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A Look Back at the 1999 Wismilak Open
by Prip

Well, what I expected was very different from what I got from the Wismilak Open. As is becoming more and more the norm, the actual draws were almost alien to the commitment lists that were released. Among those whom I was planning to watch but ended up either in Philadelphia or not playing that week were Barbara Schwartz, Kim Clijsters, Anna Smashnova, Ines Gorrochategui, Elena Dementieva, Jana Nejedly, Amanda Hopmans, Kvetoslava Hrdlickova, Anca Barna and Marlene Weingartner.

Instead, Joanette Kruger and Magdalena Maleeva, among others, stepped up to the plate. A lot of qualifying draw entrants were moved up to the main draw, and the ones who benefited the most were Asa Carlsson and Erika de Lone.

I’d certainly seen enough of the higher-ranked players, and this event gave me a chance to get a preview of some of the less-publicised youngsters. The many Henins and Clijsters of the tennis world have already been touted by hundreds as future Top Tenners, but I’d heard relatively less about two players that I came away rather impressed with - Anastasia Myskina and Jelena Kostanic. The most I’d seen of either before this was the last 3 games of Myskina’s match against Mary Joe Fernandez in the second round of the U.S Open.

Both girls are 18 years old this year, and were born within a month of each other. Both have taken their time turning professional, Kostanic to graduate from high school before deciding that she’d give pro tennis a go. Which, to me, is a very healthy thing in women’s tennis nowadays, where we see mere babes wielding racquets and blasting fuzzy yellow balls 10 hours a day.

Anastasia Myskina. She has no single obvious weapon at the moment, but has a game that comes together rather well. Her double-handed backhand has a funny under-/side-spin, and half the time, it looks like it’s headed straight into the net, but pulls up just in time and skims over the tape. Her forehand is flatter, but is the less dependable wing. She has good placement with both groundstrokes, and ample power. A definite advantage is her footspeed. Anastasia is a tall girl, and can probably run around the court all day. She shows good determination, and despite her lack of experience, handles clutch situations rather well.

Something that can do with some improvement is her service. Despite her height, her serve in her first few matches had nothing on it, no spin, no pace. There was some improvement in her last two matches, when her serve started popping and she got a few aces down the middle. She can definitely add a strong weapon to her arsenal by working a little more on it. Her net game is pretty much non-existent in singles, although she will come in to put the ball away. Her volleys in doubles is efficient. She’s got good things going for her -- all she needs is a "proper" coach to teach her strategy, how to construct points better, and to work on her serve. In other words, she needs an experienced coach to make up for her own lack of experience. Nevertheless, she’s gotten through the first couple of steps, including taking the title at Palermo earlier this year.

Personality-wise, Nastya is one of the nice and friendly players on the tour. Her first language is obviously Russian, but she is very fluent in English, and is comfortable with more than "yes" or "no" answers. While her demeanour on court may make her appear a little intimidating or fan-unfriendly, I got a very nice impression of her and the way she handles attention from fans. If anyone sees her, let her know that Prip from Kuala Lumpur says hi. You can’t miss her - she’s tall, thin, has straight long dark hair, and amazingly striking eyes.

Jelena Kostanic. She has steady groundstrokes on both sides, using a double-handed backhand. She can keep in a hard-hitting rally if she chooses to, but I think her placement is more of a weapon than her power. Her serve is good considering her average height, but her net game definitely needs work. Footspeed, determination and intensity are a few strengths. As can be expected, inexperience is the biggest problem, but that is better compensated by her coach, with whom she seems to get along with well.

Jelena has already chalked up wins against two of her top three compatriots, Silvija Talaja and Iva Majoli; Katarina Srebotnik and Sylvia Plischke. She is most comfortable on clay, and in the pro tour, she has had the most success so far on home ground. Her junior career was capped off with the Australian Open title in 1998. Short of a top player deciding that a few easy points are the order of the week, she’s my pick to take the title at Bol next year. The biggest problem I can see is that Jelena seems to have a bit of trouble maintaining her concentration during matches. Other than that, we’ve got a lot of potential coming into the tour next year in this girl.

Jelena is also fluent in English, but seems to me to be a little shy and quiet. Which is why I was surprised when she told me that she likes rock and dance music, but listens to a lot of other stuff. Less surprising is that her favourite colour is blue - all her match outfits throughout the tournament was blue. Even the clothes she wore for practice was blue. Jelena has plenty of young compatriots climbing up the rankings, so the support system will definitely be there for her.

Two other players whom I would have loved to see more of are Magdalena Maleeva and Tathiana Garbin. Both had poor showings at the Wismilak Open, but should be picking up their performances in the beginning of the 2000 season. Magdalena Maleeva has a beautiful all-court game very unlike her sisters’, and, touted to be the most talented of the three, is unfortunately also the most injury-prone. Her many fans will definitely be watching her every move with baited breath to see if she can get back to the Top 25 by the end of the year. She herself has set more realistic goals, and will see how the next few months go before setting any goals for the year. Tathiana Garbin is still very much more active in the ITF events than in the WTA Tour events, as are players outside the Top 100, but I’ll expect her to move on to the next step soon enough.

Not so new to the tour but young and talented nonetheless is Olga Barabanschikova. She has steadily climbed up the rankings over the years, except for a slight hiccup last year. Olga has a captivating game amidst the power and strength displayed by so many players nowadays. Preferring touch shots as beautiful as her growing fan base finds Olga herself, she can keep up in a baseline battle. The problem keeping her from her first WTA title seems to be purely mental. Unfortunately, Olga seems to follow in the footsteps of her notorious Belarussian counterpart, Natasha Zvereva, and has trouble maintaining her concentration long enough to make the most of her talent. Too many careless shots keep the Belarussian bombshell on the brink of the Top 50.

Teenagers showing flashes of brilliance is nothing new to the WTA Tour, and we will all have one or two whom we think will come through and realise their talent. With recent success stories such as Martina Hingis and the Williams sisters, the race to predict the next teen sensation is a hot one. However, if it’s one lesson we’ve learned from the past, it is that even the most talented of tennis players may be pushed too far in the gruelling grind of the tour.