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MEET THE NEW ANNA FROM RUSSIA

With so many rampaging Russians and so little room at the top, whatís the latest rising Russian to do? Answer: beat as many compatriots as she can.

So Anna Chakvetadze ambushed No. 10-ranked Dinara Safina, No. 7 Elena Dementieva, and No. 5 Nadia Petrova to capture the Kremlin Cup last October. With that breakthrough performance, Chakvetadze joined the Russian ďGang of SixĒ among the top 12 in the world rankings, led by No. 1 Maria Sharapova.

Since then Chakvetadze, who turned 20 on March 5, consolidated her gains by winning a tune-up event in Hobart before charging to the Australian Open quarterfinals where Sharapova edged her 7-6, 7-5.

Like so many of her fellow Russians, Chakvetadze (pronounced chuk-veh-TAHD-zeh) is highly dedicated, blond and pretty. Unlike them, sheís more of a clever strategist than baseline slugger and - hereís a big surprise - she is also a college student.

Letís meet the thinking woman player from Moscow and find out about her interesting road to the top.

PF: You have described yourself as ambitious. What are your tennis ambitions?

AC: I would like to stay in the Top 10. Of course, I want to improve my game, because if I improve my game, my ranking will go higher.

Is there a particular Grand Slam title you would really like to win?

I like New York, so it would be the U.S. Open.

Congratulations on becoming 20 years old yesterday. How did you celebrate your birthday?

Thank you. I didnít celebrate that much. We just went to a Mexican restaurant. When I return home to Moscow, I will celebrate with my friends in a restaurant or a night club.

Is this the best time in your young life so far?

Itís an OK time. But I hope in the future it will be even better. Itís exciting to be a rising star, but I still want to improve.

What was your reaction after briefly moving into the top 10 after doing well at Antwerp?

It was just for one week. I knew that [No. 10-ranked Jelena] Jankovic wasnít playing that week, and the next week she did play in Dubai. So I was Top 10 for one week. It was not enough. I would like to be there longer. (Laughter)

Your first big win came at age 17 at the 2004 U.S. Open - your first Grand Slam appearance and only your third WTA tournament. As a qualifier, you upset No. 3 Anastasia Myskina 7-6, 6-3 to reach the third round. That tied Serena Williams as the second fastest player in WTA history to defeat a world top 10 player. Please tell me what that major upset meant to your career.

It meant a lot! It was my first Grand Slam. I was happy because I finally got into the qualies [qualifying event] because I didnít get into Roland Garros or Wimbledon that year. I was happy that I won some matches there. When I beat Anastasia, it helped me a lot in my career because I got so many bonus points, and I moved from No. 200 to No. 80 in the world. I also gained a lot of confidence. So that tournament was very important for me.

During 2006 you had a lot of excellent wins, and you put it all together in October in Moscow when you beat No. 10 Safina (6-1, 6-2), No. 12 Schiavone (7-6, 6-4), No. 7 Dementieva (7-5, 3-6, 6-0), and No. 5 Petrova (6-4, 6-4) in the final. What do you remember most about this breakthrough tournament?

I actually was surprised that I won it because I wasnít the favorite there. And when I saw the draw and learned I had to play the first round against Safina, I said [sarcastically], ďOh, OK, itís very nice draw.Ē It was tough for me. And it was a surprise for me because nobody thought I would win. When I made the final, I wanted to win so much in front of my home crowd. It was so nice to play at home. After I won in China [Guangzhou, a Tier III event in October] and then in Moscow, it gave me so much confidence. And then I just started to play better and better.

You continued your outstanding performances in 2007 by winning Hobart, a Tier IV tournament in Australia. A week later, you defeated No. 9 Patty Schnyder 6-4, 6-1 to reach your first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open before No. 2 Sharapova beat you 7-6, 7-5. What did your results at Melbourne tell you?

It was a very good result because I had never reached a quarterfinal before at a Grand Slam [tournament]. Of course, I wanted to win more matches. But that day Maria played better than me. I always want to play better, even if I made the quarters. Maria won, so she was in the final, not me.

How do you manage to play on the pro tour and also be a college student?

Itís pretty tough. I take correspondence courses at Moscow University and study psychology. When Iím in Moscow, I do some exams. And I do some tests on the Internet as well. Itís very difficult because I stay away from home for a long time, and I just need to read more than all the other students. In my university, they know me. They know that I am a professional tennis player, and they have my picture on the first floor when you come in. So itís very nice. I have fun.

Does your knowledge of psychology help in matches?

Itís helped me a lot. Actually some people tell me that I am still nervous on the court. Maybe they didnít see my matches when I played the under-14s or later in the juniors. Because then I was really nervous. Now Iím getting better and better. Iím learning to control my emotions. I donít think about the past. I try to think only about the next ball and the next point and how I should play to beat my opponent. I think I have improved a lot.

Your favorite movie is ďTroy.Ē Why did you like it so much?

Because of Brad Pitt, definitely. Heís a really good-looking guy. (Laughter) I liked it because itís so realistic. Before I saw the movie, I read the book. So after I read it, I wanted to see the movie. And when I saw it, I really liked it.

At 5í7Ē and 128 pounds, you are smaller than many of the top 10 players. How do you overcome their greater size and strength?

Itís very difficult because when you are taller and bigger, itís easier to hit the ball harder. Since Iím not that big and that tall, I should do something else. I should change pace and think more on court.

Your athletic genes came from your father, Djambuli. Please tell me about his sports background and his role now in your career.

He used to be a professional soccer player for the Valeri Club in Russia. Actually my mother introduced me to tennis, and my dad didnít really like tennis. But once he came to see my practices, he started liking it, and he liked the way I played. He said we should hire a personal coach. Of course, my parents helped me so much. Now they travel with me. Without them, a tennis career would be very difficult for me.

Do you have a coach now?

I donít have a traveling coach. But I go to see a coach for a month or a few weeks. But they donít travel with me because I think itís better to travel with parents or a hitting partner because he can hit with you, and not all coaches can hit. Yeah, definitely sometimes I need to change my technique, so I visit a coach. One is Eric Van Harpen, the past coach of Patty Schnyder and the Swiss federation coach and before that the coach of Conchita Martinez. Recently I have also worked with Robert Lansdorp. Heís very good teacher and a nice guy.

Please tell me about your mother and how her suggestion changed your life.

My mother suggested I try tennis. It changed my life because I played piano before, and I didnít like it very much. And then, when I was 8, after I went to my first tennis practice with my mom, I thought tennis is so much better than piano that I wanted to play tennis. (Laughter) I loved it from the beginning. I was the weakest player in the group because all the other kids started at 6. They started earlier than me and played much more because I played only twice a week. My highest priority was school. I played really badly, and I couldnít win a match for a long time. And then when I finally won, I was so happy even though it was for finishing in 18th place. Then when I turned 12, I got a personal coach, Victor Pavlov, and started to practice much more, almost every day. After that better results started to come.

You have a 9-year-old brother, Roman. Please tell me about him, and what your relationship with him is like.

Heís a great brother. Heís 11 years younger than me. He goes to school and plays soccer, and heís also not the best one in the group. He also started when he was 8. Our relationship is great. Of course, I miss him so much because I am away from home so much. But he comes to some tournaments with my mom. He likes being on the tour.

You sometimes wear a Christian cross. How important is religion in your life?

I think religion is always important. Actually I always wear it. If you donít believe in something, if you donít have a religion, itís bad. Itís much better to believe that someone else, or some higher power, is helping you.

You are a very pretty young woman. At some point would you like to do some modeling or acting?

No, not yet. Not acting, not modeling. You know, I like modeling, but sometimes you get tired of it when itís too much. Acting is also too difficult; you have to learn how to be an actor. I like photo shoots. I would like to be in a music video, maybe. Thatís much easier.

Do you have a boyfriend?

I donít want to answer questions about my personal life. Iím sorry. OK, I have a lot of boyfriends. I donít actually remember how many.

You have a lot of boyfriends?

Yeah! (Laughter) So many. Yeah, I have one in every country I go to.

You sound like Anna Kournikova!

(Laughter) Thatís not correct. Iím only joking.

During the Australian Open, ESPN analyst Pam Shriver said, ďAnna Chakvetadzeís footwork is perfect.Ē Do you agree?

Against Maria [Sharapova] I think it was OK. It could be better. During that match, my footwork was good, but my right arm was stiff. Thatís why I couldnít play 100 percent. Footwork is one of the most important things in tennis.

Mary Joe Fernandez, another ESPN analyst and a former French and Australian finalist, said, ďAnna is a tricky player. She anticipates well.Ē Is Fernandez correct?

Yes, I think so. These are very nice compliments Pam and Mary Joe gave me. Thatís the way I play, thatís my game.

You are often compared with former world No. 1 Martina Hingis because you both play cleverly and are the same size. What have you learned from watching Hingis play?

I watched Martina play when I was a kid. And, of course, I respect her as a player so much. But I donít think people should compare me with her because every player is different. Maybe the style is similar, but still we are different players, and I donít like it when people compare me with her.

But it is a nice compliment.

I think it is, but itís a little too much. In every interview, the media makes this comparison.

You have a perfect 4-0 record against compatriot and No. 7-ranked Nadia Petrova and have beaten her easily the last three times. Why are you so successful against her?

After the Kremlin Cup final, Nadia told me, ďYou are so lucky again.Ē It was the fourth time, and she said I am lucky. (Laughter) But actually sheís a tough opponent for me. Maybe on that day, she didnít play well, and I felt the ball better, and thatís why I won. I hope I will play the same and have the same success against all the top 10 players.

You were born and raised in Moscow. Did your parents have to sacrifice a lot for you to develop into a world-class player?

When I was a junior, I didnít travel that much so it wasnít a big money sacrifice. I played tournaments not far from Moscow, like in Ukraine, Belarus. I never went to the [United] States for under-14 and under-16 tournaments. I just went twice to the U.S. Open and the Orange Bowl. I was practicing much more than I was playing tournaments, and I think itís difficult because you donít have the confidence when you practice that much. Itís easier when you play more tournaments and win more matches and get confidence that way.

During your close Australian Open match against Sharapova, your father looked like a nervous wreck. Sometimes the pressure became so great on him that he closed his eyes. Do you have any suggestions for him to relax a bit?

(Laughter) Of course, I do. When Iím playing, he usually doesnít become this nervous. I didnít see him do it because after I played a point, I didnít look at him. Then, when I saw it on TV, I was like ďOh, my God!Ē I thought he should relax a little more. He told me, ďI wanted to smoke so much, but I couldnít go out. And that made me even more nervous.Ē He likes to smoke every 20 minutes.

Do you have any pets?

I donít have any now. But for my birthday, one of my friends asked me if I would like to have a puppy, a small dog. And I said, ďYes, of course.Ē I look forward to going back to Moscow to see which puppy it will be.

You are a big soccer fan. Which soccer teams and players are your favorites?

My favorite soccer teams are AC Milan and Chelsea. And my favorite soccer player is Chevchenko. He used to play in Milan, but now he plays for Chelsea. My second favorite player is Pkaladze. Heís Georgian and he also plays in Italy.

Were your parents originally from Georgia?

My dad was born in Moscow, but my grandfather is from Georgia.

You are also a wrestling fan. Thatís a bit unusual for a woman.

I know! (Laughter)

What do you like most about wrestling?

I like wrestling because I went to a practice in Soichi, the city where [Yevgeny] Kafelnikov is from. I went there for practice before the Australian Open. I saw the Russian wrestling team and met all the Olympic champions. The guys are so nice. And I saw how hard they train. It was unbelievable. Tennis players are not used to working that hard. Itís another hobby of mine. I always look for their results because I know the guys. Itís interesting to me.

How do you relax before tournament matches?

I usually donít like to talk too much before my match. I prefer to sit somewhere in the corner and listen to music, like The Prodigy, on my iPod, and change my [racket] grips. I think about my game plan.

If you could have dinner with two great people in world history, whom would you choose? And why?

I would like to have dinner with Johnny Depp, because he is my favorite actor, and one of my favorite soccer players, Andrij Chevchenko.

Did you learn to play tennis at the famous Spartak Club where Anna Kournikova, Myskina and Dementieva developed?

No, I learned at the Valeri Club.

Two years ago Safina said: ďWomenís tennis, in Russia and around the world, is popular because of Kournikova. A lot of players want to be like her.Ē Do you agree with Dinara?

When Anna used to play, I think yes, because she was so famous and all the young kids watched her and wanted to be like her. But now I donít think thatís true so much because sheís not playing anymore, and we have so many Russian girls who are so good. Thatís why I think tennis is still so popular in Russia.

Russia won the Fed Cup in 2004 and 2005. How important is it to you to play for Russia in the Fed Cup and perhaps help it win another title?

Itís important. We play Spain soon. I donít think Iíll be playing because there are so many players who rank higher than me. Itís very difficult. Even if you are in the [world] top 10, you may not be able to make the team. Of course, I would love to play for my country, but I donít know yet if they will invite me or not.

Why do you think Russian players are so successful?

Itís because of the Russian character. We train hard and compete hard.

In late 2004, Shamil Tarpischev, captain of Russiaís Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams, told ACE magazine: ďWhat youíve seen is nothing compared to what you might expect from our players in the near future. I just donít see how anybody can stop us from dominating womenís tennis.Ē Do you agree with him?

Yes, I do agree with him because we have so many good players, not just top 10, but also in the top 100 and so many good young players like [world No. 1 junior] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who are coming up. It used to be the U.S.A. that had so many top players, but now they donít anymore. I think Russia has about 20 in the top 100. So now we are dominating.

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