Safina tips Sharapova for London 2012 tennis honours and urges media to "support" Murray
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
April 24 - Dinara Safina, Russia's former world number one tennis player and silver medallist from Beijing 2008, has tipped her compatriot Maria Sharapova to maintain the country's domination of the event at London 2012, where the tennis will be played on the grass courts of Wimbledon.
She also believes that if Andy Murray is to have his best chance of winning an Olympic medal on home soil the British media must be more supportive of him.
Safina (pictured top) will decide at the end of this year whether the back injury which has prevented her playing for almost a year will force her to retire.
She told insidethegames: "We have big hopes for Maria [pictured below] in London.
"She has been Wimbledon champion and was runner-up last year, so she knows she is strong on grass.
"We hope she can get a medal for Russia."
While also extolling the virtues of compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova, Safina added a note of caution: "It will not be easy for Maria, though.
"The Williams sisters are going to be there, I am sure, but I think it depends on what shape they are in when they reach the Games – it's only three weeks after Wimbledon, after all.
"But Serena doesn't have an Olympic medal in the singles – it's the only one that's missing in her career."
Safina, who has a home in Monte Carlo but is now studying law in Moscow, said Murray (pictured below) was "coping very well" with the pressure put on him by the British fans and media, particularly when it came to Wimbledon.
"For the Olympics, I think the press should help him a bit more, give him a bit more support," she said.
"He seems to get a hard time; I mean, he lost last year's Australian Open to Novak Djokovic, the world's number one player.
"[But] he is a great player, so talented – the way he plays is so easy."
Safina has been in London this week in company with four Russian Olympic legends – Alexei Nemov, the all-around gymnastics champion from Sydney 2000, Maria Kiseleva, three-times synchronised swimming champion, Buvaisar Saitiev, the triple freestyle wrestling champion, and Svetlana Masterkova, winner of the 800 and 1500 metres at Atlanta 1996.
The trip, hosted by VisitBritain under the "Road to London" banner, has been covered by the major Russian television networks and has seen the group take in the Olympic Park site and conduct a coaching session at a local school as well as visit other tourist attractions, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Wimbledon and the West End to see the musical Stomp.
VisitBritain has joined up with the British Council, Visa and the Russian Olympic Committee in an enterprise which they hope will stimulate further interest among Russians to take a trip here.
Last year Britain received 208,000 visits from Russians, which helped generate around £302 million ($487 million/€369 million) for the British economy, a figure that is expected to grow over the next few years.
"Russian tourists spend twice the average on their visits," a VisitBritain spokesman explained.
"The average spend for a trip is £1,500 ($2,400/€1,800) – so obviously we are keen to encourage as many Russian visitors as possible."
Patricia Yates, director of Strategy and Communications at VisitBritain, said: "These are elite Olympic champions who know what it takes to be at the top of their field and we are extremely fortunate to be able to showcase Britain to such high-profile figures who have such an influence back home in Russia.
"Their visit this week will help us capture a larger slice of Russia's £18 billion ($29 billion/€22 billion) outbound tourism market."
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