January 01, 1998

For the Love of Tennis!



A tennis zealot like myself could be faulted for drawing parallels between the “real” world and the one of lobs and aces. Still, there is something to be said for what Russia’s recent Kremlin Cup tennis tournament tells us about Russia today. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the former US Davis Cup competitor and current Kremlin Cup Director Eugene Scott, “The tournament is a perfect reflection of all that is going on in Russia.”

First, there is the political/diplomatic dimension, reflected in the status of Russia’s top player, Yevgeny Kafelnikov. His ranking among the world’s top ten players is, to many, akin to Russia’s long-awaited acceptance into the G-7. Even last month’s loss to Italy, blocking Russia from the World Cup Soccer Finals in France (for the first time since 1978) has been overshadowed by concern over tennis defeats. As Obschaya Gazeta weekly newspaper justly wrote, “if Kafel (Kafelnikov’s nickname, literally “tile”) drops off the top ten, both the Russian political and cultural elite may lose all interest in the course of reforms.”

For now, I can reassure foreign investors: Kafel, the enfant terrible of Russian tennis, won this November’s Kremlin Cup (after several years of trying) to regain his top ten ranking. The win was greeted by the applause of thousands of admiring tennis fans, including Kafel’s former nemesis — the Russian press. The press has had an ongoing love-hate relationship with Kafelnikov, who dislikes obnoxious domestic journalists for their unwanted advice on his career, their hyping of his private life and their over-attentiveness to his earnings.


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