Olga knows her racket
Extensive television coverage has made Olympic gymnast Olga
Korbut more famous in America than she is in her native Russia.
Now another Russian Olga has come along to share some of this
international spotlight. She is Olga Morozova, currently ranked
number one in Russian tennis, number four in the world and number
three on this year's Virginia Slims Tour. She is also an extremely
personable, humorous and very, very outspoken woman.
Interviewed recently while playing on the Slims tour in Houston,
Olga treated reporters to a very refreshing view of sports: a view
that, if shared by other professional women athletes, is rarely expressed. Not limiting herself to tennis, Olga got right out front on a
number of topics:
Sport s in Russia: Hockey and figure skating are the most popular
sports in Russia and the ones most often seen on TV. Olga finds figure
skating boring to watch.
"All of the champions (pairs) have been champions for 10 or 15
years," she said. "It (the routine) is always the same thing. Last year
they announced a new act and it was going to be on (Russian)
television. Wonderful! Everyone watches-it's over in five seconds!
What kind of a new act is that? Tennis isn't like that, tennis is fun to
Olga Korbut: "She's not as popular in Russia as she is in America.
TTie Russian people prefer Turischeva. (Ludmilla Turischeva, the
current world's all-round champion.) They see right through Korbut.
Turischeva is a true champion. Olga (Korbut) is selfish."
Tennis in Russia: "It's becoming more popular. There are no
professional sports in Russia, but there's more money around now."
The women's team is much better than the men's team, according to
"The girls develop faster than the boys. The little girls play all the
time, before school, after school. The girls beat the boys. (In Russia
they practice together.) The Russian men are young and inexperienced, they have to learn to concentrate."
Natasha Chmyreva, the young Russian who is playing on her first
"Natasha is very young (17) and she just loves to play right now. She
loves to go out and hit the ball and run. When she wins she is very
happy. 'I almost beat Chrissie Evert.' Chrissie is not like that. She
doesn't run around saying, 'I'm the world champion.' Natasha does,
she says, 'I won the French Juniors' or, 'I won the French grand
slam', you know, things like that. We'll have to wait a couple of years
to see how she is going to be. We (The Russian Tennis Federation
which, incidentally, gets all the money that the Russian Tennis
players win) have put a lot of work into her."
Does Olga think that the younger Russian women will surpass her
and drop her in the ratings?
"Me, fifth? Never! I can't see myself as fifth!" (Laughing and
knocking on wood.)
ITie Slims Tour: (This is her second year).
"In Russia we call it the world's championship of tennis. Well, why
not, what else is there?"
When Olga joined the tour last year she played in Akron, Ohio where
they have instant replay screens.
"It was terrible. I lost the first two games. I kept watching myself on
the replay screen. Is that really me? I look so fat, I look awful!" (She
is not fat by any stretch of the imagination.)
Her future: She'll play two more years, then go home and have a
baby. (Her husband is an electrical engineer.)
"Coach? Yes, but maybe I'll stay home and have a lot of babies, then
coach the babies. No, I'd like to coach, I'd be a good coach. But who
knowns, that is a long time away. Who knows what will happen in two
Olga feels that women with children should stay home and raise
them and not work. She disagreed with Margaret Court's decision to
bring her children with her on the tennis tours.
"Then you have to have someone waiting in the locker room to feed
the baby, change the baby and everything. That's not right, a baby
should be with its mother, not in a locker room."
Olga had a happy childhood and believes that all children should
have the same opportunity to be "free in the wind and the grass" as
she was when she was a child.
Men vs. Women: Can women beat men?
"Yes, why not?"
She then qualified this a little.
"Chrissie couldn't beat Jimmy (Conners) right now but she could
beat her brother. I can beat my husband and he's a pretty good player.
Maybe women couldn't win all of the time (excepting the men
professionals) but with the same training most of them could."
At this point Janet Newberry, who was being interviewed with Olga,
whispered something to Olga (a warning?). Olga replied:
"I don't care, I say what I think and I think yes, why not? "
Why not indeed, Olga Morozova?
Who says there's no feminist movement in Russia?
Upsets at Slims
Houston was the first stop in
1976 for the Virginia Slims Tennis
Tour and it soon became apparent that the top-seeded
players on this year's tour are in
for long struggle if they intend
to hold their positions until the
There are many fine young
players trying to move up in the
standings and it appears that
they find nothing unattainable,
not even Chris Evert's number
The tournament began with an
almost upset of Number One
herself when 17 year old Natasha
Chmyreva of Russia (playing in
her first tour) extended Chris to
the limit, losing in two sets 4-6
and 5-7. Immediately following
that match the youngest player
on the tour, Kathy Kuykendall,
thoroughly trounced Chris'
younger sister Jean to record the
first "real" upset of the tournament.
In round two, more favorites
fell by the wayside as Cynthia
Doerner (a former Houston E-Z
Rider) upset 7th seeded Wendy
Overton, Terry Holladay upset
Pam Teeguarden, and Renata
Tomanova upset 5th seeded
Francoise Durr. Early successes
proved fickle, however, as all of
the upstarts fell to the favorites in
round three. Sixth seeded Rosie
Casals provided the only exception by defeating 3rd seeded
Olga Morozova, who had beaten
her in their two previous
Apparently the players in the
semi-finals finally read the script
and everything went according tc
the plot with Chris Evert
disposing of Rosie Casals and
Martina Nauratilova, the number
2 seed, stopping Nancy Gunter.
So it was number 1 and number
2 in the finals and number 2 took
charge immediately. Playing
Chris' baseline game as if she
had invented it, Navratilova
chased Chris from the court in
straight sets, 6-4, 6-4 to walk
away with the year's first
Following the match, Chris
announced cryptically to
reporters that she felt that she
had lost because she was
becoming "friendly with the
other players on the tour this
year." (One wonders then, what
her life has been like in prior
years on the tour?)
The loss to Navratilova in the
finals was only the beginning of a
bad day for Chris as she and
Navratilova teamed up for
doubles only to find the winning
combination of Rosie Casals and
Francoise Durr too strong.
Casals and Durr took the doubles
title in straight sets, winning
Still, there's the whole year to
go much too early to start
counting Ms. Evert out. (As a
matter of fact, between dates
with Jack Ford in Washington
she managed to "unfriendly"
herself enough to win the second
tour of the year.)
Jan Cunningham is a free-lance
sports writer. She is a regular
contributor to Breakthrough.
Yes, Virginia, there is a tennis
tournament for women and you
can give large thanks to
promoter Gladys Heldman.
Interviewed during the recent
Virginia Slims tournament in
Houston, Heldman said the
circuit began six years ago when
tennis pro Jack Kramer held a
tournament in California. The
prize money was $50,000 for men
and $5,000 for women - a ten to
Billie Jean King and Rosie
Casals didn't like it. Neither did
King and Casals asked Heldman about boycotting Kramer's
tournament, but the promoter
decided instead to hold another
one: for women. Eight other
players came to the Houston
Racquet Club and played for
$7,500 - which, according to
Heldman, was a "tremendous
amount in those days."
All the players, however, were
immediately suspended by the
U.S. Lawn Tennis Association
"They were told they couldn't
play in any other tournaments
and would not be eligible for
ranking," Heldman said. "So I
decided to start another circuit,
and it became known as the
"Men players, promoters and
officials felt that women players
would never attract a crowd,"
Heldman said. "So they played
the women's matches at 10 a.m.
and the men's matches at 2 p.m.
prime time, with men getting 10
to 15 times more prize money
than the women. But Billie Jean
King and Rosie Casals proved
that the public will come out to
The following year,, Heldman
set up 24 tournaments - 10
sponsored by Virginia Slims and
the rest sponsored by K-Mart,
British Motor Cars, Barnett
Banks and Four Roses.
Heldman pointed out that there
are many more women
professionals today than in 1971,
the current champs including
Margaret Court, Chris Evert,
Virginia Wade and Martina
Navratilova. She also recommended watching the rise of Beth
Norton, U.S. National Junior
Champion; South Africa's Greer
Stevens, Sue Barker from Great
Britain, Lynn Epstein from
Florida, and Regina Marsikova,
who has a win over Navratilova.
All of these women are 19 or
The rise of Gladys Heldman is
also worth watching.
The USLTA and WTA asked
her to organize a circuit for
women who "can't quite get into
the Virginia Slims," and the
result is the "Futures Circuit,"
with several hundred * women
participants and backers in
Texas and Florida. Crowds are
turning out, not only for champion flights, but for preliminary
flights and qualifying as well.
Heldman is also handling the
publicity for River Oaks - her
first men's tournament and
"quite a challenge."
What else does this energetic
and dedicated tennis promoter
do? Right now, she's learning
And playing tennis, of course.
Material for this article came
from an interview by Michael
Zeigfinger, publisher of Inside