Upset loss adds to unrest of Soviet Union's Zvereva D.C. tennis notebook

August 21, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- Losing in the Virginia Slims of Washington women's tennis tournament was simply the last straw for Natalia Zvereva.

"Things have not gone my way in the last few days," she said. "And then, the trouble at home . . ."

The 20-year-old from Minsk, U.S.S.R., stopped to wipe away tears.

Her country is in the midst of what could turn into a civil war, as the Soviet Union responds to the coup that ousted President Mikhail Gorbachev two days ago.

Yesterday afternoon, Zvereva, the 16th-ranked player in the world, lost 6-4, 7-5 to Radka Zrubakova, a woman she had beaten easily in three previous meetings.

She missed two sure winners to give up the only break in the first set and then seemed helpless, as Zrubakova rallied from a 4-1 deficit for the two-set victory.

"A couple of shots were really easy, but I just couldn't make them," Zvereva said. "I am very distracted. Very worried."

The loss could also affect her seeding at the U.S. Open next week, where the top 16 players are seeded. Zvereva is in a tight five-player battle for the 16th spot.

Still, other things weighed more heavily.

"I am lucky, in that my parents are in Germany and my mother is flying in here today [yesterday]," she said. "But my brother and his wife are in Minsk and I can't get through. I tried all night. No one can get through."

And then there was a minor inconvenience: Yesterday she was playing in borrowed clothes, a size too big, and in borrowed shoes, two sizes too big.

"On my flight from Los Angeles, my luggage was lost," Zvereva said. "If I was an American, I'd sue Northwest Airlines. Thank God I didn't check my rackets."

Zvereva said she did not want to talk about the difficulties in the Soviet Union.

"I'm afraid," she said. "I don't know of what. I'm not very experienced and I don't know really what to say. I think it is better not to say anything." She said she is canceling her plans to return home after the U.S. Open in two weeks.

"Just from the things you hear, I don't think it would be safe to go there now," she said.

Seventh seed Leila Meskhi, who is from Tbilisi in Soviet Georgia, will play her second-round match today.

Meskhi advanced Monday, when Linda Ferrando retired because heat exhaustion.

"I too am worried about home," Meskhi said. "My parents are there and I can't reach them. The situation is very bad, but good or bad, I'm going home after the U.S. Open, because my parents are there."


* Lutherville native Pam Shriver, who just returned from winning three gold medals at the Pan American Games in Cuba, breezed through her afternoon match with Elna Reinach, 6-2, 6-3.

"I'm very comfortable with where I am with my comeback," said Shriver, her right shoulder and elbow wrapped in ice. "Last January, I didn't know where I'd be at this point -- 100th or lower, or out of tennis. To have made the jump to 30th in the world, I'm pleased."

Shriver, who isn't seeded this week, said her wish list for future achievements includes: making it to a semifinal, beating a Top 10 player and continuing her regimen "without cheating or taking any shortcuts; I'm not good enough to take shortcuts."

Shriver also reflected on the turmoil in the Soviet Union.

"I played the first tennis match there when change was really first going on," she recalled. "Then yesterday, to wake up and hear the news, it was like a slap in the face. Having played a lot of different places and knowing people from there who are on the tour, you feel a lot closer. You feel badly. For me, it's frustrating. I can't imagine how it would be if it was my country."

* No. 3 seed Mary Joe Fernandez defeated Mariaan De Swardt, 6-4, 6-1, to advance to the round of 16.

"If I hadn't been serving well, it could have gotten complicated," Fernandez said. "But I'm feeling well and I have a lot of confidence." Last week she withdrew from a tournament in Los Angeles because of heat exhaustion.

The fifth-ranked player in the world, Fernandez is playing here as a wild-card entry.

"I needed one tournament before the Open," she said. "I'd like to make a breakthrough there. I think I'm ready to step up."

Fernandez will play Gigi Fernandez (no relation), a 6-0, 7-5 victor over Czechoslovakia's Andrea Strandova, in the quarterfinals.

In other first-round matches, Anne Minter of Australia defeated Robin White, 6-4, 6-1, and Peru's Laura Gildemeister rallied to beat Gretchen Magers, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

* The finals of this tournament will be broadcast live by Home Team Sports Saturday at 1 p.m.

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