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Monday, August 14, 2006

Annals of Shamapova

Oh, what a pity. And she had it all planned so nicely, too.

Maria Sharapova entered the JP Morgan tournament in California last week as the number one seed, with only one of the other four top-five players in the world entered in the event. After that player, Russian Nadia Petrova, was eliminated in her first-round match by an unseeded player not ranked in the world's top 80 (continuing the sorry spectacle of highly-ranked Russians losing to lower-ranked players as documented previously by La Russophobe), Sharapova's biggest competition for the title would be number six Elena Dementieva, the serveless wonder. It should have been a cakewalk.

And the press was along for the ride. She was coming off her first tournament win in five months and her first victory over a higher-ranked player to win a tournament in more than 18 months. The WTA website declared: "After several intense battles on Friday, four players remain in Los Angeles, including Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who both eye a championship final showdown at the Tier II event." Today Online touted her "cruising" and "rolling into the quarterfinals." USA Today gushed about her "running her winning streak to eight matches." The Boston Herald said she was looking "sharp." Interestingly, the WTA's propaganda proved doubly wrong, as Serena Williams also failed to make the finals (she's returning from a long layoff due to injury).

What a shock, then to find out that Maria didn't even make the finals, much less win the tournament. She was destroyed by the lower-ranked Dementieva in straight sets the semis, offering up 22 break point chances and allowing seven breaks of her serve, including the match game, and made things even worse with eight double faults. She won only seven of the 20 games played, including only two in the second set. In other words, vintage Maria.

For her part, Dementieva went on to win the tournament against her lower-ranked competitor from Serbia, though it wasn't pretty. Demenetiva needed three sets, and she went up 5-0 in the third and then promptly fell apart, serving twice for the match and being broken both times, just barely squeaking it out in her third and final opportunity.

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