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26 September 2006

Third Final for Moscow



  • Chris Bowers
Moscow’s massive indoor Olympic Stadium, known locally as ‘Olimpiinsky’, has seen its fair share of great Davis Cup moments. It added to its collection on Sunday with Dmitry Tursunov's 17-15 final set win over Andy Roddick, and that victory will almost certainly lead to more great moments in the venerable 26-year-old venue, as it will stage December’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final between Russia and Argentina.

Built for the 1980 Olympics, the stadium’s name and capacity lead many to think it’s an outdoor venue. The main stadium for the ceremonies and athletics in 1980 events was called the ‘Lenin Central Stadium’ (now the Luzhniki Stadium), with the 'Olympic Stadium' the main arena for many of the indoor competitions. The indoor arena is so big that it can seat up to 80,000 spectators, and whenever tennis is staged there, the court and seating – the capacity for tennis is listed anything between 10,000 and 16,000 – takes up only a quarter of the stadium’s total floor space.

Rich tennis history at the ‘Olimpiinsky’

Yet that quarter has become the spiritual home of Russian tennis over the past dozen years, staging many Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties, as well as the annual Kremlin Cup tour event every October.

In 1994 it staged Russia’s first Davis Cup Final, an event made notable for the appearance of the country’s then president Boris Yeltsin at 6-6 in the fifth set between Alexander Volkov and Sweden’s Stefan Edberg. Though no Russian was willing to say it at the time, the commotion surrounding Yeltsin’s entrance is generally thought to have caused the break of serve that cost Volkov the match.

A year later Russia again staged the semifinal and Final in the Olimpiinsky, laying a slow clay court intended to thwart both a German team boasting Boris Becker and Michael Stich, and a US team featuring Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Todd Martin. The semifinal was pure drama, Russia coming back from 0-2 down on the opening day to win, Andrei Chesnokov saving nine match points in the fifth rubber before beating Stich 14-12.

Yet local hopes that Chesnokov and the talismanic Yevgeny Kafelnikov would finally lead Russia to triumph in tennis’s premier team competition were dashed in the Final. It proved Sampras’s greatest moment in Davis Cup, the then world No. 1 defying serious cramps and dehydration to win both his singles and the doubles with Martin to notch up the USA’s 31st and still latest title.

Moscow also saw Russia’s first Fed Cup triumph, sealed by Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva in an ecstatic doubles in November 2004, although that event - a week-long event comprising the semifinals and Final - was held at the new Ice Stadium Krylatskoe in the city.

The Olympic Stadium did stage the Fed Cup semifinals and Final in 2003, when France defeated USA in the Final, and now it is set for its third Davis Cup final. In fact Moscow has become such an automatic choice for Russia’s home ties, that during the official dinner before last year’s home quarterfinal against France, the French captain Guy Forget said to his opposite number Shamil Tarpischev: “Your hospitality is wonderful, but don’t you want to show us other parts of Russia? It’s such a big country, yet you always invite us to Moscow!”

Russia did play three ties in St Petersburg in 1993 and 94, but has concentrated on three venues in Moscow in recent years, most often the Olympic Stadium but also the Luzhniki Sports Palace next to the former Lenin Stadium and the Ice Stadium Krylatskoe. The Luzhniki was a possibility for the 2006 Final, but the Olimpiinsky got the nod, with the quick indoor court used for the Kremlin Cup possibly being rolled out for the Davis Cup Final, as the Russians attempt to take the clay-loving Argentineans out of their comfort zone.

Russia chooses fast surface for the Final

Over the past five years, the Russians have proved capable of playing on all sorts of different surfaces, and their versatility means the choice of a synthetic surface for the final is not solely to thwart the visitors. Marat Safin has won Masters Series titles indoors, Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny can play on anything, and Dmitry Tursunov – the hero last weekend on supposedly his least favourite surface – will be delighted with anything fast.

But no-one should assume Russia’s second Davis Cup by BNP Paribas title is already half-won. In the past 15 months Argentina has beaten Australia on the grass of Sydney and the reigning Davis Cup champions Croatia on a quick indoor court in Zagreb. The top-ranked player scheduled to appear in the final, David Nalbandian, can play on anything, and assuming Argentina’s captain Alberto Mancini picks the same squad for the third tie running, he will have Agustin Calleri and Juan-Ignacio Chela who have both posted good results on hard courts. Only Jose Acasuso looks in danger of losing his singles berth, yet he could well partner Nalbandian in the doubles.

The surface alone won't win you the tie - Alberto Mancini

Russia is certainly the favourite, but a comment from Mancini’s playing days seems worth digging up. Known as a claycourt specialist, he beat Chris Bailey in a Davis Cup tie away to Great Britain in Eastbourne, and was asked afterwards whether he was surprised to have beaten a grasscourt specialist on grass.

“No,” replied the calm Mancini, “the home team chooses the surface to give it an advantage, but it still has to do the work. No-one should think the surface will win a tie for you, you still have to win the matches.”

Llet nobody assume the surface will win the title for Russia. The Russian players have to do that for themselves, and their opponents are well capable of spoiling the party.

Related Links on other websites

> Information from USTA
> Information from ARTA

Related Links on

> Tie Information
> Scorecards and stats from this tie
> Tursunov the hero once again
> Bryans' masterclass gives Americans hope in Moscow
> Russian captain's gamble pays off
> A fusion of two Safins too much for Roddick
> Tarpischev gambles by leaving out Davydenko

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