Eastern Europe's production line continues to deliver the goods

With three east European semi-finalists in the women's singles yesterday, it is clear that the Noughties' trend of Eastern Bloc success is far from over – or far from ova – even while the hopes of Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova and the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova are done.

Pironkova is the only Bulgarian in the draw. Kvitova comes from a nation with rich tennis history, albeit with famous names including Drobny and Navratilova taking foreign citizenship in search of greater freedom before the Iron Curtain fell.

Vera Zvonareva of Russia marches on, and it's appropriate that Russia will be represented in the final because there were more women from Russian (15) in the 128-woman draw than from any other country, and here is a story of programmed national success.

The numbers of Russian women in the main draw at Slams has been in double digits since the US Open of 2002, with as many as 19 at the French Open in May. The mass production player development has roots in the old Soviet Union, specifically the return of tennis to the status of medal sport at the 1984 Olympic Games.

Tennis was a medal sport until 1924, and returned to medal status in Los Angeles, when it became a big deal for the Soviet Union. It was around the same time that Natasha Zvereva (from modern-day Belarus) was emerging, and then famously fought a battle to be able to keep her own prize money, as opposed to hand it to the Union. She moved to America in the early 90s.

Then came the emergence of Anna Kournikova in the mid-90s, schooled first at the famous Spartak Tennis Club (alumni including Kafelnikov, Safin, Dementieva, Safina, Myskina) and then at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida. Ordinary Russians saw tennis as a potential route to fame and riches. "We always had an amazing tennis school and clubs in Russia," Kournikova says. "It's just the opportunities never were really there when it was still the Soviet Union for them to travel."

Tennis centres across Russia did flourishing business, while many players went abroad, including Maria Sharapova to Bollettieri's. By 2004, the "ova" era produced three Slam winners in one year: Anastasia Myskina (French Open), Sharapova (Wimbledon) and Kuznetsova (US Open). The trend has echoed, albeit to a lesser extent, in other former Soviet nations. As Kournikova says: "I was the first post-Soviet era player to leave Russia, practise in better circumstances, in a better environmen. Once kids and parents saw what I did, they realised that there is that opportunity."

Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions