Dinara Safina and Michaela Krajicek: Following the Family
They boast two of the most famous names in tennis, but could walk almost any street unrecognised. They are expected to be world-beaters, but are still navigating their way through adolescence. And whatever their own goals, family standards have already been set at Grand Slam success. Such are the contradictions and pressure facing Dinara Safina and Michaela Krajicek.
Dinara Safina and Michaela Krajicek are trying to make their way in the world of professional tennis. But what makes these talented teenagers different, and their tasks immeasurably more difficult, are their surnames. As the little sisters of Marat Safin and Richard Krajicek, they bear the weight of enormous expectations.
While their peers are left to develop quietly, this pair aged just 17 and 14, draws crowds befitting champions. They know that their progress is being eagerly plotted by tennis fans worldwide. But what of their family ties?
As budding professionals, is it a blessing or a curse when big brother is a Grand Slam champion? Neither Safina nor Krajicek would change their extraordinary circumstances. For starters, says Krajicek, 14, they have mentors of the highest order. Her half-brother Richard, the recently-retired 1996 Wimbledon champion is in constant contact during tournaments. "Almost every day we are on the computer, or we just SMS," says Krajicek, the World number 2 junior.
"Mostly he just wishes me luck, because he doesn't know that girl that I am playing. He just concentrates on my game and everything like that." Inevitably, however, onlookers find Krajicek's name just as fascinating as her game.
In the Netherlands earlier this year (2003), while competing in her first WTA tournament, she had her home crowd in raptures. "I was 14 years old and everybody was like 'I think you can win a few rounds'. But they just don't know how difficult it is to win the first round," says Krajicek, who lost in straight sets to Slovakia's Ludmilla Cervanova.
"The whole stadium, it was court number two, it was full. All the people were there and cameras and everything. I was really nervous then I lost so badly." "I think there were 500 people there or something. It was amazing. For them it was amazing, but not for me. It was too much pressure. I was a little bit used to it, but not so much. It was too much."
Safina well understands those demands. A prodigious talent, the Russian was just 16 years and three months old when she claimed her first WTA title at Sopot last year (2002). The statuesque blonde was the tour's youngest champion in almost four years. She won her second title at Palermo, Italy in July and in September she reached the fourth round of the US Open before falling to the eventual champion Justine Henin-Hardenne.
But Safina says that extra attention from fans and the media is due not only to her early success, or even her on-court presence. "They look to me because I am the sister of Marat," says Dinara who stands at 182 cm. "I know this. Every time with the cameras, they look to me because I am the sister of Marat."
For the time being Krajicek is content being known as "Richard's sister." "It doesn't matter to me," says Krajicek, who first picked up a racquet at age three. "I want to be known as both (Michaela and Richard's sister). Now it's more Richard, nut it doesn't matter because that's why I am famous too, a little. But I hope in the future I will be both." In her first two Grand Slam junior events, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Krajicek reached the semi-finals. She was runner-up at the US Open.
When her half-brother Richard triumphed at All England, Krajicek was just seven years old. She remembers watching the final at home on television, but as incredible as the moment was, it was not what inspired her to become professional. "It doesn't matter if he won or not," Krajicek whose younger brother Petr 10, also plays tennis says. "I like playing many matches. I like the travelling. I like being in other countries. That's great. I like the game and I like this life I'm living now. I don't want to change anything."
Further into her career, Safina says she sometimes lacks such satisfaction. Yet she asks little of the sport that has brought her brother fame and fortune. "To enjoy tennis, that's he on thing," Safina says of her career hopes. "To enjoy tennis and not get inured. There's only one thing."
From a sport that spoils its champions with international stardom and a bank balance to match, it seems a simple wish. But she struggled to accept consecutive first-round defeats at the first three grand slams of 2003. "I'm not enjoying tennis enough this year. I don't know why," Safina says.
In the 12 months to May, Marat Safin's only sibling jumped 184 places in the ranking. (Only Ashley Harkleroad bettered that feat). In cracking the world's top 50, Safina's scalps have included Patty Schnyder, Silvia Farina-Elia and Magui Serna. But Safina makes it clear she sets herself exceptionally high standards. Although she has not been a student since she was 15, it was in the classroom that she recognised her perfectionist streak.
"I was good in school. I never had a problem because everything I do, I have to do perfectly," says Safina, who relishes training six hours a day, six days a week. "So that's why I sometimes get angry. Every time I have to do everything perfect. Even in tennis."
Although Safina loves to put pressure on herself, there is none from within Safina's famous family. The world number 53 says her parents and brother are her greatest sources of support. That's why, after spending the past two years living and training in Valencia Spain (just as Marat did as a teenager), she went back home. "This year (2003) we are going to move back Russia because I wanted to be with my brother," says Safina who turned 17 on April 27. "He lives now in Moscow."
When together, the siblings rarely let tennis top their conversation list. "We are very close but we don't talk much (about tennis)," says Safina of her relationship with the 2000 US Open Champion. "We don't want to get crazy about tennis. We say 'stop' no more."
Just as Marat is big brother first, Safina's mother and coach Rauza Islanova, will soon be resuming her primary role. "I'm happy with her (as coach) because she knows what to tell me," Safina says. "She helps me, but now I want to have a coach. You know, a guy just to hit with and sometimes I can practice with him because Mum's supposed to be a mum you know."
When her family is permanently reunited (father Michail is director of a tennis club in Moscow) Safina also plans to get back to the business of having fun on the court. "I mean, I do love tennis," Safina says. "If not, I would not play tennis. I would go to school." "I just want to enjoy it because I want to stay (in tennis) until I am maybe 25."
As Krajicek prepares for the transition from junior to senior ranks, she is also adjusting to some unexpected aspects of public life. These include reading about things she never said. "I read I like (Martina) Hingis, and I don't know when I said that. I read I like (Steffi) Graf and I said it maybe once".
"When I grew up, I actually don't know who was my idol. Now my idol is Roddick, He has been my idol for one and a half years. I watch every match he plays. He's playing good right now. I like everything about him. When I'm not playing myself it's good to watch him." Krajicek was inspired by Roddick's Grand Slam breakthrough in New York. "I hope I win a grand slam tournament, I really wish that," she says. "But now I don't think much in the future because I could have an injury or something like that. So I'm now focussing on what I am playing now." Where would she most like to triumph? "I heard about the Australian Open. I've never been there, but I've heard it's really great there. So for me, the Australian Open, it's good. So I hope to win the Australian Open... and Wimbledon. Both. All of them. All of them are something special."
|An interview with Michaella Krajicek 7 september 2003|
|Dinara Safina and Michaela Krajicek: Following the Family 31 oktober 2003|