It's turned out to be another one of "those" tournaments for Maria Shamapova at Roland Garros in Paris this week. Set up so she couldn't possibly lose, she did so anyway.
After achieving the "#1 ranking" upon the resignation of Justine Henin, Shamapova has been given a draw in France that allows her to avoid, in all likelihood, the need to face a top-20 non-Russian opponent until the finals. Both of the dangerous Serbians and both of the dangerous Americans were placed on the opposite side of the draw from Sharapova, whose pathway to the finals was impeded only by the lowly likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva and Elena Dementieva, the serveless wonder.
In other words, the luckiest player in the world seemed right back on form. Why, it was almost as if the tournament organizers had stacked the draw specifically to put Shamapova's pretty, marketable face in the finals.
Should she have won the tournament, this America-trained, America-resident athlete would remind many of how Russia recently won a soccer title with a Dutch coach and a Ukrainian star over woefully lame competition through the luck of the draw. Not exactly a case study in self sufficiency or success.
But in fact, Shamapova didn't even manage to reach the quarter-finals, winning only two games in the decisive third set of her fourth-round match with a non-top-ten seed and putting Ana Ivanovic in perfect position to strip away Shamapova's happenstance #1 by winning the tournament, allowing Shamapova to hold the top spot for even less time than the puny period she had it on her first go-round (she has never won a tournament while holding the #1 ranking).
And let's be clear: the presence of Russians in the second week of a grand-slam tournament is cause for nothing but gloom among knowledgeable tennis fans. They are, quite simply, nearly unwatchable, a toxin in the blood stream of the game. Sharapova's play at in Paris was abysmal, she was simply been lucky to get through the first week, struggling to eke out three-set wins against unknown competition, and on Saturday the American commentators bemoaned at length that all the interest was gone after the disappearance of the game's three great current stars, Henin and the Williams sisters. Just watch the expression on any true fan's face when you propose he watch a quarter-finals match between Dinara Safin and Svetlana Kuznetsova, or a semi between, and you'll see a visage that tells you they'd rather watch bowling -- or grass growing.
Russians are killing women's tennis, it's a simple as that.
The French crowd saw it all clearly enough. The Associated Press reports:
For Sharapova, things really began to fall apart when she served while trailing 3-2 in the third set.
At 15-love, Safina’s forehand landed near a line, and Sharapova missed a backhand. Sharapova asked the chair umpire to check the mark from Safina’s shot, drawing scattered noise from the crowd, and the call stood. On the next point, Sharapova botched a sitter and put a forehand into the net—drawing cheers, generally considered a breach of etiquette among tennis spectators. Another short ball came at 15-30, and perhaps wary of another miscue, Sharapova sent it back cautiously, allowing Safina to pound a forehand. That prompted a scream from Sharapova. As play proceeded, her yells became louder and louder as she berated herself, at least once with colorful language. Her departure from the French Open was filled with sound and fury: her stroke-accompanying shrieks, her self-loathing shouts between points and the spectators’ hearty boos and high-pitched whistles that ushered the No. 1-seeded woman to the exit.That's right -- the French booed her off the court, the #1 player in the world.
And so it goes in Vladimir Putin's Russia.