Svetlana Kuznetsova’s coronation as US Open champion ensures that 2004 will be remembered as the year of the Russian revolution in women’s tennis.
Kuznetsova, seeded nine, beat her sixth-ranked compatriot Elena Dementieva 6-3 7-5 in the all-Russian final at Flushing Meadows to lift the US Open title.
At the start of the year no Russian woman had ever won a Grand Slam but with the slam season now over three of the four titles are in the hands of daughters of the Motherland.
Anastasia Myskina set the standard by winning the French Open at Roland Garros with Dementieva again cast in the role of runner-up at Roland Garros.
Myskina was quickly followed into the record books by Maria Sharapova’s unexpected success in Wimbledon.
Justine Henin-Hardenne’s win in the Australian Open back in January was the only obstacle to a clean sweep for Russia in women’s slams while the Belgian also won the gold medal in the Athens Olympics.
Moscow-born Myskina, Siberian Sharapova and St Petersburg’s Kuznetsova are all now vying with each other for the title of tennis queen – maybe czarina would be a more appropriate word – of a nation that has only become competitive in the sport since the fall of Communism.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin had lifted titles for the men but this year is the breakthrough year for the women.
Kuznetsova’s victory in New York came on the third anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks and a week after her homeland had been rocked by the Beslan school massacre.
Kuznetsova, who like all the Russian women wore a black ribbon all week in memory of the Beslan victims, dedicated her win to the victims of both those atrocities.
The new champion showed a sense of perspective after she lifted the trophy.
“(This victory) seems so little,” said Kuznetsova. “I just hope we’re going to be together. I want to dedicate this to the people who died on September 11 and in Russia.”
Tennis may be a relatively trivial matter compared to such world-changing events but it has given Russia reason to be proud this year.
Myskina and Dementieva are both products of the famous Spartak Moscow club where many of Russia’s young tennis starlets learn their trade.
Myskina’s coronation in Paris was no surprise after the part-time fashion designer had steadily progressed towards the top echelons of the women’s game.
However, at Wimbledon a month later few people would have expected that Sharapova would have triumphed in the oldest of the four slam events in the leafy suburbs of SE19.
The 17-year-old from Siberia did not see her mother for three years as a child after her father took her to Florida to work at the world-renowned tennis academy of Nick Bollettieri.
However, the youngster, whose blonde hair and good looks earned unwanted comparisons with compatriot and fellow Bollettieri prodigy Anna Kournikova, proved that unlike her predecessor she is a born winner.
Henin-Hardenne briefly interrupted the Russian roll of success as she took the title and gold medal in Athens.
But after her victory in New York, 19-year-old Kuznetsova has shown she has what it takes to win at the top level.
Kuznetsova’s father, mother and brother are accomplished cyclists but with her victory in New York she has already eclipsed the exploits of her relatives.
Amid all the Russian success there is one crumb of comfort for France after Amelie Mauresmo ensured she will be the new number one when the new WTA rankings are unveiled on Monday.
The Frenchwoman’s succession became inevitable when Lindsay Davenport lost in the semi-finals to Kuznetsova.
As for America, Davenport has indicated she does not plan to retire yet while the Williams sisters Venus and Serena are yet to recover the form that once made them the unstoppable force of world tennis although Serena’s black and denim outfit certainly ensured she stayed in the spotlight in New York.
New Yorker Jennifer Capriati, a past victor at Roland Garros and the Australian Open, once again failed to make the final of her hometown slam as she lost to Dementieva in the semis.
Henin-Hardenne has had a good season – although not as good as 2003 after being struck down by a virus – while her fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters has had a season to forget, with injury blighting 2004 for the fiancée of Lleyton Hewitt.
Clijsters was briefly world number one but – like Mauresmo – is still waiting to win her first slam event.
With the fortunes of the United States and Belgium seeming to be on the wane and Mauresmo yet to prove she can win a major tournament the stage looks set to be dominated by the Russians for years to come with many youngsters also coming through the system in the wake of the three grand-slam winning pioneers.