In the article “The best tennis players of Russia” we will talk about how Russian tennis has been developing, what its future is and by whom this very future will be created.
Russian tennis had a real breakthrough in 2021. Back then, before the start of the Australian Open, the Russians managed to win their first team-level title in the ATP, and Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev were particularly notable at that time. And these tennis players showed quite a lot of promise – especially Medvedev. It was these guys that Russian tennis fans (and world experts too) had hopes that one of them would achieve a great achievement: winning a Grand Slam tournament. After all, no tennis player from Russia has managed to do this since 2005, when Marat Safin became the triumphant winner of the Majors.
Tennis development in Russia at the turn of the century
Rublev and Medvedev secured their place among the world’s top ten players in the ATP rankings at the end of 2020. This happened for the first time since the golden period of 2000, when the same achievement was conquered by Evgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin. Why did Russian men’s tennis stagnate for almost 20 years, and for what reason has this unsuccessful period come to an end?
You can look for the reason in different things: politics, economics, the sporting component, and other trends. In such cases, we always want to pay attention to the example of Spain: when the regime of Francisco Franco ended in the country, there was a real boom in sports, and a chain of big world stars in different sports appeared. One can remember Rafa Nadal, Andreas Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Pau Gasol and others.
Interestingly, the opposite situation happened with tennis players in Russia. In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was an unprecedented growth in the popularity of tennis players, and Safin and Kafelnikov were in the lead, won two Grand Slam tournaments each, and were also able to reach number one in the world rankings. Other Russian players, such as Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny, failed to win a Grand Slam tournament. Nevertheless, they have been regular participants in big tournaments and have often reached high stages, and Nikolay Davydenko has been in the top 3 of the world rankings.
These tennis players, except for Yuzhny, would have been at least ten years old at the time of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, and they trained hard and tried to excel in big tennis. In the decade that followed, Russia, in its status as the largest ex-Soviet state, fell into a period of economic and demographic crisis. Birth figures were dismal, children who were born came from parents who would likely have struggled to provide them with tennis equipment and pay for lessons.
During the Soviet era, there was a strong infrastructure for children to train and excel in the sport. The explanation for this is quite simple: this industry was on the state’s balance sheet, as in the Soviet Union sport was always in the status of a tool of influence on the world stage, and it was also seen as a way to mold the model of the “new Soviet man”.
The result was the development of Soviet sports, and so breakthrough that the USSR still has the second position in the number of Olympic medals won, although the team of this state has not participated in the Olympics for more than 25 years!
The 1990s saw the biggest collapse of the old Soviet sports funding machine. The results were not long in coming: male athletes born in the 1980s and 1990s did not reach the top positions in the world rankings. Only one Russian who was born between 1982 and 1996 – Igor Andreev (1983) – has ever been in the top 20 of the ATP rankings, reaching the 18th place.
Another interesting fact is that this decline was not as pronounced in women. Maria Sharapova (1987), Svetlana Kuznetsova (1985) and Dinara Safina (1986) either triumphed at Grand Slam tournaments or were awarded the status of world number one by the WTA. However, in this case we can rely on an exception. None of the above tennis players developed their professional skills at home in Russia: Sharapova was a graduate of the Bolletieri Tennis Academy in the United States, while Kuznetsova and Safina trained in Spain.
The best tennis players of Russia at the moment
In fact, for Russian men, 1996 is the demarcation line that is formally the starting point for the restart of Russian tennis.
For example, Daniil Medvedev, the brightest star of the current Russian men’s tennis, was born in the same year as Karen Khachanov, who failed to show as bright results as Medvedev, but managed to enter the ATP top-10 rankings. Andrei Rublev, born in 1997, is also on their heels.
The success of young Russian tennis players of the present time is obvious, but we need to understand: whether this will be a short-term flare-up, or whether tennis in Russia has a very bright and bright future.
In the ATP Next Gen Rankings (which includes tennis players from all over the world under the age of 21), only two Russian players are in the top 30. In this respect, the guys from Russia are once again lagging behind their compatriots – in ESPN’s profile of the 21 players (regardless of gender) that the world’s experts have been watching lately, the only Russians in whom high interest was shown were women.
Still, Medvedev, Rublev and Khachanov represent Russia’s best prospects since the heyday of Marat Safin to become a men’s Grand Slam champion. And back home, the development of tennis infrastructure continues apace, with the completion of a new complex in the Moscow region that has become the largest in the country. There remains the possibility that even after the emergence of this new “big three” of Russian men, there will be a lull for a while. However, a betting man might want to wager that any lull won’t last too long, and you’ll soon see why.
If we run through the top 50 most talented juniors in the world, we will see two Russians there – Danil Panarin and Yaroslav Demin. Very young and extremely promising guys will enter the adult rankings in high positions very soon – this is the future they are predicted to have not only by Russian specialists, but also by world experts.
Taking into account how many Russians are now in the leading roles in men’s tennis, we can expect this situation to develop positively in the next 2-3 years.
It is even more interesting with girls. In the top 50 best juniors are these athletes from Russia: Alina Korneeva, Anastasia Gurieva, Mirra Andreeva, Vlada Mincheva, Alisa Oktyabrova, Kristina Sidorova, Alevtina Ibragimova. Immediately 7 girls will soon truly break into the world tennis elite – Russia has not had such a long time. Taking into account the fact that at the moment there is a good lineup of Russian sportswomen who are in the world ranking at the leading positions, we can expect a more solid breakthrough and a whole cluster of high places in the adult women’s ranking from Russian women.
Prospects of Russian tennis
Despite the global trend of isolation of Russian sport from major international competitions, tennis in the Russian Federation has a very good future. We can see this in the pleiad of mature players who set an excellent example for today’s youth and the young talents listed above. The possibility of joint training and the prospect of sharing experience from Daniil Medvedev to Yaroslav Demin (for example) looks like the future in tennis is very promising and rosy. The huge number of young tennis players from Russia, who right now are in the top 50 of the world’s best juniors, speaks of a coming boom in Russian women’s tennis.
No matter how the situation with the integration of Russians in the world tennis develops in the future, the level of play of our young and mature athletes will only grow – it is an obvious fact. The competition in the Russian tennis sector is extremely high, and it is much tougher than in any other country in the world. Of course, the junior level is one thing, and the adult game is quite another. Nevertheless, seeing the number of young athletes who are ready to break into the adult level and tear everything around them, one gets the feeling that the dominance of the Russian Federation in world tennis in the coming years is inevitable.