Spurred on by the high profile of Anna Kournikova, women's tennis in Russia has enjoyed a boom in recent years.
updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
Moscow:Spurred on by the high profile of Anna Kournikova, women's tennis in Russia has enjoyed a boom in recent years. Heading into this weekend's Fed Cup clash with Australia, Russia are in a particularly enviable positionâ€”all four of their players currently sit inside the top 15 places of the WTA's world rankings. Anastasia Myskina, the world number five, is of the opinion that Russia's current crop of rising stars owe a debt of gratitude to the now retired Kournikova. Joining Myskina in the Russian team are world number six Nadia Petrova, Vera Zvonareva (11) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (14). Few nations can enjoy the luxury of having such a strong group of players to choose from and that is why Russia should succeed in this weekend's World Group fir st round tie at the Luzhniki Small Sports Arena in Moscow. The team certainly has the talent to lead Russia to a first Fed Cup World Group titleâ€”even a well-renowned player such as Elena Likhovtseva has to be content with a stand-in role. But Shamil Tarpischev's side looked in a relaxed mood in training on Thursday and even found time to sharpen their football skills. Kuznetsova believes that Russia's current showing in the women's game is only a taste of things to come. Australia go into the tie as massive underdogs. Russia have the stronger line-up and home court advantage in their favour, while the Mark Woodforde-coached Australians are without Nicole Pratt. The absence of Pratt means that only one of the visiting side are currently in the top 100 of the WTA rankings. Alicia Molik, the current world number 40, will have to be at her best if she and team mates Samantha Stosur, Rennae Stubbs and Olivia Lukaszewicz are to reach the quarter-finals. Team captain Evonne Goolagong-Cawley knows that her charges have their work cut out. But Myskina isn't expecting a straightforward passage through to the last eight. The only positive statistic for the Australian team is that they lead Russia 3-2 in Fed Cup meetings. However, the last of those three victories came in 1983, while Russia have won their last two Fed Cup ties with Australia, in 1998 and 2000. (AP)