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None of the Maleevas are much taken with their U.S. colleagues on the tour. They often find them rude, shallow, insincere. "The Americans cry privately, away from the press," says Yulia.
The two older sisters present a striking contrast. Manuela is gracious and shy, Katerina emotional and outgoing. "They have the same feelings, but react differently," says Manuela's husband, François Fragniere. "Katya sees problems. Manuela sees only solutions."
The term sibling rivalry has no equivalent in Bulgarian. "Katerina and I are best friends," says Manuela. "The only way we survived in this zoo was to stay close."
They even enter different tournaments to avoid facing each other. "When I play Katerina, I pull harder for her than I do mc," says Manuela. "I've won all our matches, but I've suffered every time."
Magdalena is the most insouciant Maleeva. Losing doesn't make her frown, much less sob. "Sometimes I want to slap her for not crying," Yulia says. Magdalena shrugs. "I don't see any reason to cry when I lose," she says. "There are much more serious things, like war." She has festooned her T-shirt with peacenik slogans—SAVE THE EARTH, NON-COMMUNIST—and interlocking U.S. and Soviet flags.
Magdalena was six when she began attending tennis banquets with her sisters. By seven she knew all the world capitals. "Geography is my favorite subject," she says. She proudly displays a map on which she has charted the routes of noted explorers like Marco Polo and Ernest Shackleton.
Like Columbus, Magdalena wants to discover America, but Yulia is against living anywhere but in Sofia. "It's not safe!" says Yulia of the U.S. "Children are kidnapped. In Bulgaria, no children are ever stolen."
"Well, not as many as in America," says Magdalena. "But it does happen."
"Maggie! There is not one stolen child in Bulgaria!"
"Yes, I can tell you there was such a child last year."