When she raised the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen aloft in 2004, Anastasia Myskina ushered in an era of Russian success in women’s tennis. Here, the former world number 2 relives her fabulous fortnight – from her modest ambitions at the start through to her night of raucous celebration on the Champs-Elysées with her best friend -and beaten finalist- Elena Dementieva, including a match point saved in the Round of 16 against her compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova. It was an important two weeks, yeah – for her and for a whole country.
Legends - Anastasia Myskina: "Roland-Garros 2004, the happiest moment of my career"
What comes to mind first when you think of the 2004 French Open?
It's the match point that won me the title, no doubt. After the point, that was the happiest moment of my career as a player. Winning Roland-Garros really is something special… It’s an honour for me to have been the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam title, and especially since it was at Roland-Garros, which is the closest one to Russia (laughs)!
What were your ambitions when you arrived in Paris that spring?
The previous four years, I’d lost in the first or second round... This time, all I wanted to do was win a match and stay in Paris a little longer than before (smiles)... and I did. It was two fantastic weeks.
Of the six matches which led up to the final, which were the ones that you remember most?
The first match against Alicia Molik was the most difficult, because she’d beaten me a few weeks earlier in the Fed Cup. She was playing really well and I knew that this first-round was going to be tricky. It went to three sets, and I came close to losing (4-6, 6-3, 6-4)... Then there was the Round of 16 against Svetlana Kuznetsova, when I had to save a match point. That was crazy as well! She was playing out of this world. The match hinged on one point (finishing 1-6, 6-4, 8-6, with Myskina saving a match point at 6-5 in the third). From that point onwards, things got easier, because those two victories gave me confidence.
6-5, 40-30 for Kuznetsova in the third set: the moment where everything could change
"The fact that I had a good cry in the locker room before the final probably helped me"
In the final, you were playing another Russian, Elena Dementieva. It was the first time in the history of tennis that two Russians had met in a Grand Slam final …
That was quite impressive! The whole country was delighted. Our supporters were watching all our matches on television. It must have been difficult to support one of us against the other in the final. But I knew that everyone at home was thinking: "It doesn’t matter who lifts the trophy, it’ll be a Russian!"
How did you feel when you came out on court?
I was happy to be in the final. The fact that I had a good cry in the locker room before the match probably helped me. I’d been through a lot emotionally in these two weeks! You know, you can’t hide your feelings all the time – one way or another, you end up exploding, so it’s better to do it before the match than during it! That’s what happened to me, and I was lucky, because afterwards I felt completely relaxed and I was able to play my best tennis. I didn’t feel like I was under any pressure to win as far as the crowd was concerned. I love Paris, but the fans were supporting Dementieva rather than me because she speaks French. It’s natural to prefer people who speak your language, and I didn’t have that advantage! I knew that Elena was seen as the favourite, and maybe that helped me.
2004 Roland-Garros final: the last points
Did it make a difference that you were playing a fellow Russian – and indeed a friend – in the final?
I told myself that the final was a really important match because it was against a compatriot. If I lost, it wouldn’t be against just anyone but against a Russian. And since I wanted to be the first woman from my country to win a Grand Slam tournament, for me it was more important than any other trophy. I didn’t so much as look at the trophy during the final though…
During the trophy ceremony, you didn’t seem to be showing any real emotion…
When you’re playing against a friend and you beat them, it’s tricky to show your emotions… It was a difficult situation for Elena. I didn’t want to explode with joy because I knew that I was going to be able to share my happiness with my friends and family, but on the podium, I just couldn’t… and above all, at that precise moment, I was just happy that it was all over. Those two weeks were really tough. I said to myself: "OK, it’s over, I can go back home now!" I felt so tired… Maybe not physically – I could maybe even have played another match – but mentally, I was totally shattered.
"Elena and I went for a walk on the Champs-Élysées in the wee hours with the trophy, drinking and singing!"
How did you celebrate your success?
That very night, Elena Dementieva and I went and had dinner in a Russian restaurant in Paris. And we partied all night. Afterwards we went for a walk on the Champs-Élysées in the wee hours with the trophy, drinking and singing! It was really, really good... Elena and I had grown up together since the age of six or seven. She’s the only girl I’ve known for that long (laughs). We’d played our entire careers together, ever since juniors, so it was really great.
Your success in Paris opened the door to an era of real success for Russian women’s tennis. Maria Sharapova went on to win five Grand Slams, Svetlana Kuznetsova won two, Elena won Olympic gold, and there were lots of Fed Cup trophies as well... Do you think that you had an impact on all that, or did you "just happen" to be the first of a generation that was born to win?
After Roland-Garros that year, maybe certain things changed… The girls began to believe in themselves more, and to think that it was possible. Elena deserves as much credit as I do, because I really think that the fact that it was a 100% Russian final was what set things off. After that, it was a case of players who knew one another really well wanting to do as well as one another. Before, maybe we were afraid... but perhaps that’s not the right word. We played well up until the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, but that was it, more or less. We lost our way when it came to the big matches. The final between Elena and me showed us that we could play Grand Slam tournament finals and expect to win!
2004 Roland-Garros champion: Anastasia Myskina!
Her 2004 Roland-Garros campaign (world number 5)
Round of 128: d. Alicia Molik (#32), 4/6 6/3 6/4
Round of 64: d. Barbora Strycova (#68), 6/0 6/4
Round of 32: d. Denisa Chladkova (#70), 6/3 7/6
Round of 16: d. Svetlana Kuznetsova (#11), 1/6 6/4 8/6
Quarter-final: d. Venus Williams (#9), 6/3 6/4
Semi-final: d. Jennifer Capriati (#7), 6/2 6/2
Final: d. Elena Dementieva (#10), 6/1 6/2
Record at Roland-Garros
Singles: winner in 2004; round of 16 in 2006
Mixed: semi-finalist in 2005
Juniors: quarter-finalist in 1997
Quarter-finalist Australian Open in 2003 and 2004, US Open in 2003, Wimbledon in 2005 and 2006.
Semi-finalist WTA Finals in 2004.
Fed Cup champion in 2004 and 2005 with Russia.
10 WTA titles, including Moscou Tier I in 2003 and 2004.
World number 2 in 2004.
Roland-Garros legends: Budge Patty: "After the war, I wanted to get the most out of life, and playing tennis gave me a chance to do that."
Sharing a moment with Svetlana Kuznetsova, whom Myskina later captained for the Russian Fed Cup team after her early retirement: she played her last professional match at none other than Roland-Garros in 2007, aged just 25.