Seven Russian women are through to the round of 32 at the Australian Open, with the charge led by Dinara Safina, Marat Safin's younger sister, and Maria Sharapova, who insists, with just a hint of irritation, that she is nothing like Anna Kournikova.
The comparisons were made as soon as Sharapova, a willowy blonde, appeared on the women's tour in 2002. But while Kournikova, who retired last year, never won a tournament, Sharapova, still only 16, already has two titles under her belt. Last year she won Quebec City and the Japan Open, as well as reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon at her first attempt.
Seeded No 28 at Melbourne Park after climbing 154 rungs up the rankings last year, the Siberian-born right-hander yesterday beat Lyndsay Lee-Waters, of America, 6-4, 6-3. Afterwards she said: "I'm very excited about taking this year to a new level. If I'm playing well. I think I can be really good."
Sharapova, who moved to Florida aged nine to join Nick Bollettieri's training academy, sighed when Kournikova was mentioned. "I just want to be Maria, not anyone else," she said. She has, however, emulated the elder Russian in one respect, recently signing with one of the world's top modelling agencies, IMG Models.
Safina upset the No 27 seed, South Africa's Amanda Coetzer, 7-5, 6-3 to achieve her best result in Melbourne. The 17-year-old Muscovite made the fourth round of the US Open last year, but otherwise has never passed the first round at a Grand Slam.
Other Russians in the third round were Elena Likhovtseva, who beat 27th-seeded Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 6-2, Anastasia Myskina, the No 6, who beat Emmanuelle Gagliardi, and Lina Krasnoroutskaya, who knocked out Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic. They joined Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva, already through from the other half of the draw.
Sharapova and Myskina meet in the next round. But their countrywoman, Vera Douchevina, was not so fortunate against Venus Williams, the No 3 seed. Despite making 23 unforced errors, Williams took just 56 minutes to beat the Russian 6-4, 6-2.
Kim Clijsters, the Belgian No 2, was even more brutal in her disposal of Italy's Maria Elena Camerin, crushing her 6-0, 6-0. "That was perfect," she said afterwards. "That doesn't happen often that you play so well." She said that her ankle, which she injured at the Hopman Cup two weeks ago, "felt pretty good".
Ai Sugiyama, the No 8, was the highest-ranked seed eliminated yesterday, but the most spectacular upset was inflicted by a 15-year-old French schoolgirl, Tatiana Golovin, who ousted the No 14 seed, Israel's Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, in straight sets. Golovin was playing in only her fifth senior event.
The youngest person left in the draw, she said: "I don't think it has sunk in yet. It's definitely the best win of my career."