The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A leader and a good-luck charm

Paris: Every team needs a mascot and Boris Yeltsin is convinced he was Russia’s good luck charm at the Davis Cup final. Within seconds of Mikhail Youzhny winning the deciding singles, Yeltsin was clambering with difficulty over a courtside barrier and marching on to the court.

A couple of security guards thought about stopping him but the 71-year-old former President had come a long way, and waited a long time, for this moment of triumph and he was going to be part of it. The first to receive a bearhug was Shamil Tarpischev, captain since 1997, whose decision to play the 20-year-old Youzhny instead of Yevgeny Kafelnikov proved to be one of the great gambles in Davis Cup history.

Then Yeltsin entered the maelstrom of players and officials tossing Youzhny in the air after his five-set comeback victory over Paul-Henri Mathieu. Kafelnikov received words of encouragement before Youzhny was enveloped by Yeltsin’s embrace. “I am the talisman,” Yeltsin told French television with a broad smile.

Yeltsin has been a big tennis fan since taking up the sport in 1992 and had been at all of Russia’s Davis Cup ties this year in Moscow. At the 1994 final against Sweden, Yeltsin’s arrival into Moscow’s Olympic stadium had a negative effect on Alexander Volkov, who slumped to defeat against Stefan Edberg after the then president caused a stir with his arrival at a critical stage in the fifth set.

His entry on that occasion led Kafelnikov to accuse Yeltsin of costing Russia the match.

This time, seated in the front row of the stands, accompanied by his wife Naina, Yeltsin’s shock of silver hair stood out like a beacon for the Russian players bidding to bring the Cup home to Moscow for the first time after failed attempts in 1994 and 1995.

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