Chesnokov, from ‘Iron curtain’ to Iron coach

Published May 27th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

When Andrei Chesnokov began playing tennis in 1985, there were precious few chinks in the 'iron curtain' constructed by the Soviet military machine across the old East-West divide. 

Top-level sport, however, was one way of making your way out from behind the curtain - and Russian youngster Marat Safin is now belatedly reaping the benefits. 

Former star player Chesnokov has been Safin's coach only since April - but the improvement in his charge has been remarkable. 

Safin is one of the fastest rising stars on the men's circuit and has already bagged two clay court titles this year ahead of the French Open, which starts on Monday. 

Last weekend, he was only two points away from defeating Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten in the Hamburg Masters Series final. 

The 20-year-old Muscovite had broken his Tour duck by winning the Boston title last year and also reached the Paris Indoor final before bowing to Andre Agassi - but his progress in recent weeks has been even more explosive with tournament wins at Barcelona and Mallorca and his fine run in Hamburg. 

Much of that is down to Chesnokov's influence. 

The 34-year-old Chesnokov, who also hails from Moscow, won seven career titles and reached eight further finals, while also starring for the Russian Davis Cup side. 

Chesnokov's main success came when he won Monte Carlo in 1990 and he was Rome finalist the same year. 

But he never quite made the Grand Slam grade as he lost the French Open semi-final in 1989 to eventual champion Michael Chang and bowed out in quarterfinals in both 1986 and 1988. 

Chesnokov did, however, win the hearts and minds of Russian fans when he staved off nine match points before winning the deciding rubber in the 1995 Davis Cup semi-final against Germany's Michael Stich. 

The 20-year-old took the advice to heart and after Hamburg shot into the top 10 in the ATP Champions Race. And that could be just the beginning – (AFP)

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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