Re: The Yevgeny Kafelnikov Thread
Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the litmus test of the ATP. Middle ground vanishes when the prickly Russian is mentioned. You either love him or hate him. We fall into the former category, but realize many tennis fans dislike the two-time Grand Slam champion.
Let us count the ways. First, Yevgeny Kafelnikov's game is beautiful to watch. His down-the-line backhand alone sends shivers through any tennis hack. How can he hit that shot with such precision? He makes it look easier than beating Anna Kournikova in the first round. The former No. 1 isn't too shabby on the forehand side or at the net. Last year, he was the only player to qualify for the Tennis Masters Cup and the Gold Flake/ATP World Doubles Championship. In other words, when he wants, he can employ any shot to drive opponents wild.
While Kafelnikov clearly possesses the tools to reign supreme on the ATP, he often falls behind his lower-ranked opponents. Alexander Popp nearly served him off the court in their U.S. Open match last fall, and John McEnroe chided Kafelnikov for playing behind in his early rounds at this year's final Grand Slam. His lackadaisical approach alienates some fans, but it's actually endearing to others. A certain breed of tennis fan likes his or her favorite player to struggle a bit; otherwise, their cheers seem for naught. Yevgeny Kafelnikov's fans feel that their rousing efforts and voices lift him to victory. If they can't hit the groundstroke for him, they can at least encourage and support his efforts.
No one knows what Yevgeny Kafelnikov might say. Sure, he often suffers from foot-in-the-mouth disease, but he isn't bland or boring with his comments. And, he's been, at times, so sweet regarding Marat Safin. Kafelnikov acknowledged Safin's success as good for Russia. This isn't surprising. Deeply patriotic, Kafelnikov won the Olympic gold medal at the Sydney Games, and admitted it was the greatest moment of his career. He has stated that his only remaining goal is hoisting the Davis Cup trophy for his nation. Recently, he donated the Kremlin Cup champion's purse, nearly $120,000, to families whose relatives perished in a plane crash over the Black Sea. This wonderful gesture demonstrated Kafelnikov's generous nature.
What do tennis fans want to see most? Their favorite stars slugging it out on the courts. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the ATP's Iron Man, plays more matches than just about anyone. His full tournament schedule is well documented. While pundits criticize the number of matches he plays, fans love it because they adore watching his on-court antics.
Add it all together: talent, commitment to his country, and a bit of unpredictability. Yevgeny Kafelnikov could not be more fascinating to watch.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov strikes the ball as cleanly as anyone (with the exception of his frequent practice partner Thomas Enqvist). He has tremendous groundstrokes and a fine volley, but his serve needs a little more knee bend. With his prodigious talent, he should clean up throughout the year, winning tournaments on many surfaces. In 2000, though, he didn't win an event until the gold medal at the Sydney Games. At this year's Australian Open, he lost to Arnaud Clement, a talented player for sure, but Kafelnikov should have been money to reach the final.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov seemingly single-handedly changed the ATP ranking system. In 1999, he attained the No. 1 ranking in the world, and then, proceeded to lose a string of first-round matches. Many tennis insiders considered his terrible record while atop the ATP an embarrassment to the game and to its points system. Not surprisingly, the Champions Race was unveiled the following season; the revamped system is based on results during the calendar year instead of the previous 12 months. And, there isn't a true No. 1 until the end of the season.
How did Yevgeny Kafelnikov keep the top spot during his skid? He plays more tournaments than anyone else. Why? Rumor has it that he prefers to play than practice, and that he receives large appearance fees from smaller tournaments. Money appears to be the motivating factor behind his many matches, and may explain some of his early exits. To be fair, when he loses in singles, he has stayed in tournaments to play doubles.
Kafelnikov and money seem to go hand-in-hand today. At the 2001 Australian Open, he complained about the compensation tennis players receive for their efforts. He said tennis is the poor stepsister to golf, which boasts huge paychecks for its winners. Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and tennis fans, of course, came down hard on the Russian for his unorthodox view, and ripped him for complaining about his multi-million dollar earnings. Chris Woodruff and Lindsay Davenport entered the fray, and while not defending Kafelnikov, admitted the issue has a lot of gray areas.
Of course, Kafelnikov's recent comments weren't the first time he created controversy. In Davis Cup play two years ago, he boasted that he would thrash youngster Lleyton Hewitt when Russia and Australia played. Just the opposite happened. Fired up by Kafelnikov's biting comments, Hewitt trounced the elder Russian. During the 2001 season, Kafelnikov has criticized his Davis Cup teammate Marat Safin, claiming Safin doesn't train hard enough or dedicate himself fully to tennis. Ironically, these same critiques have been hurled at Kafelnikov as well.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov is certainly one of the most compelling characters on the court and off. Whether you love him (like we do) or hate him, you can't escape his magnetism, his presence or his down-the-line backhand.
Marat: Last question: what do you think of me? Dinara: You are my god! When you play, I love
to see you. When you lose, I am even sadder than when it is me. When you are wounded, I suffer.
When you speak to me, I drink your words. When you come to see me playing, I am with the angels.