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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Safin May Prove a Hard Act to Follow

Russian tennis chiefs believe the future is not entirely rosy despite Marat Safin's Australian Open success.

Safin's victory over Lleyton Hewitt on Sunday followed a year dominated by the success of Russia's women players, who won three of the four women's singles Grand Slam titles in 2004.

"At first glance Russian tennis is successful and we are proud of the victories of our tennis players, but nevertheless ... we are already noticing some problems," Russian Tennis Federation vice president Dmitry Vikharev told reporters.

He said the main problem was a shortage of boys playing on the junior circuit and therefore a lack of potential successors to Safin.

"If you look at the entrants for the boys' junior Australian Open, there was not a single Russian surname on the list of 64," Vikharev said.

It is not for a lack of interest in the game.

The sport's enormous popularity is creating a shortage of top-class coaches. Many prefer to coach at private tennis clubs where the money is better, forcing Russia's promising youngsters to look abroad for a coach, if they can afford it.

The passion for tennis is a post-Soviet phenomenon, sparked by ex-President Boris Yeltsin's patronage of the game. A lack of tennis courts has sent hire prices soaring, making it accessible only to the better-off.

"In some places courts cost $70 per hour ... and correspondingly in some towns the situation with the popularity of tennis is worse than in Soviet times," said federation chief Shamil Tarpishchev.

The federation has suggested using a Soviet-style centralized training system and hopes to attract private sponsorship so that children can be coached at special centers in Russia without having to shell out huge sums of money.

Anastasia Myskina began Russia's tennis revolution with her win at the French Open last year. Then Maria Sharapova clinched Wimbledon and Svetlana Kuznetsova claimed the U.S. Open.

Fellow Russian Yelena Dementyeva was runner-up in the French and U.S. Opens. The Russian women's team also won the Fed Cup last year and currently there are six Russians in the top 12 of the women's rankings.

Safin's Australian Open win catapulted the Russian men back into the spotlight after an absence of Grand Slam wins since Safin's U.S. Open victory in 2000.

At No. 4 the 25-year-old is the only Russian in the men's top 10, with Nikolai Davydenko at 15 and Mikhail Youzhny at 16 the next-highest ranked.

The federation has set a five-year goal of having at least 10 men ranked in the top 100, four or five in the top 50 and one or two in the top 10.