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Monday, September 11, 2006

How do you become the greatest Russian female tennis player of all time? Well, first you move to the United States and then . . .

Over the weekend two women met in the finals of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City.

One of them entered the match with five prior tournament wins this season plus two Fed Cup match wins for her country. What's more, she was making history by having appeared in the finals of all four grand slam tournaments this year, already having prevailed in one.

The other? She had won two tournaments, appeared in no other Grand Slam finals and never played for her country in the Fed Cup series. Oh yeah, but she was a better little piece of ass than the first.

Guess which woman got more attention from the media? Guess who had commercials regularly fashing across the screen and a puff piece before the action began, while the other was totally ignored? Yup, the second of course!

Maria Sharapova, woman number two, became unquestionably the greatest "Russian" female tennis player of all time, winning her second grand slam title and having once held, for a few months, the number-one ranking. No other "Russian" woman can boast these achievements.

Yet, as with most things concerning Russia, when we look even a little carefully at the details we see that there is virtually no good news for Russia at all. Not only did Maria move out of Russia when she was a child and acquire her game in the United States, but her game is in reality just a sham.

The pattern of ignominious defeat, and wretched unengaging play even when winning, by the Russian lady tennisistkas continued apace at the U.S. Open last week. Half of its seeded contingent was ejected by lower-ranked players and the world gaped in slack-jawed horror at the robotic play of those that advanced. You know the ladies had it rough when more Russian men made the semis than did women, yet none of the men advanced to the finals. The only good news for Russia was that so-called Russian Sharapova won the ladies' title, but as shown below this was a wolf in sheep's clothing to say the least.

Russia put ten seeded players into the ladies draw and four reached the quarter finals. There, #4 seed Elena Dementieva lost in straight sets to a player not ranked in the world's top 15 (taking only three games out of 15 played). #12 Dinara Safina lost in straights as well, but she lost to the world #1 so she was one of Russia's standout performers.

The result was that a Russian made the semi-finals only because it was guaranteed when the luck of the draw caused #27 Tatiana Golovin met #3 Sharapova (though Golovin officially plays for France and Sharapova lives in the United States, where she owns a good deal of real estate and derives all her income, so it could be argued that all the "real" Russians were eliminated before the semis and only two reached the quarters - that is unless you are a Slavic Russian who doesn't recognize a name like "Safin," which is Tatar and not Slavic; in that case, only one "real Russian" got past the fourth round). As described below, the all-quasi-Russian match proved to be yet another total disaster for the fans unlucky enough to have watched it (especially those who paid for the privilege).

Golovin dismissed #5 seed Petrova in the third round and #23 Anna Chakvetadze in the fourth round, so Chakvetadze is the third Russian who didn't lose to a lower-ranked player (if you count Frenchwoman Golovin -- but Chakvetadze is really a Georgian, so maybe that doesn't count either). #32 Likhovtseva and #33 Zvonareva both also lost to higher-ranked players (Sharapova and Dementieva, respectively).

#6 Kuznetsova lost to the same player who crushed Dementieva, Russian-killer and #19 seed Jelena Jancovic of Serbia.

#11 Myskina lost to an unseeded player in the first round.

#20 Kirilenko lost to an unseeded player in the third round.

Here's how the U.S. Open website ridculed the shameful and unwatchable Sharapova-Golovin match:

Feeling Pretty, Playing Shaky, Sharapova Into Semis
by Aimee Berg
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Wednesday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, two teenagers in pretty cocktail dresses frequently lost their serves and nerves and played one-dimensional power games, knowing one of them was guaranteed a berth in the semifinal round. In the end, No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova won a grudge match against her friend Tatiana Golovin, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (0). Afterward, Sharapova acknowleged, “I’ll definitely need to improve before my next one” against top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo. Twenty-one minutes into the first set, fans whispered with concern as Sharapova struggled against the No. 27 seed and trailed 1-3. Luckily for the “It Girl,” Golovin was equally tense. The two broke each other’s serve six times in the first 10 games. Then, at 5-all, they each held serve to force a tiebreak. In the tiebreak, Sharapova led 3-0 when Golovin unexpectedly summoned doctors to treat a foot blister. During the time-out, Sharapova turned Arthur Ashe Stadium into a personal practice court by rehearsing serves into an empty service box. The rules allow it, but the gesture seemed a tad gauche for a multi-millionaire who styles herself after Audrey Hepburn. The blister treatment helped Golovin rally and tie it at 4, but Sharapova won the next three points to capture the set. In the second set, both players managed to hold serve until the sixth game. After that, they took turns breaking each other for the next four. Golovin finally held to tie it at 5. They each won their next service game to force another tiebreak, in which Sharapova blanked Golovin, 7-0. In all, Sharapova won 22 of her 91 points from Golovin’s errors, and Golovin could thank Sharapova for 32 of the 81 points she collected. Neither player approached the net more than 10 times during the 2-hour, 11-minute match, and they shared similar serving power with identical top speeds (114 mph), matching first-serve averages (104 mph) and first serve accuracy (64 percent), as well as double faults (6). Sharapova is now 4-0 against the hot-tempered Golovin, who at one point blasted a ball into the crowd, whizzing past a woman’s head, to vent her frustration.
The "feeling pretty" reference is to Sharapova's latest commercial, wherein she is called pretty by dozens on her way to a match and then, at the first point, awes everyone into silence with her brutal power. Watching this commercial over and over again while Sharapova repeatedly lost her serve and was nearly eliminated by a player not ranked in the world's top 25, who was coming back after a horrific on-court injury, made Sharapova seem even more absurdly lacking in substance than ever. Naturally, the U.S. Open commentator couldn't resist raking her over the coals for her outrageous hubris unsupported by her level of play.

Even more outrageous, though, was the illegal coaching Sharapova received from her father in the stands. The TV commentators documented Mr. Sharapov holding up a cup telling Sharapova when to drink and a banana telling her when to eat, blatantly ignoring the rule forbidding such conduct. Why does Sharapova, seeded #3, need such help against a player not ranked in the world's top 25? Can't she win on her own? Apparently not, since Golovin took Sharapova to two tiebreakers and had numerous chances to take the match. What's next for Maria, steroids? Time will tell.

And then there was the screaming. Sharapova's high-pitched wailing, perhaps a tactic to conceal the sound of the ball striking her racket from her opponent, makes it nearly impossible to watch an entire match, certainly it can't be done without repeated wincing.

So with ten seeded players in the draw only one Russian reached the semi-finals, a "Russian" who speaks English on the court and lives in the United States. Not exactly a breathtaking result.

Sharapova would go on to defeat world #1 Amelie Mauresmo in a truly bizarre semi-final match, winning the first and third sets at love while being easily beaten in the second and taking the match despite having 20% more unforced errors than winners. Mauresmo, the greatest choke player in the history of the women's game, made nearly 40 unforced errors and handed the match to Sharapova in a true laugher, the kind of thing that is seriously underming the sport's fan base.

The news wasn't much better on the men's side. Russia's male hero Marat Safin (brother of Dinara and not, by the standards of Slavic race relations, a "real Russian" at all) was ejected before the quarter finals by a non-top-ten opponent. Unseeded Mikhail Youzhny was a standout, eliminating the number two six in the fourth round and the number two in the quarters before losing honorably to #9 American Andy Roddick in the semis. Youzhny also did well in doubles, his unseeded team ousting the top seeds in the fourth round before being ousted in the quarters. Finally there was #7 seed Nikolai Davydenko, who in the quarters faced the same (lower ranked) player that eliminated Safin and struggled to beat him in five after losing the first two sets. Davydenko went on to lose honorably, as everyone does, to #1 juggernaut Roger Federer, and is another "Russian," since he was born in the Ukraine and lived most of his life in Germany; he now resides in Monte Carlo. How he gets denominated "Russian" along with Youzhny, born and currently residing in Moscow, is anybody's guess.

As for Sharapova, her 6-4, 6-4 win over Justine Henin-Hardenne was a real outrage, and not just because of the excrutiatingly unwatchable quality of Sharapova's one-dimensional play. The TV network hyped Sharapova's pretty face continuously while ignoring Henin-Hardenne's existence, even though Justine had just completed one of the most amazing achievements in the sport's history, appearing in the finals of all four grand-slam events this year; instead, it sought to market the match based on Sharapova's sex appeal. At the trophy ceremony after Sharapova's victory, the presenter called upon the audience to give a round of applause for the match and had to ask twice just to force a smattering of clapping out of those assembled, because the match was just about as boring as they get (a clear pattern where Sharapova is concerned). Weirdly, Sharapova had once again struck 20% more unforced errors than her opponent, just like in the Mauresmo match, yet still managed to prevail by relying on the same uncanny dumb luck that allowed her to emmigrate to the U.S. as a child from Siberia.

So now this is "Russia's" greatest player, someone who owns homes in Florida and California but not in Russia, who speaks English without an accent on the court but not Russian and who has lived her entire life in the U.S. and acquired her game from American coaches, and never once played for the Russian national team. In other words, her victory is really just an embarrassment for Russia and bad for the sport as well, pushing true champions to the sidelines and elevating form over substance.

And so it goes in Russia.


La Russophobe said...

Keep winning? Well, I guess Stalin "kept winning" for many years too, if you want to look at it in a weird way.

People have been saying that about her for years. It took her TWO YEARS to get back to a grand slam final. You have no evidence whatsoever to support your case, and you certainly can't refute any of the facts laid out in the text.

If "she's gonna keep winning" is the best you can come up with, we're even more right than we thought.

Meanwhile, care to put your money where your mouth is?

By the way, if your right, then it takes America to make a Russian great.

La Russophobe said...

btw Gruzhy, just to clarify, we didn't imply that Sharapova's cheating helped her win, we just objected to it on moral grounds. we realize that's a hard concept for russians to get their minds around, but there it is. it's on the same level as her screeching; it doesn't affect the outcome, but it lowers the quality of the sport and alienates fans, something sharapova has been doing since she entered the game. when the USTA itself puts an article on their own website about maria's one-dimensional game and shoddy play, you know she's really screwing up bigtime. we realize, of course, that russians don't care how they win, but that's one of russia's big problems that we are fighting against.