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Monday, August 07, 2006

Russian Tennis Update: The Acura at La Costa

There was good news and bad news in Russian tennis over the weekend. The good news was that Russia's highest-ranked female player finally won a tournament! The bad news was, well, everything else.

Five seeded Russians entered the draw at the 2006 Acura Tier I event at La Costa in San Diego this year: Sharapova (seeded #2), Petrova (3) , Dementieva (4) , Safina (9) and Kirilenko (16).

Petrova lost in straight sets before the quarter finals to a player not ranked in the world's top 30.

Safina lost didn't even reach the second round, losing to a player not ranked in the top 50.

Kirilenko met the same fate as Safina, losing her first match to player not ranked in the top 25.

This left Sharapova and Dementieva to defend Russia's honor in the quarter-finals, where they both faced lower-seeded players (French and German). Dementieva was easily dismissed by the lower-ranked German in straight sets, leaving Sharapova as Russia's only remaining combatant. In a typical display of shocking good fortune, Sharapova drew the ancient, creaking Mary Pierce -- at 31, nearly twice Sharapova's age -- and unsurprisingly defeated her. With two of the world's top four players skipping the Acura, Sharapova's only chance to face a higher-ranked players was Kim Clijsters if both reached the finals -- her good fortune continued in that the second-most dangeros player in the draw, resurgent Martina Hingus, ended up in Clijster's half, meaning Sharapova would only need to face one of them (Hingus crushed Sharapova earlier this year in easy straight sets in Tokyo).

So, interestingly enough, the only "Russian" to make the semifinals at the Acura was the one who spends the least time in Russia; Sharapova lives in America and speaks English on the court.

Sharapova reached the finals and in the first ten games of the first set of her match with Kim Clijsters, whom Sharapova had never beaten in her entire career, serve was held only four times. Six breaks of serve in a championship match! Sharapova ultimately prevailed, needing three set points to do so after being broken when she was serving for the set having held set point, and went on to win the match. It wasn't pretty, but she got it done, and she didn't even wear one of her ridiculous outfits doing it, but a piece serious sportwear. Maybe the American side of her is coming out at last.

In light of all this, the best "Russian" performance of the tournament was undoubtedly turned in by one Anna Chakvetadze, the unseeded player who took out Petrova and went on from there to eliminate the 14th seed and then to stretch the 7th seed to three sets in the quarters. Chakvetadze, ironically, is not a name that any Slavic Russian would recognize as being "Russian" and Slavs would therefore apply the term "rossisskii" rather than "russkii" to Chakvetadze -- i.e., you're Russian by passport, not by blood, a second-class citizen (except of course when you do something good that we can take credit for). In fact, it's a Georgian name that, with no further information, could easily subject the bearer to physical assualt or worse in Russia just now given Russia's worsening relations with Borjomiland.

Meanwhile, at the Legg Mason tournament on the other side of the country, Marat Safin was destroyed by an unheralded Frenchman (not ranked in the world's top 50) and threw a fit on the court and embarrassed himself and the sport (yet again).

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