Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, on behalf of their mothers

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, two great hopes of world tennis, linked by their mothers. LEO RAMIREZ / AFP

In the early 1980s, on the other side of the Iron Curtain, two players embodied the future of Soviet tennis: Julia Salnikova and Irina Zvereva, three years younger. "We grew up together. We played in different clubs, but between tournaments and training, we spent so much time together, remembers the first, questioned in the spans of Roland-Garros in the spring. From Sochi to Moscow, the entire Soviet Union was scoured. "

Hard to imagine that, nearly forty years later, their two sons would compete at the London Masters, final of the tennis season, which began Sunday, November 10. Under the colors of Greece, for one, Germany, for the second.

Stiopa and Sasha. If they are not really friends on the circuit, Stefanos "Stiopa" Tsitsipas and Alexander "Sasha" Zverev share more than one common point. Leading figures of the "Next Gen" called – who knows – to overthrow one day Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, the Greek (21 years, number 6 world) and the German (22 years, number 7), both have been shaped by their mothers – just like the Canadian Denis Shapovalov (15e) whose mother, Tessa Shapovalova, also came out of the Soviet mold, a few years apart.

The reverse of Zverev, "100%" due to his mother

"Interest in the role of Russian mothers in tennis? Here is a funny idea! " A few minutes after his elimination in the first round of the 2019 edition of Roland Garros by Richard Gasquet, Mischa Zverev has fun.

The current 291e world player (he was 25e in 2017), older brother of Alexander, insists: a mother, even Russian and former champion, "Is not supposed to teach you how to play tennis. It's your mother first and foremost, she's here to love you and take care of you. "

"With Sasha, we both have a very good setback, so I guess our mother is not for nothing"concedes the elder, however. What the "little brother" confirms, Alexander: "My father is my coach, but when I was younger, it was my mother who guided me. If I have a good enough technique, it is his training since the youngest age that I have. My setback, in particular, is to 100% to his credit. "

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As Irina Zvereva, who left the USSR for Hamburg, Germany, after the fall of the Soviet bloc, Julia Salnikova broke with her country shortly after her twenties. "I was not really part of the system anymore, not just because I was maybe not good enough", tells the former world junior number 1, matched by his son many years later.

Barred by other players in the national team, and seeing no future in the Soviet Union, Julia Salnikova crossed the Berlin Wall in 1988, "No for a better career, but for a better life. "

A generation with Russian accents

"The late 1980s and early 1990s were a very hard time in Russia. Many Russians are gone, and it's good today to see players with Russian roots climb to the front of the stage. ", analyzes the journalist Natalia Bykanova, Russian tennis specialist.

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From Australia to Canada to the United States, a generation with Russian accents emerges. "It's also to the credit of Russia, because just watch them play, there is Russian in their game," continues Natalia Bykanova. Especially on the methodical approach of the game, the "planning" in order to reach an objective: "In the Soviet Union, if you wanted to achieve a goal, you had to be disciplined, to know that good results can only be achieved through permanent work. "

This approach has not disappeared with the USSR. What confirmed, at the end of December 2018, before the Australian Open, the young New Zealander Valentina Ivanov (18 years), whose Russian parents were respectively captain and player of the Uzbek team of Fed Cup after the fall of USSR: "It's a little harder than the Australian style (where she lives) or kiwi, which are more casual. In Russia, it's not like that. If you do not have a good day, we shout at you. But I'm grateful to have had them when I was little. It's a tough sport and you can not do it if you do not have a personality. "

"Fighting spirit" and freedom of spirit

If she lets her Greek husband coach their son, Julia Salnikova claims to be "Impressed by the professionalism" of the young man, a "Discipline" where she finds traits "Fit for Soviet sports culture". "We take things very seriously, sometimes we do too much to achieve our goals. " But, she insists, "Stefanos combines this Russian" fighting spirit "with a very Greek freedom of spirit. "

You can see this mixture in training, where the young man can spend as much time tweaking a shot as tweaking a video for its social networks. "My mother put a lot of discipline in my game, recognizes Tsitsipas. And that helps me a lot. "

However, the young Greek is far from having been subjected to the Soviet shackle in training, assures his mother: "It is true that we were often overtrained, but I went through the drops, and Stefanos was never overtrained. " She watched over, she who erected in mantra the formula of her father, Sergei Salnikov, Olympic football champion with the USSR in 1956: "Better not be trained enough than too much".

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"It's a shame that I could not lead a more successful professional career," concludes Julia Salnikova, who once went to the West, had a professional career with few results before ending it to devote herself to her family, Stefanos seeing the day in 1998, followed by two brothers and d 'a sister. " PaIn the past, I am immersed in the past, and I regret it, but at the same time, if it had turned out differently for me, I would probably never have had my children. "

Heirs of history, the son of the end of a world and its recomposition, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev start Monday the Masters of London, and do not hide their goals. For them, of course, but a bit on behalf of their mothers.


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