As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we look back at the 50 champions who have left an indelible mark on this inimitable event.
Mother Russia ruled the Grand Slams in 2004, as Russian women proved to be absolute powerhouses.
Anastasia Myskina took the French that spring in the first all-Russian Grand Slam final, toppling fellow countrywoman Elena Dementieva, 6-1, 6-2.
17-year-old Maria Sharapova, an aggressive baseliner, blew past two-time defending champion Serena Williams at the Wimbledon final, 6-1, 6-4.
Another precocious talent, Svetlana Kuznetsova of St. Petersburg, would soon have her turn on the hard courts in Flushing.
Kuznetsova came from a family of impressive bicycling prowess.
Her father, Alexandr Kuznetsov, coached six Olympic and world champion cyclists, including Kuznetsova’s mother, Galina Tsareva, who won six cycling championships herself. Nikolai Kuznetsov, Kuznetsova’s brother, was a silver medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Instead of following in the rest of her family’s footsteps, Sveta, as she is known to fans, opted for a racquet instead of a set of wheels.
At 14, Sveta moved to Barcelona to train on the clay at the Sanchez-Casal Academy, under the tutelage of four-time Grand Slam champion and 1994 US Open women’s singles champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Only a year later, Sveta turned pro. By 2003, the heavy hitter had already cracked the Top 50 and took five WTA doubles titles with four-time US Open singles champion and tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
Strapped with a set of braces and a scrunchie, 19-year-old Kuznetsova more closely resembled a teen on the cusp of adulthood instead of a tennis player on her ascent.
While her aesthetic was youthful, her tennis game, on the other hand, was masterful.
Seeded No. 9 at the 2004 US Open, Sveta was in a draw of veteran contenders, including Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne and two-time US Open champion Serena Williams.
The baseliner used her booming forehand to dismiss her competition, quickly ousting the likes of American and No. 21 seed Amy Frazier in the third round and No. 14 seed and compatriot Nadia Petrova in the quarterfinals.
Sveta managed to breeze through the draw, until the semifinals, where she faced off against an equally hard hitter, Lindsay Davenport.
Davenport was one of America’s elite, having already won three Grand Slam singles titles, including the 1998 US Open.
But in 2004, as she prepared to take on Sveta, Davenport suffered a left hip flexor injury while warming up.
A devastating blow for Davenport, but a tremendous boon for Kuznetsova.
Even though she was injured, Davenport managed to put up a strong fight, taking the first set in a mere 21 minutes. Sveta was not deterred and took the second set, and ultimately the match, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Sveta’s win over Davenport secured her spot in the final and made history, setting up the first all-Russian final at the US Open, where she would face French Open finalist Dementieva.
Kuznetsova wasted no time in the final, spending only 74 minutes etching her name into US Open lore with a 6-3, 7-5, victory over Dementieva. She amassed an amazing 34 winners in the title match.
Her New York win would not be the Russian’s only title. Her 10 years of training on the clay courts in Spain finally paid off in 2009, when she took the French Open title. On the red clay in Paris, Sveta found herself in another all-Russain final, defeating Dinara Safina, 6-4, 6-2.
50 Fact: 2004 was the year of Sveta. Besides becoming the first Russian US Open women's singles champion, Kuznetsova was also in contention for the US Open women's doubles title. Ultimately, her and compatriot Elena Likhovtseva fell to Spain's Virginia Ruano Pascual and Argentina's Paola Suarez, 6-4, 7-5, which was the same duo Kuznetsova and Likhovtseva fell to in the French women's doubles final that same year.
Photo above: Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova raises the trophy after defeating Elena Dementieva in an all-Russian women's final at the 2004 US Open to capture her first Grand Slam title.(credit: Getty Images)