The Tolstoy of Tennis

The Davis Cup Final may be between Russia and Argentina, but there'll be a Californian on the court: Dmitri Tursunov.

Tursunov was born in Moscow, but moved to California when he was 12 to train. He still keeps a home in Sacramento, near the tennis academy where he studied.

Does California feel like home to Tursunov? "Yes. Well I've lived there for 10 years. Of course it does. I think it's difficult for people to understand because they're saying well, 'You're Russian. You're Californian.' Well, I have two homes."

Tursunov may not be a household name yet, but he's a top-25 player, who won his first major tournament this year. And when he beat American Andy Roddick in Ocotber, in a nail-biting five hour match to put Russia into the Davis Cup final, he became a Russian national hero.

Not bad for a boy who was pressed into grueling training sessions by his father, a nuclear engineer, when he was just five years old. Even his teammates on the Davis Cup squad, like former world number one Marat Safin, have been impressed.

"You can rely on him at any moment, any match and under any circumstances," Safin says.

Now Tursunov is taking his success in stride.

"I'm lucky that I'm playing well right now, but I don't know if I could go physically through this again," says Tursunov. "In fact, there is no recipe to make a tennis player or an athlete of any kind. There's a lot of luck involved. You need to have run into a good coach. You have to do a lot of things for that to happen."

And Tursunov's gaining fame off the court as well, for an on-line diary he's writing for the Men's Tennis Association. The blog has been such a hit that journalists have dubbed Tursunov "The Tolstoy of Tennis."

The point of "Tursunov Tales," says its author, is to debunk some of the myths about tennis players.

"People think we all arrive in limos, and we're flying all first class and we have six models waiting for us in the locker room," Tursunov says. "Things that are not really true. We're actually normal people--for most of us, most tennis players, we're just like anybody else--and we just happen to play tennis."

His talent on the court and his modesty off it are making Tursunov something of a role model for a lot of young people, on both sides of the Atlantic.
By Beth Knobel

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