Kremlin Cup Brings Top Tennis Stars to Moscow

Kremlincup.ruDementyeva and Serena Williams posing with Mayor Yury Luzhkov last year.
Despite the tournament's name and the red brick towers emerging from a sea of tennis balls on its web site, the Kremlin Cup will not be played on or anywhere near Red Square.

The venue for the tournament, in which regular play begins Monday and runs through next Sunday, will be the hard courts of Olympiisky Sports Complex.

Founded in 1990 by Swiss businessman Sasson Kakshouri, the Kremlin Cup isn't going to challenge Grand Slam events like Wimbledon for publicity, but it still manages to draw some big names.

Moscow's own Yelena Dementyeva beat the United States' Serena Williams in the women's final in 2007, and Dementyeva will be on hand again this week. It will be the first chance for the hometown crowd to see Dementyeva since she won the Olympic gold in Beijing in August.

The trick to getting the big hitters to come to town -- especially on the women's side of the draw -- appears to be to offer lots of money. Total prize money for the tournament is $2.4 million, and in an unusual twist the winner's prize on the women's side of $196,900 tops the $171,000 offered for the men -- part of the reason the tournament manages to attract some of the world's best female players.

World No. 2 Jelena Jankovic and No. 5 Ana Ivanovic, both of Serbia, and defending Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, ranked No. 8, are among the top foreign players joining top-10 Russian players Dinara Safina, the Olympic silver medalist, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva.

Ivan Sekretarev / AP
Safina and Anna Kournikova posing on Red Square after their wins in 2002.
"The competitors of the tournament are really the best this year," Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpishev said at a news conference Wednesday.

The tournament will be the first time back in front of a Russian crowd for Zvonareva and Kuznestova, who were the heart of the team that won the Federation Cup last month, beating Spain 4-0 in the final in Madrid. The title was the country's fourth in the last five years.

The current crop of top female Russian players is the legacy of the tennis boom in the 1990s, when the favorite game of then-President Boris Yeltsin was definitely in vogue. It remains an important part of the city's society circuit, attracting many local celebrities and officials, even if some never manage to find their way out of the luxurious VIP section behind the courts.

While the men's side has historically attracted fewer international stars, it still attracts most of Russia's top players.

Marat Safin, the winner of two career Grand Slam titles and winner of the Australian Open in 2005, will join Davis Cup teammate Nikolai Davydenko.

Safin has helped lead the Russian national team to two Davis Cup victories in 2002 and 2006. Igor Andreyev, Mikhail Youzhny and Dmitry Tursunov will also be coming home to play, with world No. 21 Paul-Henri Mathieu of France the highest-ranked foreign competitor on the men's side.

Kremlin Cup runs through Oct 12th at Olympiisky stadium. M. Prospekt Mira. Ticket prices: 50 to 5,000 rubles. Tel. 925-7777.