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For Kuznetsova, Molik is a friend indeed...
By Ahmed Abbas Rizvi

2 March 2005

DUBAI — When tragedy visits, it usually brings along a friend. And so it did for Svetlana Kuznetsova.

When the Russian was at the centre of the doping storm at the Australian Open, she received support from all quarters. But none stood closer to her than her doubles partner Alicia Molik.

“It’s at times like these that you know who your friends are,” the 19-year-old Russian said, her emotions clearly visible on her features.

“I know Alicia from before. I have played with her many times. And when I had this thing, I just got a message from her,” she said, halting, trying to gather her emotions.

“It was like ‘hey mate, don’t worry. I will stand up for you’. It was just the best thing to happen to me at that time.

“I just don’t have the words to express those feelings,” the US Open champion, who is here to participate in the Dubai Women’s Open, added. But you could read it in her eyes and her voice, which was raised and almost trembling.

“I said ‘hey I am not guilty’. She said ‘I know. You did not do anything wrong. I am with you and I just wanted you to know this. I will stand up for you and I will stand up for any other friend’,” Kuznetsova recollected.

Belgian regional sports minister Claude Eerdekens had raised a storm on the opening day of the Australian Open when he announced that Kuznetsova had tested positive for ephedrine at a charity exhibition tournament in December.

The Russian was cleared of any doping offence after the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said ephedrine, a stimulant found in over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, was not on the list of prohibited drugs if taken in out-of-competition events such as the charity event.

WTA chief executive Larry Scott was furious that one of the sport’s leading players had been wrongly accused and he demanded the Belgian minister apologise for the damage he had caused.

“In all my years in sports, I have never seen a more disgraceful and irresponsible act by a sports official,” a fuming Scott had said then.

Briton Greg Rusedski, who was at the centre of a doping scandal last year before being cleared of any wrongdoing, sympathised with Kuznetsova and said the official was wrong to publicly name her. But it was Molik who really stood out in her support for the Russian.

The Aussie, who went on to win the Australian Open doubles title with Kuznetsova, rubbished - quite literally - the drug controversy.

Molik was so disgusted by media reports of the doping controversy that she bought every single copy of every newspaper in her local convenience store and promptly dumped them in the bin. “Svetlana took a substance which is not banned, and out of competition. So there’s absolutely nothing wrong with anything that she’s done,” Molik maintained.

While Molik’s support encouraged Kuznetsova, she was surprised by the statements made by countrywoman Elena Dementieva, who along with Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy, had also been caught up in the controversy.

Dementieva said: “To be honest with you, I don’t feel like I want to talk to Sveta at all. I’m just very upset with the way everything has happened. I don’t feel like I want to talk to her, that’s it.”

“For me, it was really surprising because it was a really mean thing to say,” said Kuznetsova, when asked about Dementieva’s statement.

“But whatever,” she shrugged. Everybody has an opinion.

“You can judge for yourself who is guilty and who is not, who is jealous and who is not,” Kuznetsova added, admitting that a few people might be jealous of her success after the success at the US Open.

“I think, I think so,” she said when asked if some people might be envying her success. “It should be because everybody wants to win. When you see somebody winning, you want to win too.

“So definitely there is going to be some jealousy. But it’s limited to just a few people; not everybody is jealous,” said Kuznetsova, revealing that the controversy had hampered her chances at the Australian Open.

“I was nervous because I had spent up so much energy,” she said. “But I think I stood up strong and I am really proud of how I dealt with the whole episode. I just feel good about it.”

The Russian also vowed to continue her fight for an apology from the Belgian minister.

“I got to stand up for my name. I cannot allow people to tarnish it,” she said. “I sure I want to fight back; we will not rest till we win this is not the end of the matter.

“My people — like my coach, my parents, my agents and my national federation — are still working on it. They will not give up until we win,” she added maintaining her innocence.

“I pride myself on being a clean athlete of the highest integrity and was really offended by these disgraceful accusations,” the Russian said. “I’m not worried. I am definitely not using nothing to push myself up in the game. I’m pretty sure about this,” she added, thanking all those who had stood by her in that hour of crisis. “It was great to get messages from everybody,” she said. “So many people I did not talk to before. I got emails, I got so many messages — I just felt strong.

“I just felt that everybody was with me and this man was wrong because he was saying things that he just shouldn’t have said.”

The whole sorry episode, feels Kuznetsova, proved that the WTA is one, big happy family.

“We compete on the court, and only on the court. Off the court, if something stupid happens to you, then they really support you,” she said. “I had help from the WTA, from Russian Federation, from everybody. And that shows who was right and who was wrong.”

She looked offended when somebody suggested that the doping episode had shown she had few friends on the circuit. “Am I so bad?” she looked up hurt. “I think I am one of the players who has a good communication with everyone.

“I am friendly to everybody. It’s difficult to have problems with me. Well if you don’t do bad things to me, I really can’t get angry. And then people don’t really like to get angry with me.

“I feel like this. I feel like I am good with all the players. With some I am a little closer because I have good relationships with them. Fed Cup players and Alicia.”

“So I am not that bad. Don’t call me this,” she laughed.

And she would like to think Maria Sharapova is amongst her friends too.

“We all play tennis and we compete against each other on the tennis court, not off it,” she said.

“It’s just about the tennis and not about who has how many promotions.

“I don’t go bad with Maria,” Kuznetsova reiterated.

“It is sad sometimes that we don’t get enough attention,” she added. “But I just want to concentrate on my game and my tennis. I want to be known for my tennis and not for my activities off court.

“Sometimes, the less time you have for publicity, the more time you have for tennis. Tennis comes first,” Kuznetsova said philosophically, adding that Sharapova was doing a fantastic job in getting fans to women’s tennis.

“If Maria wants her tennis to get her promotions and make her famous, it is fine. Everybody has a different lifestyle,” said Kuznetsova. “But then she is also bringing in lots of people to tennis which is great for the game.”

And unlike a few of her countrywomen, Kuznetsova considers Sharapova Russian enough and would have no problems playing on the same Fed Cup team as the teen sensation.

“She has Russian passport and she knows how to speak Russian,” Kuznetsova replied when asked if she considered Sharapova Russian enough.

“Everybody has an opinion but I don’t really form an opinion on what others say.

“If she plays Fed Cup, it would be great,” she said, adding that she would play Fed Cup with Sharapova if she gets invited.

“If I get invited and everything works for me, I am not going to see who is on the team,” she said.

“I am playing for my country and I want to represent my country in the best way I can.”