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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Cup Serves Up Tennis Stars




She came. She played. She left.


Anna Kournikova, the golden girl of 1990s tennis who sends Western tabloids swooning at the turn of a head, opened the Kremlin Cup women's tournament Monday with a master class for budding Russian tennis stars.


But the tournament, which runs through Sunday, will be without the West's darling of tennis because Kournikova has been on the bench since August with an ankle injury.


Nevertheless, the 18-year-old star was the main draw Monday for the popular Kremlin Cup tournament, which pulls in the cream of Moscow's elite along with local crowds for an event that is more than just tennis. Behind center court another world opens up in which tournament sponsors flock to ply you with freebies.


Not everyone qualifies for gifts, though.


Spectators with ordinary tickets get to watch the games and munch on buterbrod s kolbasoi, or bread and salami, in small cafes near the courts.


VIP ticket holders, however, gain access to the courtside shopping mall where they can dine at the exclusive Japanese restaurant Izumi, get their rackets restrung and rub shoulders with top players at the practice courts.


One notch higher, for sponsors and their guests, is a free buffet featuring tables with flowers made of tennis balls. The final level of exclusivity is reserved for government officials and tournament organizers - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, a tennis enthusiast, are among the guests expected.


Back on the court Monday, Kournikova practiced with the master class students for 40 minutes, signed autographs and left, refusing to answer any ques tions from reporters. She was set to fly back to her home in the United States on Tuesday.


"I was very eager to play in Moscow but the doctors recommended that I not take such a risk," Kournikova said at the tournament draw Sunday, according to the Kremlin Cup web site.


The Kremlin Cup lost some of its shine when half the top seeds withdrew on the eve of the tournament. Monica Seles, last year's finalist, dropped out because of a stress fracture in her right foot. 1997 champion Jana Novotna soon followed, and Amanda Coetzer withdrew citing exhaustion.


Tournament organizer and former top Soviet player Alexander Volkov was not too worried.


"It's the end of the season," Volkov said in a telephone interview. "There's a lot of pressure."


"The women's tournament is a higher niche; the men's is a lower level," he said, adding that the men were still looking for a sponsor for their tournament, which begins Nov. 8.


So who is left? Mary Pierce, last year's winner, is now top seed. World No. 8 Amanda Coetzer will play, as will Spaniard Conchita Martinez, along with the cr?me de la cr?me of the Russian team that made the Federation Cup final.


In Monday's top first round match, Romania's Dragomir Ruksandra surprised eighth seed Yelena Likhovtseva of Russia 6-3, 7-5. Japan's Sugiyama Ai, who was a finalist two years ago, got past Luxembourg's Anne Kreme 6-3, 1-6, 6-2.


Russian tennis is at an unusual high. Yevgeny Kafelnikov won his second Grand Slam in January, taking the Australian Open and making the semifinals of the U.S. Open this fall. The men's Davis Cup team made the semifinals before falling to Australia, and on the women's side the Russian team - without the help of Kournikova - lost to the strongest side in the world, the United States, in the Federation Cup final.


Kournikova at first refused to play for Russia because of an injury, but changed her mind and tried to join the team before last month's Fed Cup final. Russia captain Konstantin Bogorodetsky, though, refused to break up the team.


Women's tennis in Russia is so strong it could field two teams, match referee Vladimir Khodeyev said.


"The women's game is more interesting," Khodeyev said, adding that while the men rely on power the women's game is more subtle and competitive.


"There [are] a lot more men coming [to watch] now," he said, "Some may say it's because the players are beautiful, but the game's better as well."


Visitors to the Kremlin Cup can take a look at an exhibition in the VIP area that shows how tennis has changed in Russia since the end of the 19th century. Black and white pictures of players dressed in long white trousers and striped jackets at the 1912 St. Petersburg tournaments hang near color pictures of the greats of the last 10 years of the Kremlin Cup. It is only in modern Russia that tennis has gained as firm a grip as it had in the early 1900s when the Tsygankov brothers were making the rackets that propelled Surmarokov Elston to eight Russian championships.


The Soviet Union had 20 closed courts by 1967. Now, however, the V Tennis Club alone boasts 15 closed courts, four bowling lanes and a solarium in brochures distributed at its Kremlin Cup stand.


Ticket prices at the Kremlin Cup range from 30 rubles to 450 rubles. Access to the VIP area is only available to ticket holders from areas C25, C25 and C33, which cost 70 rubles to 450 rubles. To order tickets phone 956-3360 or e-mail: maratkc@online.ru.


A full list of ticket prices, news and the full draw can be found in English on the tournament web site at www.kremlincup.ru.