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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A(nother) Year of Humiliation for Russian Ladies Tennis

So far this year there have been sixteen significant tennis tournaments played on the WTA Tour circuit and eight truly major Grand Slam and Tier I events (excluding the lowly tier-III and tier-IV events eschewed by top players except as tuneup opportunities).

Although Russia has four players ranked in the world's top 10 over the past 365 days (Sharapova #2, Kuznetsova #5, Chakvetadze #8, Petrova #9), so-called "dominant" Russia has prevailed in only one of those 16 contests and has not taken a single Grand Slam or Tier I event this year, while America, with only one top-ten player, has won three of the eight majors and two of the three Grand Slams (38%). Belgium, also with only one top-ten player, has totally dominated the Tier II events. Russia's best player, Maria Sharapova, hasn't won a single tournament of any kind all year long. She's played eight tournaments and lost them all, losing every time to a lower-ranked opponent. She lost her ejection match in easy straight sets in six of the eight contests.

The results so far are as follows:

GRAND SLAM

Australian Open - USA
French Open - Belgium
Wimbledon - USA

TIER I

Tokyo - Switzerland
Indian Wells - Slovakia
Miami - USA
Charleston - Serbia
Rome - Serbia

TIER II

Sydney - Belgium
Antwerp - France
Dubai - Belgium
Amelia Island - France
Paris - Russia
Berlin - Beligum
Warsaw - Belgium
Eastbourne - Belgium

Russia's only "consolation" is, as it always is for Russia, illusion. When highly-ranked Russian players go up against the dregs of the tennis world in lowly Tier III and IV events, they unsurprisingly do better. For example, in May two-time Grand Slam finalist (and two time loser) Yelena Dementieva won the Istanbul Cup, a Tier III event, by beating Aravane Rezai of France in the finals. Rezai is not ranked in the world's top 50 whilst Dementieva is #15. In January, world #8 Anna Chakvetadze won the Moorilla International event in Australia, a Tier IV event, by beating Vasilisa Bardina, a fellow Russian ranked #70 in the world. This is how top Russian players collect ranking points, grinding out obscure tournaments against pathetic competition and once in a while catching a top player on a bad day, not by being champions. In the major events, as we've documented here on this blog, over and over and over again when Russians have faced lower-ranked non-Russian opponents they've been humiliated, blown of the court like Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open and Wimbledon or like Svetlana Kuznetsova at Berlin and Indian Wells.

The same thing happened at the recent Fed Cup tie in Vermont. Russia won the event, just barely, because it recorded victories by two of its four top-ten players, ranked #8 and #9 in the world, against Americans ranked #41 and #84. Impressive stuff. When faced with singles matches against a lower-ranked player ranked as high as the top 20, Russia's top 10 players could not handle the challenge and lost both those matches. Exactly as happened on the WTA Tour, in Fed Cup play Russia's best players could only be competitive when faced with third-string competition. In the decisive doubles match, Russia fielded two seasoned players ranked #29 and #26 in the world in doubles, while one of the two players fielded by America has no doubles ranking at all because she never competes in doubles. Her partner was not ranked in the top 450 in singles (though she's a top doubles player). Now, Russia will face Italy -- of all countries -- in the finals. Not Belgium, with the world's #1 player, or Serbia, with the world's hottest. Not France, not America. Italy. Taking pride in beating Italy at tennis is like taking pride in beating Russia at cricket. But you can be sure Russians will still do it (if they get the chance).

Ever gracious in victory, unlike the ugly Americans they look down on, the Russian team attacked their hosts as
"inhospitable" and offered pathetic excuses for their two singles losses, citing "jetlag, fatigue and a lack of preparation" while proclaiming they "kicked America's butt." Not a word was mentioned about the fact that, based on the rankings of the players involved, the tie was not even close to being a serious challenge for Russia. Russians, given their humiliation on tour this year, are understandably bitter, and looking for any smokescreen they can find.

But Russia can't even fall back on the old canard about its women at least being the most beautiful. Comparing the Serbian and the Slovak at left to the dog-faced Kuznetsova and Petrova doesn't leave Russia faring any better than in the statistics columns.

This is classic Soviet stuff. The Soviets always used to be proud of the facts such as that their professional hockey teams could beat American teams comprised of college kids at the Olympics -- well they were, right up until one of those professional teams got their butt kicked by the collegians at Lake Placid. Instead of realizing that they are in fact weak and need reform, Russians routinely choose to imagine they are strong and try to sit on laurels that aren't there, humiliating themselves over and over before the world and using their closed society to hide from the truth. Don't they read "The Emperor's New Clothes" in Russia?

It's the same old sad story for Russia, a nation consumed by humiliating failure and unable to break free from its vicious cycle. If Russia goes on this way, it will surely meet the same fate experienced by the USSR -- oblivion.


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