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Anna Smashnova

(1976 - )

Anna Smashnova, aka Anna Pistolesi, not only has one of the great names in the history of tennis; she is also Israel's top female tennis player. Anna won four WTA titles in 2002 (including two in the month of January alone), and her successful season saw her rise in the world rankings during the year. On July 8, 2002, Smashnova reached her peak as the No. 16 ranked player in the world, a ranking she matched in mid-October. On December 7, 2002, Anna married Claudio Pistolesi, her former coach, and now plays as Anna Pistolesi.

Ranked No. 18 in the world (as of July 8, 2004), Pistolesi was the No. 14 seed at the 2004 Australian Open tournament, but lost in the second round to Tatiana Golovin of France. She compares her style to that of the Spaniard Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, minimizing mistakes, running down every possible ball, and being mentally tough. Anna speaks three languages: Russian, English, and Hebrew. She graduated from American International High School, outside Tel Aviv, in 1995, and completed her mandatory service in the Israeli Army in 1997. She enjoys watching movies, reading, and listening to music, and she confesses that she loves chocolate.

Born in Minsk, Smashnova began playing at the age of six she said because, "The tennis club was the closest sport club to my home. It was easy to get there, and they were taking young kids...My parents did not play tennis. They started after me." The top Girls' junior player in Russia for four years in the late 1980s, Smashnova and her family moved to Israel in 1990 when Anna was 14. The following year, she surprised everyone, including herself, by winning the French Open juniors title.

After turning pro in 1994, Smashnova was named Tennis Magazine/Rolex Watch Female Rookie of the Year. A terrific player on clay, her favorite surface because of her baseline style, Smashnova made it to the fourth round of the French Open in both 1995 and 1998, her best results to date, in Grand Slam competition. She has steadily improved over the past few years winning her first WTA tour title in 1999 at the Tashkent tournament, and her second career title on July 24, 2000, when she defeated top seed Dominique Van Roost, 6-2, 7-5, in the final of the Sanex Trophy in Belgium.

On January 5, 2002, Smashnova won her third WTA Tour title when she soundly defeated fifth-seeded Russian Tatiana Panova 6-2, 6-2 in the ASB Bank Classic at Auckland, New Zealand. Smashnova, unseeded in the tournament and ranked only 88th in the world, thrashed her opponent by putting on an impressive display of precise baseline play in what the Associated Press described as "difficult conditions...Both players were unsettled by a heavy breeze that swirled about the enclosed stadium court, tumbling courtside umbrellas and blowing the hats off spectators." Smashnova had made headlines in her semifinal match by whipping the celebrated Russian, and former world No. 8, Anna Kournikova in straight sets.

Smashnova said before the New Zealand Open final that this tournament represented a new start to her career. According to The New York Times (January 6, 2002), "She has a new physical trainer this season, a new coach and a determination to make an impression on the women's tour. Panova was only the latest player to be bothered by Smashnova's relentless approach and her ability to keep the ball in play."

A week later, on January 12, Smashnova won her second tournament in a row, upsetting top seed Tamarine Tanasugarn 7-5, 7-6, to win the Canberra Classic women's tennis tournament. Tanasugarn, ranked 29th in the world, broke Smashnova's serve in the opening game, but Smashnova struck back in the next game and eventually took the first set when she broke again in the 12th game. The pair traded breaks again midway through the second set before Smashnova sealed the match by winning the tiebreaker.

On June 16, 2002, Smashnova defeated defending champion Iroda Tulyaganova 6-4, 6-1, to win the $170,000 Wien Energie Grand Prix, her third title of the year. On her way to the title, the 25-year-old Israeli upset local favorite Patricia Wartusch in the semifinals, ending the Austrian's six-match winning streak. In gaining the championship, Anna utilized her superior speed to win her third tournament of the season. The victory boosted Anna's ranking to No. 17 in the world, the highest ever for an Israeli woman.

On September 15, 2002, Anna collected her fourth WTA title of the year by thrashing Anna Kournikova 6-2, 6-3, in the finals of the Shanghai Open. According to The New York Times' account of the contest, Smashnova "was precise and controlled throughout the match, hitting perfect winners in stride...Kournikova didn't score a point until the third game of the first set when Smashnova hit a shot wide. 'She was like a wall today, hitting everything back,' Kournikova said."

Although she moved up in the world rankings during the 2002 season, Smashnova was not as successful as she had hoped to be in Grand Slam events. She entered the 2002 Wimbledon tournament as the highest ranked Israeli woman in history, at No. 17. Seeded No. 15 at Wimbledon, the first time an Israeli woman has ever been seeded at a Grand Slam event, Smashnova was upset in the first round by Angelique Widjaja of Indonesia, 3-6, 2-6. At the 2002 U.S. Open, Smashnova remained one of the top women in the world and was seeded No. 17 entering the tournament. After defeating Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian of Switzerland in the first round, 7-6 (7-1), and 6-4, Smashnova lost in the second round to South African Amanda Coetzer, 2-6 and 4-6.

Her high year-end ranking qualified her for the prestigious year-end WTA Tour Championship. She was the first Israeli woman to play in the three million dollar tournament. On November 7, 2002, Anna lost to world No. 1 Serena Williams in the first round by a score of 6-2, 6-2.

Anna entered the 2003 season as one of the best players in the world. Ranked No. 20 in the world as of May 10, Smashnova was the No. 14 seed in the women's draw at the 2003 Australian Open. She defeated Meilen Tu in the first round, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. In the second round, she beat Maja Matevzic of Slovenia after her opponent withdrew in the first set (Anna was leading 5-1). In the third round, however, she lost to No. 19 seed Amanda Coetzer of South Africa again, 6-0, 6-2.

At the 2003 French Open, Smashnova was seeded No. 23 in the women's singles competition. In the first round, she defeated Camille Pin, 6-1 and 6-1. In the second round, Smashnova lost to Magui Serna of Spain in three sets, 4-6, 6-3, and 3-6. Anna also competed in the mixed doubles event. With her partner, Leos Friedl of the Czech Republic, she reached the second round before losing to Clarisa Fernandez and Gaston Etlis.

Anna's form seemed to be at an all time high as the US Open approached. She won the Idea Prokom Open in Poland, beating Patti Schnyder (seeded 2nd in the tournament) 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, before her finals victory over Klara Koukalova, 6-2, 6-0. Five days later Smashnova eliminated Karolina Sprem, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, in the Nordic Light Open semifinal in Helsinki. She went on to win her second straight tournament by defeating Croatian Jelena Kostanic, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, in the final. That victory was her eighth final win in eight attempts.

Smashnova launched the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven with one of the most impressive victories of her career. She defeated Anastasia Myskina, ranked 10 in the world, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4. Israel's premier tennis player beat another high ranker in the second round, Vera Zvonareva, before falling to Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinal. Smashnova seemed to be suffering from a leg injury.

Smashnova recovered in time for the US Open where she lost in the first round. The defeat was her second straight first-round Grand Slam exit, despite her good tournament form. Her mixed doubles campaign was no more successful than her singles performance. Anna and partner Jeff Coetzee were knocked out in the first round as well.

Smashnova won her ninth career title on May 22, 2004 in Vienna. In the final she beat Alicia Molik the No. 6 seed 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. After the match she said "I'm nine for nine in Tour finals and I feel pretty good about that. I have a tough first round in Paris and after this week, I feel I am very well prepared for it." In the second round, Pistolesi had defeated Klara Koukalova 6-0, 6-1. Magui Serna, the 7th seed, was destroyed 6-1,6-0 in the quarterfinals. Anna met fifth seed Amy Frazier in the semifinals and beat the contender 7-5, 6-2.

Pistolesi went into the 2004 Roland Garros on a high after victory in Vienna. She started off with a bang, defeating Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-1,6-4 in the first round. She had a harder time against up and coming Czech star Klara Koukalova in the second round. After a brisk 6-1 victory in the first set, Anna was up against it in the second but pulled out a 7-5 win. Anna met the formidable ninth seed, Elena Dementieva in the third round. She annihilated the Russian star 6-0 in a mere 26 minutes of first set play. Dementieva came back to win 7-5 in the second set. By the end of the second set, the Israeli was clearly hurting and had to retire at the start of the third due to severe cramps. Pistolesi and partner Massimo Bertolini were also knocked out in the first round of the mixed doubles event.

Anna suffered another inglorious Wimbledon performance in 2004. She lost to Katarina Srebotnik 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of the singles competition.

Sources: Jews in Sports. Photo copyright Manuela Davies / from Tennis Info