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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Russian Wins Grand Slam Title

Russian tennis responded Monday with an outpouring of national pride and some opportunistic pre-election point-scoring to the news that Yevgeny Kafelnikov has become the first Russian tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title.


The 22-year-old from the Black Sea port city of Sochi, seeded sixth in the tournament, raised the French Open trophy Sunday after defeating 14th seed Michael Stich of Germany in straight sets, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).


Kafelnikov made history not just for Russia but for world tennis. He won the doubles final with Czech partner Daniel Vacek on Saturday and so became the first player to win both titles on the Paris clay since Australian Ken Rosewall in 1968.


The quiet Kafelnikov waited until the last match point of Sunday's final to show his emotions. He then threw his racket into the crowd and lifted his arms up in the air.


He was, however, subdued aide and tennis partner of President Boris Yeltsin, did not miss the chance to try to score political points with Kafelnikov's victory.


"This is a historic win for Russia," Tarpishchev said Monday after returning from Kazan, where he had been with Yeltsin on the campaign trail. "It was just a matter of time before a Russian would win a Grand Slam tournament. And this is especially well-timed since it comes on the eve of an election. The win really gives our president a shot in the arm."


In all, the weekend netted Kafelnikov $840,000 in prize money and will boost him two places in the ATP rankings to No. 5.


Despite his ascendancy in the tennis world, it was only Sunday that ORT television arranged to broadcast the match to fans in Russia, where Kafelnikov is seen as a controversial figure because of his refusal to speak to reporters or discuss his personal life.


"At home, some people don't like me much because I don't give many interviews and I don't like to talk about my private life," he said in a post-match press conference.


"Perhaps I will become some kind of hero but even if my life will never be the same again, I will stay the way I am with my family and the people I really love."


Kafelnikov's chances of winning the French Open had been clear since he knocked out world No. 1 Pete Sampras in the semifinals last week.


"When I was 20 years old, everybody was saying I would be the No. 1 some day but I was much too young then," he had said after beating Sampras. "I'm older and wiser now and I know there is still a lot of room for improving my game."


Playing in his first grand-slam final, Kafelnikov kept his cool when Stich went 5-2 up in the second set, winning five games in a row to take the set 7-5.


"After a few games, it became obvious that the game would be tight," he said. "At times, I thought I would never win it." But he did, winning the first and the third sets in tie-breaks to overcome Stich.


Although the Soviet Union dominated sports competitions since it joined the Olympics in 1952, its tennis program was never very competitive at the world level.


The Soviet Union's only other shots at winning a Grand Slam event came in 1973, when Alex Metreveli qualified for Wimbledon final, and 1988, when Natalia Zvereva made it to the final at Roland Garros only to be disposed of by Steffi Graf.