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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Graf, Mayor Triumph in Cup Match

It was a mixture of fun, tennis and politics at the Olimpiisky Sports Complex Sunday afternoon, as the organizers of the Kremlin Cup rolled out the red carpet for the world's top player, Steffi Graf.


The main event was a doubles exhibition match in which Graf and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov teamed up against Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion Larisa Neiland and former sports minister Shamil Tarpishchev.


Graf, who wrote an open letter to President Boris Yeltsin last year offering to be his doubles partner, had to settle for Luzhkov. "I would have liked to play with the president but had a lot of fun teaming with the mayor," she said. "He seems to have a knack for the ball."


The mayor, known to Muscovites mainly for his soccer prowess and icy water swims, was a bit uncomfortable surrounded by tennis experts on the court but found his strength around the net. He smashed a few easy volleys to the delight of his loyal fans, letting Graf do the rest, and the pair triumphed over their rivals, 6-4.


Tarpishchev and Luzhkov were each awarded a silver saber for their efforts, while Graf walked off with a Pavel Bure Swiss watch, named for the Russian hockey star who also now heads a watch-making company. Neiland received a painting.


Tarpishchev, who has played with many powerful politicians during his reign in the Kremlin, was asked to rank them in terms of their tennis skills.


"It's almost impossible to compare because they all are in different age groups," said the former Russian Davis Cup captain. "The president serves well, is mentally strong and focused on the court. Luzhkov, on the other hand, started only a year ago and in a year's time should have a decent game."


Prior to her doubles win, Graf played three "tough" one-set exhibition matches, first against Russia's Anna Kurnikova, whom she beat in the fourth round of the U.S. Open earlier this year.


Despite the exhibition nature of the whole event, both players took it seriously, with Graf grabbing a quick 3-0 lead. But then she slowed down, letting the 15-year-old win in the tiebreaker. Then Graf paired with Neiland against Kurnikova and 18-year-old Vladimir Volchkov. The young duo prevailed, 7-5.


Graf, who arrived in her private jet Saturday, had a busy two-day stay in Moscow. On Sunday she gave a clinic to a dozen of Russian tennis hopefuls on center court. Afterward Graf said it is hard to predict whether any of these youngsters will turn out to be future greats. "Women's tennis is changing at the moment, with Gabi [Sabatini] and Kimiko [Date] retiring and new girls are coming in, but the future looks bright," said Graf, who added that, at 27, she has a few more years left in her career.


If Graf's fees were kept secret, it was revealed that the organizers had to spend much of their bonus money on Russian ace Yevgeny Kafelnikov.


The Sochi native, who moved to No. 3 in the world following his fine showing in Paris last week and is the top money-maker among tennis players this year, said no to the Kremlin Cup without a hefty appearance fee.


"His agent demanded $150,000 but eventually we settled on $125,000," said Alexander Palinsky, director of the National Sports Fund, which bought the tournament this year from Swiss businessman Sassun Kakshuri.


Palinsky said the organizers had no money left for other top players and were forced to lure Croatia's Goran Ivanisevic through different means.


"Goran was here last year and he likes Russian girls a lot, so he didn't cost us a dime," he said.