NEW YORK, NY, USA - Fourteen years after Anastasia Myskina became the first from her country to capture a Grand Slam title at the 2004 French Open, one young woman who grew up watching tennis' proverbial Russian Revolution is ready to incite another uprising at the US Open.
"I watched a lot of her matches, and I like her a lot as a person," confessed 19-year-old qualifier Anna Kalinskaya on Sunday. "She helps me a lot when I’m in Moscow, and she’s more of an idol for me as a person, even more than just as a tennis player."
Russian No.1 Daria Kasatkina is at the forefront of this latest horde - one that includes fast-rising youngsters like Anna Blinkova, Natalia Vikhlyantseva, and Moscow River Cup runner-up Anastasia Potapova - after back-to-back quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Born in Moscow of two badminton players, Kalinskaya began playing tennis at age 5, and hopes to follow her friend and formally announce herself in Flushing Meadows against No.9 seed Julia Goerges.
"I’m excited to be at the US Open, playing in the main draw. I’m happy to have qualified because in the last two Grand Slams, I lost in the final round, so it was very important for my confidence. It was a very important step for me."
The teenager made her first big step 18 months ago in Kuala Lumpur, using her formidable return to out-rally then-World No.23 Caroline Garcia at the Alya Malaysian Open. It was just her second WTA main draw match, but not a result she would have you hype.
"I just played my game. To be honest, I didn’t feel like it was something special. I don’t know why."
She next made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open in January, earning a win over 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist and former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva in qualifying. Near misses in Paris and London have only fueled the Russian's quietly confident fire.
"I had two match points when I played the French Open, and I was very sad to lose that one. but it was good experience. When I played Wimbledon, I lost in three sets; I had been playing doubles qualies as well, so I was very tired. That was another learning experience, to know what I need to do differently."
One change came within her coaching team, recently adding Artem Derepasko to a line-up that sometimes includes Evgeniya Manyukova - who also works with former WTA Doubles No.1 Ekaterina Makarova - when she's at her home base in Moscow.
"I tried to practice in the United States around five years ago but I couldn’t live there because I felt I needed my family in Moscow. That support is important for me. I was also at the Mourataglou Academy six times. It’s a very good academy but it’s better for me to stay in Moscow."
Sitting on the media terrasse on a breezy August afternoon, the sometimes cynical Kalinskaya still prefers her hometown - calling it cleaner and less expensive - but is nonetheless beguiled by the five boroughs, having first visited as a junior.
"It’s such a big city. You come to New York, to Manhattan, and you look at the buildings. You wonder if you’re in a different world, or in a movie.
"I like to just walk around, even if it’s just after dinner to look around and see the lights. I think there’s something special about New York because of all the lights and the atmosphere. There’s so many things to do here."
Thus far, all she's done here is win, barreling through former junior champion Grace Min, Ladies Championship Gstaad finalist Mandy Minella, and former World No.35 Madison Brengle without dropping a set. Her meeting with Goerges will be her first against a Top 10 player, a ranking she hopes to one day achieve.
"I haven’t spoken with my coach yet, only a little bit. I know about her and I’ve seen her matches. I have an idea how to play against her, and I’m very excited to play against a player like this."
To match Myskina's high mark, it's a player Kalinskaya aims to beat on Monday, the third match on Court 10, but her passion for the sport could yet set her apart from her Russian rivals. Asked to consider a life without tennis, she gave a small smile.
"I cannot imagine it."
Quick hits with Kalinskaya...
On her family: "My mother is Elena. She was badminton player. My father is Nikolay, and he was a badminton player as well. Now he works for the federation and my mother is a coach for kids. My brother is a football player. He’s 24 and his name is Nikolay too!"
On her favorite shot: "I think my return is good. I like to attack a second serve."
On how she started playing tennis: "My mother and grandmother are from Ukraine, and every summer I would go there and see my cousin playing tennis. I liked it a lot and I wanted to try."
On growing up in Moscow: "It’s a big city. I like a lot. It’s a bit tough to move around because of all the traffic, but I’m used to it."
On her favorite tennis players: "I had Rafael Nadal as my idol when I was five, but as I grew up, I started not to like his type of game because it’s the complete opposite of mine. I watched a lot of Myskina and Dinara Safina as well. I like watching tennis."
On her favorite tournament: "My favorite tournament is in St. Petersburg. It’s on hardcourts, and it’s not so far from Msocow. I think I need to visit Miami and Indian Wells. I haven’t traveled so much yet."
On off-court hobbies: "I like to do make-up, some shopping. I like to discover things outside tennis and talk about other things with people, so I’m not so focused on tennis all the time. I like to cook a lot. I can cook almost everything. I haven’t tried sushi yet."