Spartak Tennis Club, also known as Shiryaevka, was light years removed from the sunshine-dappled tennis clubs and academies of Florida and California. Located on the outskirts of Moscow, Spartak was defined by 15 outdoor clay courts – available just four months a year – and two indoor courts that you’d have to believe were dimly lit.
This was the spot where such Russians as Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Marat Safin, Anna Kournikova and Dinara Safina had learned the game. On June 3, 2004, two other Spartak prodigies, Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina, each born in 1981, competed in the semis at Roland Garros.
Dementieva had first made headlines when she’d reached the semis at the 2000 US Open, impressing all with her powerful groundstrokes. But Myskina had persisted. The 2004 French Open would be her first trip to the final four of a major.
Dementieva kicked off the day’s semifinal matches with a 6-0, 7-5 win over surprise semifinalist Paola Suarez 6-0, 7-5. It was a sloppy match, the two collectively striking 69 unforced errors, only 25 winners and 17 double-faults.
Myskina anticipated a much tougher battle. Her opponent was 2001 French Open champion Jennifer Capriati, fresh off the heels of gutsy victory over Serena Williams. But a strong start from Myskina – she won 17 of the first 22 points -- and sluggish play from Capriati (36 unforced errors to just 11 winners), rapidly brought Myskina a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
So there it was: the first all-Russian Grand Slam singles final in tennis history. Alas, a nervous Dementieva was betrayed by her worst shot, the serve – 10 double-faults. One minute short of an hour, Myskina had become the first Russian woman to ever win a Grand Slam singles title, taking the match 6-1, 6-2. “It’s a Grand Slam. It’s a French Open against my friend,” Myskina said. “It’s too much going on for me right now.”
That victory sounded the Russian bugle call. A month later, another Russian, Maria Sharapova, would win Wimbledon. And the 2004 Grand Slam season would end with two Russians, Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova, contesting the US Open final, Kuznetsova taking the title.
While Sharapova, Dementieva and Kuznetsova would continue to go deep at the majors for years to come, Myskina would never again reach a Grand Slam semi. But she’ll always have Paris.
(with thanks to Randy Walker and Mikki Singh for their app, On This Day in Tennis History)
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