August 26, 2004
Israel Serves Up a Star
When the U.S. Open swings into New York Aug. 30, you'll have to squint to find Israel's tiniest tennis player.
It'll be easier to catch her on the scoreboard. She's the one with the muscular name -- Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi -- and the big game.
Generating power with her 5-foot-2, 117-pound frame, Smashnova-Pistolesi has smashed her way to No. 19 in the Women's Tennis Association rankings.
You can simply count on Smashnova-Pistolesi. This is her third straight year ranked in the top 20. She's 9-0 in WTA tournament finals. That makes her one of Israel's most effective athletes.
Smashnova-Pistolesi has done it on the go. She was born 28 years ago in Minsk, Belarus. Her family moved to Israel when she was 14. She stays at her parents' home in Herzelia when she's in the country. She has her own home in Italy, where she lives with her husband, the former pro Claudio Pistolesi.
You can call Smashnova-Pistolesi a walking United Nations. But she knows her loyalty.
"I always play under the Israeli flag and represent my country at every tournament," she said. "I am always happy by the widespread support that I receive from Israeli fans throughout the world."
Even though Smashnova-Pistolesi stands tall in Israeli sports, her Italian shift makes it tough for her to connect with some Jews. She keeps trying to win points well after serving in the Israeli army in the mid-1990s.
"If there are people who don't appreciate what I have done," she said, "I can only say that I am sorry that I cannot reach out to everyone, but with so many tour events, the rigorous training necessary and the constant traveling, tennis is really a demanding sport."
She also waves the flag for other Israeli players: "Shahar Peer has a lot of potential. She is ranked No. 17 in the juniors and has a very good attitude. She could become quite good, and there are also some good boys; Dudi Sela got to the semis of the U.S. Open junior boys event last year."
Smashnova-Pistolesi has had an active summer. She entered all the California tournaments and the Olympics. She didn't win a trophy or medal, but in Los Angeles she picked on someone much bigger, Daniela Hantuchova, and cut down the once-rising Slovakian.
The next day, Smashnova-Pistolesi wilted under a sizzling sun and against a hot Svetlana Kuznetsova. The fullbacklike Russian proved too strong.
"She didn't give me many chances," Smashnova-Pistolesi conceded after getting cooked.
Smashnova-Pistolesi hopes to bounce back at the U.S. Open. She certainly has the strokes, especially one mean backhand. It could be the third best one-hander among women pros after Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne and France's Emelie Mauresmo.
If Smashnova-Pistolesi beats top pros such as those, her name will grow. Even if her body doesn't. -- Bucky Fox, Contributing Writer