What is it about Russian women’s tennis that it is able to produce so many beautiful ladies who play the sport at an extraordinary level? One of those amazing women is here at the New Haven Open at Yale presented by...
What is it about Russian women’s tennis that it is able to produce so many beautiful ladies who play the sport at an extraordinary level? One of those amazing women is here at the New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara and that’s the very lovely and very soft spoken Maria Kirilenko. There is no doubt the 25 year old is doing something very right with her tennis and combined with maturity she is enjoying the best year of her career. She is ranked at a career high of 12 and is a genuine contender for a spot in the world’s top 10. There is such a fresh look about Maria and if you think about it really the song “Maria” from “West Side Story” could have been written for her. Then picture this; with that song playing in the background she would be the perfect spokes-model in a TV commercial for one of those pure, crisp European cosmetic brands that you figure is going to leave your face feeling fresh and relaxed. But you know as apt as that scenario might be for Maria Kirilenko and as girlie as she is, she is just as happy to be in sweats and a tank top with her hair up having a good time watching football (soccer) on television, being with her boyfriend Alex Ovechkin, the ice hockey star, or reading books like Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers or Jack London’s White Fang, listening to the rich sounds of a piece of music by Vivaldi or Bach, cooking or just lounging on the couch watching a movie. If she is cooking quite probably fish could be on the menu and don’t be surprised if she had tucked her fine blonde hair of hers into a baseball cap and done the fishing herself. That is quiet time for Maria. She can be alone and just listen to the quite. All that sounds so wonderful and idyllic but it is becoming rarer these days as her star continues to climb. Kirilenko had been threatening to make a break through on the WTA Tour and while she had to develop more consistency with her game she was also being overshadowed by some other players from her country. That is now is the past because Maria is enjoying the best year of her career as that ranking shows. Far greater consistency has developed in her game and she is matching it with many of the more established names, and not just on the singles court but also in doubles. Observers of the game started to notice the rise of Kirilenko from about a year ago and at last year’s US Open she got herself into the record books when she won the longest tiebreak played in a women’s match 17-15 against eventual champion Sam Stosur. Earlier this year she reached the final, her fifth career final, at beautiful Pattaya Beach in Thailand and things started to roll. At the mandatory BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells she reached the quarters and at the next event, in Miami, made the last 16 and backed that up with the doubles title. You would never figure someone with such a slender frame could hit the ball as hard as she can but it’s a fact. Moving about the court she exudes an element of grace as her long plait bobs around her back. Wimbledon came around and once more it was a quarter final showing. Then a little more than a month ago she entered the Olympic Games an event that is so historically monumental for the Russian people. To win an Olympic medal for the Russians is like being placed at the summit of Mt. Everest. It has the most significance in their psyche. Maria went all the way to the semi-finals where it took her compatriot and the French Open champion, the other Maria, Sharapova to stop her. Then in the bronze medal play-off it was world No.1 Victoria Azarenka who snatched the medal. However, Kirilenko was not done. Disappointed sure but not down because she and Nadia Petrova rebounded to win the doubles bronze medal and that dazzling smile she has highlighted even more this year was evident and it showed how much it all meant to her.