Men's tennis: Davydenko hunting first Grand Slam

At the end of the year, RT interviewed Shamil Tarpishchev, Russia's Davis captain, on the performance of Russia's male tennis players on the international tennis scene.

Nikolay Davydenko proved to be Russia's top player, ending the year as world number five.

The highlight of his season was winning the Master's in Miami, but unfortunately, he was unable to challenge for a first Grand Slam title, despite reaching semi-finals.

“Nikolay Davydenko has a number of advantages in that he's so quick around the court, and he's one of the best returners in the game. In comparison to other players from the top five, I think he needs to work on his smash more, have a more consistent serve and improve his shot selection from mid-court to win a Slam,” says Tarpishchev.

2009 may be the year Marat Safin finally decides to retire from tennis.

The two-time Grand Slam winner, didn't have a great season, but surprised everyone, probably including himself, by reaching the last four at Wimbledon on grass – his least favourite surface.

However, he finished the year as the world's number 29, and may just carry on for a little longer.

“I'm confident Marat will play at the Australian Open, but from then on, a lot will depend on how he is feeling emotionally. To be realistic, how Safin plays in the first half of the year will give us a clue whether he'll carry on playing or quit,” hints Tarpishchev.

After a great start to 2008, thrashing Rafael Nadal in Chennai to win his first tournament of the year, things looked bright for Russia’s Mikhail Youznhy.

From then on, however, injuries and a little bit of frustration got the better of the Russian, like the famous incident against Nicolas Almagro, when he managed to injure himself.

“Unfortunately it's not the first year that Mikhail has been suffering from back problems. Perhaps to overcome this, he needs to pick and choose the tournaments he plays in better, to put less stress on his back,” says Tarpishchev.

Russia has been one of the world's top Davis Cup sides since the turn of the millennium after victories over the Serbia and the Czech Republic,

“I think it will be much harder to win the Davis Cup next year due to the calendar changes, which will see the players competing in Grand Slams, and then having to play for their country,” warns Tarpishchev.

One of Tarpishchev's problems is the lack of depth in the men's game, which unlike the women's game, is unable to produce countless new rising stars every year.

“I think it's easier to train girls, and unfortunately the majority of our top coaches prefer to work with girls rather than boys, This, therefore, is one reason why there is such an imbalance in the number of top female players we're producing in comparison to men,” he explains.

Russia have maintained their position as the top ranked Davis Cup side in the world – 2008 being the fourth year in a row that Tarpishchev's side have reached at least the semi-finals.

There are currently six Russian men in the world’s top 50, while there are six Russian women in the world’s top eleven, and a total of eleven in the top 50.