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ANNA CHAKVETADZE: THE LOST PIANIST

Dubai. February 18th, 2011. Anna Chakvetadze is engaged in a second-round match that sees as her opponent Caroline Wozniacki. The Danish  is the world’s number one, the Russian number 56. Taken individually, these data yield like a false note. Because those numbers are the proof that things for Anna Chakvetadze did not go as they should. Four years before the Russian was able to pull herself up to the fifth spot of the WTA rankings. Four years earlier many saw her as the potential future number one. Then, everything started to turn wrong. But in Dubai she seems back on track, or maybe this was just a hope, an illusion. Season has just started and she already lost twice in early rounds. Now, she is a set down against Wozniacki, having lost the first one 6-1 in less than thirty minutes. While she is leading 5-3 in the second set, she suddenly collapses. A doctor comes on court and measures her pulse before performing a simple neurological test: he moves slowly his finger in front of her eyes, a finger that she should follow. She can’t. The withdrawal is inevitable. The official report says that the collapse was due to an intestinal virus, thing reported by the same player before the tournament.

Anna Chakvetadze did not play in Doha, but about a month later, on March 13, during the second round of Indian Wells the same scene is repeated. She could not stand up, dizzy, nauseous. The Russian is brought to the hospital. The diagnosis is Neurocardiogenic Syncope. Doctors recommend complete rest. She follows the advice and returns to play in Stuttgart. Anna surpasses them the qualifying draw but, during the first round match, the same symptoms that had previously blocked her again manifest themselves in all their ugliness.

So what is this mysterious Neurocardiogenic Syncope? Nothing great or properly malignant in the strict sense of the term. This is a temporary loss of consciousness, which does not result in a never prolonged fainting, which is associated with a rapid decrease in blood pressure, followed by a slowing of heart rate. Difficult to locate a cause to attribute the origin of the illness: can be the heat, can be physical fatigue, but in the case of Anna seemed to be the mental stress. The only certain thing is that with an endless series of questions, assumptions  expectations, regrets and nostalgia, Anna Chakvetadze as well seemed to be dissolved.

Anna Chakvetadze was born on March, 5 1987. It was her mother to take her on a tennis court for the first time. Anna is eight years old at the time, and made her debut in the ITF circuit  at just fourteen. Two years later she  reached the final of Wimbledon in juniors, but she is not the Russian on whom the reflectors are put in a 2004 that saw Maria Sharapova winning Wimbledon at her same age and Svetlana Kuznetsova winning the U.S. Open a couple of months later. Anna’s career proceeds at small steps, without neglecting anything, nor the piano (in that she excels) nor her studies. And so, as hre famous compatriots climb the rankings, Anna Chakvetadze, a sort of “mysterious object” caressing the piano keys with the same grace with which she strikes the tennis ball, closes the 2004 at the 91 th place in the ranking and with a success against the Roland Garros champion Anastasia Myskina.

In the following season, Anna takes part in a few tournaments but targeted in which, even when she loses in the early rounds, it is by the hands of tennis players like Elena Dementieva, against who she lost both at the Australian and in the U.S. Open, Kim Clijsters, who defeated her in Indian Wells, Venus Williams, who stops her in Istanbul, Maria Sharapova, who beats her at Roland Garros, Jelena Jankovic, who after losing in Indian Wells takes her revenge in Wimbledon, and Lindsay Davenport, who stops her way in Cincinnati. Ranked as number 33 in the world, in March 2006, in Warsaw’s clay Anna Chakvetadze defeated Jelena Jankovic, Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic, before losing in the semifinals to Svetlana Kuznetsova. At Roland Garros and Wimbledon she has to face two prohibitive draws: in Paris she has to surrender in the second round against Li Na, in London against Justine Henin. US hardcourts are more suitable for her: in San Diego she takes out Nadia Petrova and Ana Ivanovic while in Montreal only surrendered to Martina Hingis in the semifinals. Reached the second round at the U.S. Open, the fate smiles at her in Canton where she takes advantage of the Jankovic’s withdrawal and then passes by in the final the Spanish Anabel Medina Garrigues, thus winning her first WTA title.

Anna looks at the home tournament in Moscow and she is in top shape: she annihilates the first round Dinara Safina, overcomes Francesca Schiavone’s resistance, takes advantage of Sharapova’s W.O. and prevails against Elena Dementieva in a three sets semifinal. Reached the last act, contradicting once again all odds, she plays a tactically flawless match thus having the better of her compatriot Nadia Petrova with the final score of 6-4 6-4. This success allows her to finish the year as number 13 in the world. Anna’s growth continues, in early 2007, after having won in Hobart and reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open where yields 7-6 7-5 to Maria Sharapova. Both at the GDF Suez in Paris and in Antwerp she loses to Amelie Mauresmo, and in Miami’s semi-final she defeats Li Na before succumbing to Henin. The top ten entry is enhanced by the quarter-final achieved at Roland Garros. Then Chakvetadze wins in S’Hertogenbosch on grass, defeating Jankovic in the final, while at Wimbledon she is stopped in the third round by Michaëlla Krajicek. The ‘pianist‘ redeems herself with the semi-finals in San Diego and winning the prestigious tournaments of Cincinnati and Stanford. Then the semi-finals at the U.S. Open and at the YEC, as well as the Fed Cup triumph, sealed a remarkable season that sees her grabbing her best ranking: No. 5.

It’s four o’clock in the morning the 19th of December when an armed group formed by six people bursts into the house of Chakvetadze’s family. There were hours of fear for Anna, her parents and her brother Roman, nine years old. Anna and her family are tied, his dad beaten and threatened with a gun; then they were pushed to give all their money and values , for a total of about five million rubles. Anna, who has never wanted to release any statement regarding the attack, suffers a psychological shock that prevents her from expressing her best tennis every time she takes the court, with the exception of the Paris indoor tournament where she defeats Amelie Mauresmo and Marion Bartoli before beating Agnes Szavay in the final. A balanced season is followed by a terrifying 2009, characterized by terrible disappointments, culminated in the first round losses at both Wimbledon and Roland Garros.

Anna is accustomed to demand the maximum from herself, for her failure is inconceivable, on court as in anything she decides to do. So she decides to get back in the game, and to do so she must start from the bottom. She does it in her own way, winning in Portoroz, where she beats Johanna Larsson of Sweden in the final with a score of 6-1, 6-2, then in the ITF Bronx defeating Sofia Arvidsson. Signs of her recovery are becoming more evident when she reaches the semifinals in Copenhagen where she was pushed to fight to the last against Caroline Wozniacki. But the bad luck again rages against the Muscovite for the whole 2011; she must fight against health problems that limit her performances and presence on tour. 2012, however, it is a massacre: Anna plays less and less and she’s getting worse. The last appearance dates back to September, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where she lost in the second round against Galina Voskoboeva .

Then nothing. Every so often, from the hat of the magical world of social networks, she turns out a photo of herself along with Elena Vesnina and Svetlana Kuznetsova  sometimes gathered to watch the “the friends with whom I grew up” in some tournament or at the Fed Cup or behind Eurosport’s microphones. In the meantime her ranking falls down, until it touches N°577. Until the official announcement. Anna Chakvetadze, former world number 5, leaves the court at 26 years, with 8 WTA titles won. An injury never healed, a physical and mental balance irreparably compromised.

David Foster Wallace argued that to see Roger Federer play is as close to a religious experience. It would be easy to say the same for Anna Chakvetadze. Yet because the Russian almost moves on tennis court with the same grace with which she could perform in a piano concert at ‘La Fenice’ theater in Venice. In this court that grinds everything at a supersonic speed the name of Anna Chakvetadze is destined to fall by the wayside. A name that, for those who have seen her playing, stands close to the heart. The words that William Shakespeare makes pronounce to a character in his “Much Ado About Nothing” may, in part, render the idea: “We do not appreciate the value of what we have while we enjoy it, but when we are missing or have lost them, then we aim to squeeze their value.” The value of Anna Chakvetadze was so high that those who loved her, will continue to hear, to “see”, to regret her notes.

Anna Chak

An article by Samantha Casella. Translation by Benedetta Ruggeri.

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