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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lending a Helping Forehand ... or Two

For MTRussian WTA Tour player Yevgenia Kulikovskaya smacking a left-handed forehand, one of the shots in her ambidextrous repetoire.
When people say Yevgenia Kulikovskaya doesn't have a backhand, they don't mean that her backhand is weak and easily exploited by opponents. They mean it literally: She doesn't have a backhand.

Instead, the 24-year-old Muscovite, currently ranked No. 115 on the Women's Tennis Association Tour, simply switches her racket from hand to hand and raps forehands from both sides.

Over the last two weeks at Wimbledon, the buzz primarily surrounded Kulikovskaya's five compatriots who reached the tournament quarterfinals.

But Kulikovskaya, who was knocked out in the first round by Angelique Widjaja of Indonesia 7-5, 6-1, nonetheless drew spectators' attention with her unique hitting style.

"It's always the same everywhere I go," Kulikovskaya said. "Nobody plays like that anymore, so people are always pointing at me and saying 'Look how she hits!'"

Kulikovskaya's ambidextrous approach is a result more of happenstance and curiosity than calculated career planning.

Kulikovskaya began playing tennis in school at age 7, and her coach, with a group of 32 children to attend to, wasn't able to devote much time for individual work with each pupil. It was up to Kulikovskaya to develop her own hitting technique.

"At practice we would stand there hitting balls against a wall," she said. "I would hit with my left hand until it got tired, and then I would switch to my right hand. When my coach saw how I was hitting, he decided just to let me do it. I was like his little experiment."

Kulikovskaya considers herself a left-hander, even though she writes, cuts bread and eats with her right hand.

"I throw better with my left hand, though," she said.

She holds her racket like a left-hander, with her right hand above her left hand. Because she doesn't have time to adjust to a standard right-handed grip on a ball to her right, she chokes up slightly on the racket on her right-handed forehand. The result is a shot slightly weaker than her left-handed forehand, which she strokes from the base of the grip.

Kulikovskaya serves left-handed -- though she hits overhead slams with both hands -- and approaches the net for two-handed volleys like a regular left-hander.

"I only use my right hand at the net if the ball is really wide right," she said.

After returning to Moscow from Wimbledon, Kulikovskaya was out on the clay courts at Moscow's prestigious Spartak Tennis Club in Sokolniki Park last weekend working on her forehands with her boyfriend and coach, 23-year-old Andrei Youzhny, older brother of last year's Davis Cup hero Mikhail Youzhny. Occasionally Youzhny would chide her for making her mind up too late about which hand to use.

Youzhny, her boyfriend of six years, concedes that there are holes in Kulikovskaya's technique, but notes that her game might have actually suffered with a backhand.

"There are lots of disadvantages that I don't want to necessarily talk about because we don't want to help her opponents," he said. "But I will say that if she didn't use the technique, I'm not sure if she would be able to play at a professional level."

Kulikovskaya is ambivalent about her lack of a backhand. "I never thought about whether it's helped my career," she said. "I think any technique has its plusses and minuses. I've had some success with it, so I guess it's fine."

Going into Wimbledon, Kulikovskaya was No. 95 in the WTA rankings, the lowest of 13 Russians in the top 100, with 22-year-old Anastasia Myskina leading the pack at No. 10.

With a career total of $304,198 in tournament winnings, Kulikovskaya is neither the most successful nor promising Russian player.

But she is in a sense one of the pioneers of Russia's post-Soviet women's tennis boom, having turned professional in 1994 -- a year before Anna Kournikova.

The Spartak courts offer a telling snapshot of this boom, with zealous parents shuttling droves of 6-year-old girls wielding rackets half their size from court to court. It's difficult to take two steps without tripping over a blond ponytail.

"I don't really consider myself a pioneer, but little girls who come here to train watch us workout," she said. "I think it's good that they have someone to look up to."

Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev is aware of the imminent rewards of the boom, predicting last week that a Russian would win next year's Wimbledon women's title.

"He is our coach, so he can't really say anything else," Kulikovskaya joked. "But seriously, I think it's possible that one of our players could win next year."

She considers Vera Zvonareva, 18, and Nadya Petrova, 21, -- both Wimbledon quarterfinalists -- to be the most promising prospects.

Compared to other rising Russian stars, such as 16-year-old Wimbledon quarterfinalist Maria Sharapova, Kulikovskaya, at age 24, is a veritable tennis veteran.

She says, however, she has no thoughts of giving up the game and would like to continue playing as long as possible. When her career comes to a close, she aims to start coaching.

"I love tennis, and I like to work with children," she said.

But Kulikovskaya says she probably won't teach her pupils to play with two forehands.

"I think I'm capable of teaching a backhand to a child," she said. "At the very least, Andrei will show me how."