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Monday, August 27, 2007

Annals of Russian Tennis

Well, Russia's second-best player, world #5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, won her very first tournament of 2007 over the weekend, the Tier II Pilot Pen event in New Haven Connecticut. She'd reached the finals four other times this year -- and lost every single one of them, three times in straight sets, twice to lower-ranked players. It took her nearly three-quarters of the year to get her big "win."

Guess how she managed it?

She only needed to play four matches to win the tiny title, having been seeded #1 and being given a bye in the first of its five rounds. All the players ranked above her skipped the tournament, and only one other top-ten player entered the draw, and she got eliminated in her first match.

In Kuznetsova's first match, she barely beat an unseeded Polish player not ranked in the world's top 30, needing three tough sets to get by her.

In her second match, the quarter finals, her opponent defaulted.

In her third match, the semi-finals, her opponent also defaulted.

And in her fourth match, the finals, she faced an unseeded qualifier named Agnes Szavay from Hungary, not ranked in the world's top 40 players. The player she met in the finals was ranked lower than the player she met in her opening match. A qualifier, Szavay was playing her eighth match in nine days when she met Kuznetsova on Saturday. She had to play one more match than Kuznetsova within the tournament itself, and she had to win three just to get the right to start the tournament in the first place. Kuznetsova, on the other hand, because of the two defaults, had only been forced to play one complete match before the finals. Yet, the Hungarian soundly whipped the Russian 6-4 in the first set. Dare to imagine what would have happened to Kuznetsova if she'd actually had to face, say, as much as a top-20 opponent in the finals?

And then fate smiled on Kuznetsova yet again. Szavay, exhausted by her tortuous legacy, fell apart physically midway through the second set and she too defaulted.

So that's what it took to get Russia's second best player her first tournament win of the year. Not one, not two, but three separate defaults in four matches -- including quarters, semis and finals.

Russians are very hard to beat . . . unless of course their opponent actually plays a whole match. Then they're rather dicey.

Thus, Kuznetsova's prospects for the future are not necessarily so bright. Thankfully, at least she (pictured above) always has her breathtaking Russian-feminine beauty to fall back on in case tennis doesn't work out.

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In a related development, Russia also had the #1 seed in the men's draw at this tournament, filled by world #5 Nikolai Davydenko (currently embroiled in a massive scandal for rigging matches). Not blessed with three consecutive defaults and actually forced to play matches, Davydenko was eliminated in the second round by a Frenchman not ranked in the world's top 35 -- going down in straight sets. No Russian man got as far as the semi-finals and there was an all-American final.

* * *

In still more related news, the ridiculous good luck of Maria Shamapova continues apace. The draw at the U.S. Open, final major of 2007, has been announced, and we're "shocked, shocked" to learn that world number one Justine Henin, former champions Serena and Venus Williams and dangerous Serb youngsters Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have all been placed in the opposite half of the draw from Maria. At most, she'll have to play just one of them, and only in the finals, whilst they will have to fight it out among themselves, exhausting each other in the process.

That's why we call her Shamapova. All illusion, no substance whatsoever.

* * *

Speaking of Davydenko and the U.S. Open, the tournament has been forced to hire a special task force to monitor for cheating in the wake of the Davydenko sports betting scandal. Russians bring so much to the table! Thank heavens they've finally arrived to play a bold new role in tennis!

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