Russian Tennis Players Wary of Mob Talk

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The official Andrei Medvedev Web site has the all-but-retired Ukrainian tennis player pictured with a number of friends, among them current Russian tennis stars Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.

One photo has the trio sitting in a booth in Paris in October 1999, Medvedev's arms around the shoulder of a friend, Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov. That name may not have resonated outside of Russia until this week, when the reputed Russian mobster was arrested in Italy on Wednesday. He was charged with attempting to bribe officials and fix the outcome of the last two Winter Olympic figure skating contests, at Salt Lake City in February and at Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

The extent and nature of his reach into the sport of tennis was unclear, although Italian police said they uncovered his ties to other sports figures, including 1999 French Open finalist Medvedev, according to the Associated Press. Safin and Kafelnikov, both playing at a Masters Series event in Toronto, acknowledged their friendship with the alleged crime boss.

"He is a good friend of mine, but I'd rather talk tennis right now," Kafelnikov said. " ... Whatever happened there, I'm sure is some kind of mistake."

Said Safin: "Yes, I know him. I don't think it would be nice to talk about it today. It's not our business."

Russian star Anna Kournikova said she knows of Tokhtakhunov but declined to go beyond that into any specifics.

"I don't think I want to comment on that," she said Thursday at the Acura Classic. "I really don't know.... Everybody in Russia knows all the Russian tennis players."

Some of the photos from the Medvedev Web site were removed by Thursday. One was still available in the afternoon but was gone later in the day. Kournikova was asked if she felt cautious about having her picture taken with certain individuals, considering this development involving the other Russian players and Medvedev.

"Well, I mean, when you put it this way, yeah," she said, chuckling. "It's a good thought. It probably can be a little dangerous. You can't really think about it. If somebody wants to do something, they'll do it anyway I guess. You can have 10-20 bodyguards, if somebody wants to do something, it will happen."

The most obvious reason for her reluctance to discuss the situation came as Kournikova walked out of the interview room.

"I don't think I should be talking about this," Kournikova said. "I'm Russian, I have to go back there."

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