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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin: One-Time Lucky Charm

APBoris Yeltsin embracing Mikhail Youzhny after the player's five-set win over Mathieu.
PARIS -- Every team needs a mascot and Boris Yeltsin is convinced he was Russia's good luck charm at the Davis Cup final.

Within seconds of Mikhail Youzhny winning the deciding singles, Yeltsin was clambering with difficulty over a courtside barrier and marching on to the court.

A couple of security guards thought about stopping him, but the 71-year-old had come a long way, and waited a long time, for this moment of triumph and he was going to be part of it.

The first to receive a bearhug was Shamil Tarpishchev, team captain since 1997, whose brave decision to play the 20-year-old Youzhny instead of former world No.1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov proved to be one of the great gambles in Davis Cup history.

Then Yeltsin entered the maelstrom of players and officials tossing Youzhny in the air after his five-set comeback victory over Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Kafelnikov, Russia's most successful player, received words of encouragement before Youzhny was enveloped by Yeltsin's embrace.

"I am the talisman," Yeltsin told French television with a broad smile.

Yeltsin has been a big tennis fan since taking up the sport in 1992 and had been at all of Russia's Davis Cup ties this year in Moscow. He invited the players to a reception before they left for Paris and promised to be there to support them.

At the 1994 final against Sweden, Yeltsin's arrival at Moscow's Olimpiisky Stadium had a negative effect on Alexander Volkov, who slumped to defeat against Stefan Edberg after the then-president caused a stir with his arrival at a critical stage in the fifth set.

His entry on that occasion led Kafelnikov to accuse Yeltsin of costing Russia the match.

This time, seated in the front row of the stands, and accompanied by his wife Naina, Yeltsin's shock of silver hair stood out like a beacon for the Russian players bidding to bring the Davis Cup home to Moscow for the first time after failed attempts in 1994 and 1995.

Most of France's political and sporting establishment, including President Jacques Chirac on his 70th birthday, visited the Bercy stadium, but Yeltsin was ever-present, clapping, shouting and leading the chants of the 1,500 Russian fans.

On Sunday he stripped off his jacket and went through the full range of emotions experienced by fans, whatever the sport.

When Youzhny went two sets down, he put his head in his hands and looked as though the world had ended.

But as the young man's recovery gathered pace, Yeltsin was up on his feet, beating the grandstand's metal bar in rhythm to the Russian chanting of "Misha, Misha" and grinning like a man possessed.

Next to him his wife stayed seated, quietly holding her hand to her mouth as the tension grew.

Tarpishchev has often said that Russian tennis owes much of its recent success to Yeltsin playing the game.

"Moscow hosting its first professional tournament in 1990, Yeltsin picking up his tennis racket in 1992, Kafelnikov becoming the first Russian to win a Grand Slam at the French Open in 1996 ... all have had a major impact on the sport in this country," Tarpishchev said.

Unlike his former president, the coach remained cool whatever the situation as he sat on his courtside bench with his legs crossed, hands folded in his lap, face impassive.

While France captain Guy Forget harangued and chivied Mathieu at each changeover, Tarpishchev was content to pass on a few well-chosen words before resuming his seat. It was more like a bridge evening with friends than a frenzied Cup final.

But when the final point was won, Tarpishchev exploded out of his seat with his arms raised and a look of pure rapture on his face.

For Yeltsin and his coach it may never be this good again.