The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This PagePrint This Page
A life-long dream to win the Davis Cup

London: He has probably accumulated more air miles than any other player on the men’s tour.

He is the Olympic champion, was the first Russian to win a Grand Slam title and became the 16th player to be world number one in April 1999.

But Yevgeny Kafelnikov is not satisfied with his $22 million in prize money and 26 singles titles. What he wants above all is to lead Russia to victory in the Davis Cup.

Twice, in 1994 and 1995, his dream died at the final hurdle but Kafelnikov has the best chance of his life this week when Russia play champions France.

“It would really be something, it would make me the happiest person on this planet if only I could achieve my life-long dream,” he said last month. “It would make my tennis career a complete one.”

Until recently Kafelnikov carried the Russian challenge almost single-handedly but the arrival of Marat Safin, the 2000 US Open champion and now ranked third in the world, has eased his load and made Russia favourites for the final.

Kafelnikov has one of the most varied games on the circuit but he has an astonishing ability to play hot and cold, perhaps caused by his unrivalled pursuit of prize money.

Last year was the seventh in eight that Kafelnikov had played the most singles and doubles matches (142) on the men’s tour. He was also the only player to win more than 60 matches in each of the last three seasons.

Kafelnikov first made his mark in the tennis world as Russia was struggling to overcome the collapse of the Soviet Union and financial security was at the top of his priorities.

His workaholic urge meant that after winning the Australian Open in 1999 he flew out of Melbourne in the early evening for his next tournament in Marseille.

But this constant criss-crossing of the globe caused a worrying number of early-round defeats for the Russian which led critics to doubt his commitment to lesser tournaments. His up-and-down form led to a ludicrous situation when he finally reached the number one spot.

The French do not possess a player of Sampras’ standard and the clay surface at the Bercy stadium in Paris holds no fears for Safin or Kafelnikov.

Former president Boris Yeltsin, a keen tennis player, is due to travel to Paris this weekend to lend his support and if Kafelnikov achieves his goal, the 28-year-old has vowed to hang up his racket for good.

“That would be a really fitting finale for me,” he said. “It would sort of complete the circle and allow me to leave the game with my conscience at peace.”

Email This PagePrint This Page