Still traumatised by a violent robbery at her family’s Moscow home in 2007, Anna Chakvetadze (aka ‘The Sexiest Woman in Russian Politics’) is making her comeback in Hobart this week.
When Anna Chakvetadze wakes at 3am in a Tasmanian hotel room this week – it’s a when, not an if – it will have nothing to with a tennis player’s usual enemy, jet-lag. The Russian, who on Sunday in Hobart played her first match since last June, keeps on waking at three in the morning. That was the hour, Moscow time, that a gang of six masked man smashed their way into her family’s home, assaulted her and her father, and stole 175,000 pounds in cash, a Rolex watch and other trinkets. Her father required two operations to fix his shoulder, and she experienced pain in her wrist for some months afterwards, but the most lasting damage has been to her psyche.
It is quite some backstory that Chakvetadze will be bringing with her as she returns to the tennis scene, the former top-five player having missed much of last season because of dizzy spells brought on by an ear infection. An investigation by a Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, has revealed that as the group tied her up with cord, they said to her: “Keep playing, we’ll come again”, and her father disclosed that she is still trying to deal with what happened that morning in 2007. The Chakvetadze family’s unease with Moscow life has been heightened by their belief that the wrong people were charged and convicted with the robbery, while the guilty men have been protected by a corrupt police department. No friend of the Kremlin, the tennis player ran as a Right Cause candidate in last month’s elections, opposing Putin’s United Russia. She had greater success in the gossip magazines than she did at the ballot box – she was judged to be the ‘sexiest woman in Russian politics’ (not an award you can imagine she had coveted), and yet received less than one per cent of the vote in her attempt to win a seat at the Duma.
“It was great to try myself in a different world,” Chakvetadze has said, but for now she is leaving politics for Marat Safin, one of Putin’s men and the self-styled best-looking guy in the Duma, and getting back to her life on the tennis road. In her first match back, she defeated Romania’s Monica Niculescu in straight sets.
When those men invaded her house, Chakvetadze was playing the best tennis of her life, having just made the semi-finals of the 2007 US Open. The injury to her wrist hampered her for a while, and then last year she repeatedly felt dizzy, and did not play again after losing to Maria Sharapova in the opening round at Wimbledon. Now outside the world’s top 200, at 234, she will be using a protected ranking to compete in Tasmania and elsewhere. “I’m 100 per cent healthy now – it doesn’t bother me anymore,” Chakvetadze has said of her past dizziness problems.
“I’m completely over it. Of course, it’s going to be physically tough to start playing tournaments again, because I wasn’t training at this level for a long time, and right now I can’t do three practices a day, but I feel so motivated to be back. I miss playing, I miss hitting the ball, I miss competing. I’ve found my motivation again and if I didn’t think I couldn’t do well again, I wouldn’t be coming back.”