Free at last, Olhovskiy spins upset Russian blossoms after Soviet breakup


WIMBLEDON, England -- Andrei Olhovskiy grew up playing at the Central Moscow Red Army sports club, which is famous for its hockey teams and, until yesterday, unknown for its tennis prodigies.

The club had two courts .

"Plastic," said Olhovskiy, who also played on wood courts. "Very fast."

Now 26, Olhovskiy first played on grass courts when he came here as a qualifier in 1983. But it wasn't until last year, when Communism fell in the former Soviet Union, that Olhovskiy began to see a future as a professional tennis player.

"My career started one year ago, when I started playing for myself," Olhovskiy said yesterday after upsetting Jim Courier, the world's No. 1-ranked player and Wimbledon top seed, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, in a third-round match on Centre Court. "Before, I played for the state. I couldn't keep any money, I couldn't make my schedule until January. It was very hard."

Olhovskiy, ranked 193rd in the world, had a few quality wins before beating Courier, including one over Guy Forget. He didn't seem overly excited about this one. Asked if thought he'd wake up this morning in disbelief, Olhovskiy shrugged.

"You know, life is life," he said.

Until the Soviet Union breakup, Olhovskiy was among a number of promising Russian players whose careers were dictated by the whims of the state's sports federation. They were subsidized by the government, which took a large percentage of their winnings.

"He was alone," said Victor Yanchuk, who began coaching Olhovskiy last summer. "Nobody could give him what he needed. That's one reason why he is so old for a player at his level. He's never had a chance."

Olhovskiy had to endure a rigorous qualifying tournament just to get into the main draw, winning three matches along the way. The third, against Mario Tabares of Cuba, went to five sets. The last three went to tiebreaker, with Olhovskiy winning, 9-7, in the fifth.

"Qualifying is much different [than the main draw]," said Olhovskiy, who has qualified three times and made it in last year as a lucky loser, reaching the third round. "The courts are not that good."

The court was good yesterday.

And so was Olhovskiy.

* Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova, who have combined for five Wimbledon doubles titles, found themselves on the brink of elimination in a second-round match yesterday against Ros Fairbank-Nideffer and Betsy Nagelsen.

After winning the first set and losing the second in a tiebreaker, Shriver and Navratilova fell behind 4-2 in the third. "It was the same court [No. 14] that we lost on last year," Shriver said. "You don't like to think of those things, but you do."

They won't have to now. After breaking Fairbank's serve to even the set 5-5, Shriver won at love to put her team up 6-5, then hit the winning backhand overhead volley through Fairbank's leg for the winning point in a 6-5, 6-7, 7-5 victory.

"This is only our fourth tournament together all year," said Shriver, who has won two events this year with her longtime doubles partner. "We're a little underdone. But this will give us the confidence we need."

* In women's singles yesterday, third-seeded Gabriela Sabatini defeated Rika Hiraki of Japan, 6-0, 6-4; sixth-seeded Jennifer Capriati beat Patricia Hy of Canada, 6-3, 6-1; No. 13 seed Zina Garrison beat Fairbank, 6-4, 6-2; and Patty Fendick had the only upset of a seed, a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 11 Jana Novotna of Czechoslovakia.

* Jeremy Bates, who has gone from beleaguered to beloved among his fellow Brits in the past few days, continued his masterful run through the Wimbledon draw with a 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7) 4-6, 6-4 third-round victory over Thierry Champion of France.

"I'm shattered beyond words at the moment," said Bates, who became the first British player to make the fourth round in 10 years. "Something kept me standing up, but I'm not sure what it was."

Asked about accomplishing what hasn't been done since Buster Mottram in 1982, Bates said, "I'm very proud. I committed myself to it all week, and in terms of commitment and guts, this is one of the best matches I've ever played."

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