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Monday, August 13, 2007

Annals of Russian Tennis

Here we go again. You've got hand it to the WTA -- they're stupid and dishonest, but at least they're consistently stupid and dishonest.

The screenshot below, taken on the WTA tour website on Saturday August 11th reads: "Russians Rule in Los Angeles Third Round." Seems like the WTA really knows its Russians -- you've got to praise them early in the going, because by the time the tournament is over, there'll be nothing left of them but wreckage. But even at the stage of the third round, WTA is trying to generate a story where in fact there is none except the same old song.

By its headline, WTA was referring to the fact that four Russians came out of the third round to fill the eight quarterfinals slots at the East-West Bank Classic, a Tier II event that was held in California last week. Once again, the WTA omitted a few minor details.

Maria Sharapova was one of Russia's four quarter-finalists. Prior to her third-round match, she did not earn a single win in tournament. She had a bye in the first round, and in the second her opponent retired with an injury early in the second set after pushing Sharapova to a tiebreaker in the first. Sharapova then needed three hard-fought sets to defeat her third-round opponent, a player not ranked in the world's top 30.

Elena Dementieva was the second of Russia's four quarter-finalists. She had an even easier path than Sharapova, reaching the third round after facing wild card entry Maria Brengle in her second match. Brengle is not ranked in the top 250 in the world but managed to defeat world #86 Flavia Pennetta in easy straight sets, greasing the skids for Dementieva. In her third round match, Dementieva "defeated" the higher-ranked Daniela Hantuchova when Hantuchova retired from the match with an injury.

So, to sum things up, two of the four Russians to get as far as the quarter finals got there because of defaults. It's not really all that hard to "rule" a player who stops playing or doesn't even start, now is it?

The other two Russians who reached the quarterfinals looked great by comparison. Both Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilienko were required to play full-length matches in order to progress and Kirilenko defeated the #8 seed (and Wimbledon finalist) to reach the third round. Yet, it's Petrova and not Kirilenko whose face appeared on the WTA story (even though Kirilienko is far more photogenic, more proof that the WTA simply doesn't have a clue).

What happened to these four in the quarter-finals matches? The WTA didn't care to report on it. So we'll tell you.

Nadia Petrova (pictured above pumping her fist in victory) advanced to reach the semi-finals and face Sharapova. Should you be impressed? Not really. Petrova won by defeating Virginie Razzano of France, a player not ranked in the top 50 in the world. Both of the two top-ten seeds in Petrova's quarter of the draw were defeated before she had to face them, and Petrova needed three sets to squeak past Razzano. Sharapova's path to the semis was perhaps even easier, since she got to play a fellow Russian, and promptly blew Elena Dementieva off the court. Dementieva, the serveless wonder, offered up yet another limp, non-competitive match that discredited both herself and her opponent's "victory." Finally, Kirilenko was destroyed by Serbian Ana Ivanovic in easy straight sets. So no Russian reached the semis by defeating a non-Russian opponent ranked in the world's top 50. These are the annals of the Russian illusion of success.

The net result by the way (excuse the pun) was that the semi-finals saw half its open slots filled by Serbians, as Jelena Jancovic won her quarter of the draw to face Ivanovic. For some reason, no headline to this effect on the WTA site. Nor did the WTA see fit to notice that Ivanovic and Jancovic, by far the two most dangerous players in the draw, had been placed in the same half of the draw -- meaning that neither Russia's top contenders (Petrova and Sharapova, nor Dementieva for that matter) would have to face them before the finals and thus Russia was virtually guaranteed a finals birth.

Petrova then reached the finals to play Ivanovic. How did Petrova manage it? Well, Sharapova didn't step on the court for their semifinals match, but instead forfeited claiming injury. So in order to reach the finals, the Russian crew needed not one, not two, but three walkovers to boost them into that lofty position (in a mere Tier II event yet).

And after all this did Petrova at least manage to win the title?

Of course not.

Did she manage to at least stretch Ivanovic to three sets?

Of course not.

So now Ivanovic is not only better looking than Shamapova, but she holds two titles this year to Shamapova's one. So much for the "ruling" Russians. She knocked Russian Anna Chakvetadze (by far Russia's best player this year) out of the #4 spot on the world rankings, and passed Shamapova on the calendar year rankings (now there are no Russians in any of the top 3 spots for 2007 performance).

Meanwhile, Petrova did manage to achieve one thing, continuing her disgusting habit of wearing the Russian flag emblazoned on her cap in non-national play, something we can't remember any other tour player doing in the history of the game. Maybe she's Nashi? Can you imagine what Russians would say about an American who did this?

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