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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Cup Sees U.S. Stars Back Out

MTPresident of the Russian Tennis Association Shamil Tarpishchev, left, and ATP Tournament Director Alex Volkov.
Russia's most prestigious annual sporting event, the Kremlin Cup tennis tournament, gets under way Saturday, though its star appeal has already been diluted by the withdrawal from the event of U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and her U.S. compatriot, world No. 3 Lindsay Davenport.

The Americans pulled out of the tournament because of security fears following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, said Shamil Tarpishchev, the president of the Russian Tennis Association, at a news conference Wednesday.

"We definitely cannot substitute for Williams and Davenport, and their absence will narrow the tournament's intrigue, but we fully respect their concerns about traveling,"Alexei Selivanenko, director of the women's section of the tournament, said Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

By Thursday, however, Selivanenko had changed his tune, telling Reuters, "Moscow is the safest place in the world and any reference to a security reason not to play is absurd."

Despite the double withdrawal, the women's section of the tournament looks classy, with 12 of the world's top 20 players in attendance, including world No. 1 and defending champion Martina Hingis. Her main challengers are likely to be fellow top 10 players Kim Clijsters of Belgium, the French pair Amelie Mauresmo and Nathalie Tauziat, and another Belgian, Justine Henin, runner-up to Williams at Wimbledon this year.

Russia will also be strongly represented by world No. 17 Yelena Dementieva, Yelena Likhovtseva and up-and-coming star Lina Krasnoroutskaya. Likely to upstage them all though, injury permitting, is the tennis world's favorite pinup Anna Kournikova, who is recovering from a five-month layoff caused by a stress fracture of her left foot.

The men's tournament lacks the international appeal of the women's section but it does feature home-grown stars in the shape of Yevgeny Kafelnikov, bidding for his fifth consecutive Kremlin Cup title, and Marat Safin, Nos. 6 and 11 respectively in the ATP Champions Race. Locals will be hoping for a repeat of the President's Cup final in Tashkent earlier this month, where Safin beat Kafelnikov in the first ever all-Russian ATP Tour final. Among those hoping to prevent such a scenario are world No. 10 Roger Federer of Switzerland, Swedes Thomas Johansson and Thomas Enqvist and Germans Tommy Haas and Nicholas Kiefer. In addition Tarpishchev said Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic has asked for a wild card.

This year's Kremlin Cup, the 12th in all, marks the second time that the men's and women's tournaments have been held simultaneously -- previously, they were held separately with a two-week interval between them. Unusually for a tennis tournament, the women will receive more prize money than the men -- the winner of the women's section will receive $166,000 and the men's $137,000 -- explaining the disparity in quality of the respective fields.

Since its heyday in the mid-1990s, however, when former President Boris Yeltsin was a high-profile patron, the Kremlin Cup has been plagued by financial worries, and this year's tournament may represent the last opportunity for Russian tennis fans to watch international tennis for a while. Despite being on a more stable financial footing this year, organizers have been tempted by a recent Chinese offer to lease the tournament until 2008, when the Olympic Games are due to take place in Beijing.

"We are considering the Chinese offer," Tarpishchev said earlier this month. "They are offering us a lot of money, so I wonder why not sell it to them and solve all our financial worries at once."

Qualifying rounds for the Kremlin Cup begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Olimpiisky Sports Complex on Prospekt Mira (metro Prospekt Mira) and conclude Sunday. The main tournament runs Monday to Oct. 7 at the same venue. Ticket prices range from 10 rubles for a regular ticket for qualifying matches up to a hefty $900 for a VIP ticket to the finals. For tickets, call the stadium box office at 288-5322. Regular updates can be found in English on the tournament web site, www.kremlincup.ru.