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Monday, July 30, 2007

Annals of Russian Tennis "Dominance"

If things go on in the world of women's tennis as they are right now, by the end of this year Russia will no longer have four women ranked in the world's top 10 as it currently does, but only three. Nadia Petrova, currently ranked in the top 10, has fallen to #14 based on her performance in 2007 alone.

And Maria Sharapova won't be Russia's highest-ranked player. Sharapova, #2 in the world, has fallen to #6 based on her 2007 performance. She's been passed by current #4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, and current #7 Anna Chakvetadze is within easy striking distance of her as well.

So Kuznetsova and Chakvetadze are Russia's best players of 2007. Well, kind of they are.

You see, Kuznetsova hasn't won a single tournament all year long. She's passed Sharapova by on this year's rankings without doing so, which tells you something about how Sharapova has fared. In Kuznetsova's last three tournaments, she was eliminated each time by a lower-ranked player, twice in straight sets. She's reached the finals in four of the twelve tournaments she's played this year (a far better record than Sharapova), but she's lost every single time once she got there, stretching the winner to three sets only once and getting beaten by a higher-ranked player in only one of the four finals outings (echoes of Anna Kournikova).

In reality, the only credible record by a Russian player this year has been Chakvetadze (the one whose last name belies her actually being Russian), winner of three tournaments. But these were all lowly tier III and IV events (Hobart, S'hertogenbosch and Cincinnati) and in two of the three outings she prevailed in the finals against an opponent not ranked in the world's top 60 players. She did, however, record Russia's best win by far this year when she prevailed over world #3 and top seed Jelena Jancovic, hottest player on the tour this year, at S'hertogenbosch in the Netherlands in June.

The only Russian player to win a tier I or II event this year is Petrova, who despite that has slippped well out of the world's top 10 this year. Petrova won the big event tier II in Paris, but only because she was lucky enough to face a player not ranked in the world's top 30 in the finals (though granted, even that wasn't enough to help Kuznetsova).

Conclusion: We have the same messed-up idea about Russian women playing tennis that we do about Russian economics and government. We have the vague idea that things are going well, when in fact it's all illusion.

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