“Tennis: a perfect combination of athleticism, artistry, power, style, and wit. A beautiful game, but one so remorselessly travestied by the passage of time.” Martin Amis, The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump. Essays and Reportage, 1994-2016.
Sports lovers already know that tennis means much more than striking a ball with a racket over the net. Tennis is a synonym of endurance, power, physical and mental strength, discipline, beauty, and elegance for the public’s delight. In today’s article, we will look at the 10 best Russian tennis players to have ever graced the tennis court.
Best Russian Tennis Players List
1. Maria Sharapova
Talented and outstandingly beautiful, Maria Sharapova is one of the most famous Russian tennis players.
Maria Yuryevna Sharapova was born on April 19th, 1987, in Nyagan, Russia. A former professional tennis player who stood out for her skills and her beauty, Maria Sharapova is the first Russian female tennis player to win Wimbledon. Even though she played under the Russian flag, Maria has been a permanent U.S. resident since 1994.
Between 2001 and 2020, Maria competed on the WTA Tour and was ranked world No. 1 in singles five times for a total of no less than 21 weeks. She also holds an Olympic silver medal in women’s singles (London 2012 Summer Olympics). She is the only Russian woman to hold a career Grand Slam.
She turned professional when she was only 14. On August 22nd, 2005, Maria Sharapova became the world’s No. 1. She was only 18 and became the first Russian female tennis player to make it to the top 10. From that point on, Maria won five Grand Slam titles: two times the Roland Garros, once the Australian Open, once Wimbledon, and once the U.S. Open. She won a total of 36 titles, including the WTA Finals in 2004. Apart from her singles career, Maria won three doubles titles as well. Thanks to her outstanding career, in June 2011, Time named her one of the “30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present, and Future”, while the Tennis Channel named her one of the “100 Greatest of All Time” in March 2012. Her rivalry with Serena Williams (considered by most the greatest female tennis player ever) is well known.
According to Forbes, Maria was the highest-paid female athlete globally for 11 years in a row, earning an impressive US$285 million during her professional career. Unfortunately, not everything was bright in her career. At the Australian Open held in 2016, Maria tested positive for Meldonium, a banned substance that caused her to be suspended for two years by ITF (i.e., International Tennis Federation). After appealing the sentence, her suspension was reduced to 15 months, and Maria returned to the WTA tour in April 2017. Later that year, she would win her final WTA title. Maria announced her retirement on February 26th, 2020.
Due to her outstanding beauty, Maria Sharapova also made it into the world of modeling, being featured in magazines such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, commercials for famous brands like Nike, Avon, Porsche, and Canon, or representing fashion houses such as Cole Haan.
In February 2007, Maria became a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador, dealing mainly with the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Programme. In 2018, Maria set a new program meant to mentor female entrepreneurs.
2. Marat Safin
Marat Mubinovich Safin was born on January 27th, 1980, in Moscow. Both Marat and his sister, Dinara, inherited their mother’s love for tennis, being the only brother and sister duo to achieve No. 1 rankings. Marat achieved the ATP world No. 1 singles ranking in November 2000 and held it for nine weeks, while his sister reached the WTA world No. 1 player in 2009. His mother, Rauza Islanova, was Marat’s first coach.
Marat turned professional in 1997, and, at the 2000 U.S. Open, he managed to defeat Pete Sampras to win his first Grand Slam title. In 2005, Marat won the Australian Open. In 2002 and 2006, he helped the Russian team to win the Davis Cup.
Marat is the first Russian tennis player to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals and the first Russian tennis player to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (2016).
After his retirement in 2009, Marat Safin entered politics, representing the United Russia party, and became the vice-president of the Russian Tennis Federation.
3. Anna Kournikova
Anna Sergeyevna Kournikova was born on June 7th, 1981, in Moscow. When she was only 14 years old, Anna debuted in professional tennis, becoming the youngest player ever to win the Fed Cup for Russia. When she was only 15, she participated in the U.S. Open. At 16, she reached the Wimbledon semi-finals. In 1996, Anna won the WTA Newcomer of the Year award. However, even if she never won a singles title, she did manage to reach world No. 8 in 2000.
Her success would come from playing doubles. With Martina Hingis, her doubles partner, Anna made it to the world No.1 ranking, winning two Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and the WTA Championships twice (in 1999 and 2002). As a result, Martina and Anna named themselves the “Spice Girls of Tennis”. In 1999, Anna and Martina won the WTA Doubles Team of the Year award.
When she was only 21, Anna saw herself forced to retire from professional tennis due to severe back and spinal problems. But she continued to play exhibition and charity matches and also pursued a modeling and acting career. Then, Anna met the Spanish superstar Enrique Iglesias when filming the video ‘Escape’. That was the moment a love story that would last through the years was born.
She was featured With her name as one of the most popular search strings on Google; there is no wonder Anna’s name appeared on the ’50 Most Beautiful People’ list by People magazine. But there is more behind this skilled and beautiful tennis player: Anna also serves as a Global Ambassador for the “Five & Alive” program, which addresses health crises that involve children under five.
4. Yevgeny Kafelnikov
Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Kafelnikov was born February 18th, 1974, in Sochi. Kafelnikov made national history when he became the first Russian tennis player to reach World No. 1 in the ATP Rankings in May 1999. He held his position for six weeks. The following year, Marat Safin will also reach World No. 1.
But Yevgeny Kafelnikov would make national history again in 1996, becoming the first Russian player to win a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros. He is among the few tennis players to win the doubles and singles titles at the same tournament. In 1999, he also won the Australian Open.
Among his other achievements, we can highlight the gold medal in singles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the Davis Cup (2002), which he won as part of the Russian team. In doubles, Kafelnikov won three times at Roland Garros (1996, 1997, and 2002) and once at the U.S. Open (1997). Between 1997 and 2001, he also won the Kremlin Cup five times in a row. In 2019, Kafelnikov was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Kafelnikov retired in 2003 at the St. Petersburg Open. After his retirement, he started to play in the World Series of Poker (which he cashed three times), participated in the European Golf Tour, and even coached Marat Safin.
5. Dinara Safina
Dinara Mubinovna Safina was born on April 27th, 1986, in Moscow. Dinara is the younger sister of the famous former world No. 1 Russian tennis player Marat Safin.
Dinara Safina won her first WTA title at Sopot (2002) and was a runner-up in singles at the French Open (2008), the Australian Open (2009), and the French Open (2009). In April 2009, Dinara Safina became the second Russian tennis player – after Maria Sharapova – to reach the WTA world No. 1 position. In 2007, Dinara Safina and Nathalie Dechy won the women’s doubles at the U.S. Open. In 2008, Dinara would win an Olympic silver medal in singles at the Summer Olympics held in Beijing. Dinara Safina holds a total of 12 career titles.
After a long absence from the tour due to a chronic back injury, Safina retired in 2014.
6. Elena Vesnina
Elena Sergeyevna Vesnina was born on August 1st, 1986, in Lviv, Ukraine.
Elena turned pro in 2002 and, in 2004, she qualified for the first time into a WTA Tour main draw in the Bell Challenge (Quebec). During her career, Elena Vesnina has been one of the highest-ranked doubles players, winning four Grand Slam titles (the French Open (2013), the US Open (2014), and Wimbledon (2017) with Ekaterina Makarova, and the Australian Open (2016) mixed-doubles with Bruno Soares).
Vesnina reached the world No. 1 in women’s doubles in June 2018. In May 2012, Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova partnered, becoming one of the best teams on tour and winning no less than twelve titles together: the WTA Finals in 2016, three Grand Slam titles, and an Olympic gold medal at Rio. She participated in the 2020 Summer Olympics together with Aslan Karatsev, winning a silver medal in mixed doubles. As of August 2021, she is ranked nº 53.
As for her singles career, the highest-ranking was No. 13 in March 2017. 2009 was one of her best seasons, reaching her first WTA final. She holds 3 career titles: Hobart and Eastbourne (2013) and Indian Wells (2017). In 2016, she made it to her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon. In August 2021, she was ranked nº 303.
7. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Svetlana Aleksandrovna Kuznetsova was born on June 27th, 1985, in Saint Petersburg. When she was 7, Svetlana moved to Spain and attend the prestigious Sanchez-Casal Academy.
Svetlana turned pro in 2000 and, one year later, she participated in the Madrid Open, her first WTA tournament. In 2001, following her appearances at the French Open and, Svetlana received the Russian Cup for Newcomer of the Year. In 2002, she would win her first WTA title in Helsinki, at the Nordea Nordic Light Open.
Svetlana played four Grand Slam singles finals, winning two of them. In 2004, she became the first Russian tennis player to win the U.S Open and the 3rd to win a Grand Slam. In 2009, she won the French Open defeating Dinara Safina. Kuznetsova reached a career-high No. 2 WTA ranking. She held the position for 24 weeks (2007 and 2008). In 2016, she made it to the WTA Finals semi-finals. As of November 2021, Svetlana is ranked nº 108.
As a doubles player, she partnered with Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and managed to win five WTA doubles titles together. In 2004, she paired with Likhovtseva, climbing to No. 3 in doubles and holding the position for 8 weeks. Kuznetsova won the Australian Open twice: together with Alicia Molik in 2005 and partnering with Vera Zvonareva in 2012. Even though she also played mixed doubles, she never made it to the semi-finals.
As of today, Svetlana Kuznetsova has won 16 WTA doubles titles and 18 WTA singles titles.
8. Elena Dementieva
Elena Viacheslavovna Dementieva was born on October 15th, 1981, in Moscow.
Since she turned pro in 1998, Elena won a silver medal at the Summer Olympics in Sydney (2000) and a gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing (2008). Even though she never won a Grand Slam title, she does hold 16 WTA singles titles and reached two Grand Slam finals (French Open and US Open in 2004) and seven other Grand Slam semi-finals. In 2005, Dementieva was part of the Russian team that managed to win the Fed Cup. In April 2009, Elena Dementieva accomplished her highest career ranking as world No. 3. She had seven Top 10 seasons.
As for her doubles career, she paired with Janette Husárová and won the WTA Championships (2002). In 2002, Elena and Husárová were the runner-ups in the US Open doubles final. In 2005, she made it to another US Open doubles final together with Flavia Penneta. Elena’s doubles career-high was world No.5, accomplished in April 2003.
In October 2010, after her last match at the WTA Championship, Dementieva announced her retirement.
9. Anastasia Myskina
Born on July 8th, 1981, in Moscow, Anastasia Andreyevna Myskina turned professional in 1998 and, that very year, she would break into the WTA top 500. In 2004, Anastasia won the French Open and became the first Russian female player to win a singles title at a Grand Slam and break into the Top 3. Myskina was part of the Russian team that won the first Fed Cup title. Later that year, in September, she accomplished a career-high ranking of No. 2. She holds 10 career titles and 9 runners-up in women’s singles.
In doubles, Anastasia won 5 titles: Wismilak International (2004), the Kremlin Cup (2004), the Kolkata Open (2005), the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (2005), and the Warsaw Open (2006).
Even though she has officially announced her retirement, she played her last match on the WTA tour in 2007.
10. Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Sergeyevich Medvedev was born on February 11th, 1996, in Moscow.
He turned professional in 2014 and he is currently ranked as world No. 2 by ATP. He achieved his career-high singles ranking in March 2021. Daniil made his ATP debut in 2015 at the Kremlin Cup (doubles). One year later, he would win his first singles match at the Ricoh Open. 2018 was the year when Daniil Medvedev would win his first ATP titles: Winston-Salem, Sydney, and ATP 500 Tokyo. In 2019, he reached 6 tournament finals in a row.
As of now, Daniil has won 13 ATP Tour singles titles, including the US Open (2021) and the ATP Finals (2020). With his victory at the ATP Finals, Daniil became the first player to defeat the world’s top 3 players on his way to the title. Additionally, Medvedev was the runner-up at the US Open (2019) and the Australian Open (2021). Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are the only two active players (except the Big Four) to hold four Masters 1000 titles.
Daniil Medvedev is currently ranked as world No. 2.
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