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Monday, August 06, 2007

Annals of Russian Tennis

The above screenshot from the WTA tour website last Friday blares the headline "Russians Rule at the Acura Classic." This referred to the fact that five of the eight quarter-finals spots at last week's tour event at the La Costa resort in San Diego California were occupied by Russians (Maria Sharapova, Anna Chakvetadze, Nadia Petrova, Maria Kirilenko and Elena Dementieva). What explains this "success"? A classic Russian illusion.

The WTA may not have noticed, but we did, that four of the six top-10 non-Russians in the world didn't even enter the event (Ana Ivanovic, Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin and Serena Williams all skipped out). Non-Russian Venus Williams took the fifth top-ten non-Russian, Daniela Hantuchova, out of the tournament before any of the Russians had to face her. This meant that the only top-ten-ranked non-Russian the Russian contingent had to face was world #3 Jelena Jankovic, and world #42 Kirilenko beat her, just barely, in a three-set shocker.

Meanwhile, three of Russia's four top-ten players chose to play the event (perhaps encouraged by the fact that virtually all of the top non-Russians were skipping it), leaving Russia with five of the top ten seeds in the tournament and three of the top four. Three of those top-ten seeds would go on to experience humiliating losses, including Dinara Safina (world #14), who was booted out of the tournament before the quarters in easy straight sets (winning only 3 of 15 games played) by an unseeded player not ranked in the world's top 30, leaving Russia with the predictable four seeds in the quarters along with Kirilenko.

So that's how the Russians managed it. Impressive, isn't it? Seems the WTA is rather hard up for news these days.

When the tournament reached the quarter finals, the four of Russia's five top-ten seeds who remained alive each drew lower-ranked opponents, and the one Russian who didn't get to play a lower-ranked opponent (namely Kirilenko) got to play another Russian, which might be even better luck.

The details on the quarter-finals action at La Costa:

  • World #9 Nadia Petrova was destroyed in easy straight sets by a lower ranked non-Russian, world #17 Patty Schnyder. That's humiliating loss #2 for the Russian side.
  • World #2 Maria Sharapova, again showing why she's perhaps the luckiest human being on the face of the planet, drew lowly world #31 Sania Mirza of India -- the lowest ranked opponent of any of the five Russians in the quarters, virtually guaranteeing her a spot in the semi-finals. Naturally, Sharapova prevailed. Wow, big win for the Russians!
  • World #6 Anna Chakvetadze faced world #16 Venus Williams. The higher-ranked player won (after being pushed to three sets including tiebreakers). Big deal. Of course, it's true that this was clearly Russia's best win in all its quarter-finals matches, because it's quite rare for a Russian to beat a top-20 non-Russian. Two of Russia's three grand slam titles have come when Russians played against each other in the finals; it's sole grand slam to have been won against a non-Russian was won by a Russian who lives in America and learned her game there. And this is the second time Chakvetadze has pulled off a win like this in 2007 (the first time she actually beat a higher-ranked non-Russian, Jankovic) making her by far Russia's hottest player of 2007 (now go ask a Slavic Russian whether a person named "Chakvetadze" is "Russian" or not).
  • And the last two of the Russian quarter finalists, Kirilenko and Dementieva, played each other, so Russia was guaranteed at least one spot in the semi-finals. Kirilenko was destroyed by Dementieva, the serveless wonder and one of the weakest top-ten players who've ever stepped on a court, making Kirilenko's prior victory over Jankovic look exactly like the freak occurrence it exactly was.
The seeding predicted that Russia would have three of the four spots in the semi-finals, and Russia in fact had three spots in the semi-finals, so all Russia accomplished was to live up to the seeding, not "rule" the tournament with prowess.

In the semi-finals, lower-ranked non-Russian Schnyder blew higher-ranked Russian Dementieva off the court, with Dementieva (the only player left in the draw whom Slavic Russians would recognize as actually being "Russian") unable to win a single game in the second set (racking up humiliating loss #3 for the Russian "rulers"), and Sharapova, the "Russian" who lives in America and learned her game there (and who recently refused to play for the Russian national team and got expelled from it), similarly destroyed Chakvetadze (who at least lost to a higher-ranked player). So in the finals what did we see? We saw every single one of the "ruling" Russians who actually lives in Russia blown off the court in humiliating fashion by the non-Russians and/or the Russian who's really an American.

The net result (excuse the pun) was that only after all this (a stacked deck full of Russian patsy opponents), and the ability to face a non-top-15 opponent (an opponent not even seeded in the top 10 within the tournament itself!) in the finals, was "world #2" Shamapova finally able to win (in three sets) her first tournament of 2007, with the year already well more than half over. And that's to say nothing of the fact that right after the Russophiles (at long last) spurned Sharapova as a traitor, it's she who emerged victorious from the next major tour event whilst all the "real" Russians go down (once again, so predictably) to humiliating defeat. Meanwhile, three of Russia's five "ruling" players were blown of the court in humiliating losses to lower-ranked non-Russians.

Ouch. That one's gotta sting.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

I won't argue with you about the relative power of the Russian women (the fact that they dominate the Top Ten in a way no other country can hope to match -- hell, the U.S. has one Top Ten player and she's there only because she had a surprising win in a major this year) but I do have a bit of a correction to make. You say that Russia has only one three Grand Slam titles. While there are only three Russian women as champions, Sharapova has won two titles (both against non-Russians who were the tourney's number 1 seeds.)

And, the fact that Russian players ended up in double-Russian Finals isn't proof that they can't play against non-Russians. Indeed, in 2004 it was proof that no one could play against Russians.