, who came away with a very difficult 7-5, 7-6 victory over Venus and Lisa Raymond. Now the Russian team will play in the Fed Cup finals against Italy on September 15 and 16.

The United States had beaten Russia in four of their five previous Cup meetings, including the Stanford tournament in 1999. Now Russia has two victories under its belt, and both were scored without Maria Sharapova, the highest-ranking Russian player. She again refused to take part in the matches, giving rise to gossip. Sharapova said that she had had an injured shoulder for several months and needed time to recover after Wimbledon.

Venus's sister Serena Williams did not play in Vermont because of injury as well. Injury is a valid excuse and one that Tarpishchev accepts, unlike Sharapova's many critics who lash out at her for lack of patriotism. Moreover, the Russian team has performed very well even without their star player, as their semi-final victory shows.

"Why this fixation on Sharapova?" he wonders with good reason. The Russian team will be able to win the Cup without her.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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