Anna Kournikova's 6-3, 6-2 semi-final defeat yesterday by Martina Hingis did little to dispel the conviction that Kour- nikova is set not only on a path of personal glory but to blaze a trail for a generation of Russians coming on behind her.
Down by the rubbish dump and old storehouses round the back of Moscow's sprawling Sokolniki Park may seem an unlikely nursery for the world's most glamorous tennis prodigy, but at the Spartak Olympic Sports School they claim the hard-hitting 16-year-old for their own and are aggrieved at media reports that she owes her success to coaching at the Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida over the last five years.
What is more, there are dozens more Russian youngsters where she came from. Kournikova has attended the Spartak school, one of the former Soviet Union's full-time hothouses for young sporting talent, since the age of six. Of its 18 mostly clay courts, only one is indoors but, according to staff, Kournikova still trains there regularly. "All the credit's going to Bollettieri," director Natalya Kochetkova said. "But she spends most of her time here."
Spartak's Larisa Preobrazhenskaya is still Kournikova's coach, travelling with her to tournaments, and another Spartak coach, Rosa Mukhamed- zhanova, said: "We'll produce a lot more Kournikovas in future. We've dozens of very strong under-12s and under-14s. You're going to see a lot more Russians in international tournaments."
Staff at the school were quick to praise her. "She burned with a huge desire to play. You just couldn't get her off the court," said Marina Tyuryakova, who coached her for two years. "We're all very proud that such a great athlete grew up on these very courts."
The school, part of the same foundation that runs the football champions Spartak Moscow, is not the only outstanding tennis school in Russia. The Sochi centre on the Black Sea produced the world No 4 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, but at the moment it is Sokolniki Park that is demanding its place in the limelight.
THE NUMBERS GAME
110 Martina Hingis is, at 16, the youngest women's finalist in 110 years
3 Pete Sampras saved the only three break points against him in his quarter- final yesterday.
18 The number of aces served by Britain's Greg Rusedski in his quarter- final. He had served 109 in the previous four rounds
1 The number of times Anna Kournikova held serve in her semi-final against Hingis yesterday
15 Rusedski has lost just twice in his last 15 matches
3 The number of unseeded players in the men's semi-finals
Bright intervals, showers maybe thundery Maximum temp 19C