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Monday, October 29, 2007

Annals of Russian Tennis Disgrace

Yup, it's migraine time again in Shamapova Country.

Maria Sharapova.

Nadia Petrova.

Elena Dementieva.

Dinara Safina.

What do they have in common?

If the women's tennis season ended today, none of them would be in the top 8 when evaluated for results in 2007, hence none of them would receive an invitation to attend the season-ending, round-robin Tour Championships event, held this year in Madrid, Spain (with $3 million in prize money, similar to a Grand Slam event). The only Russians who'd be attending would be Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anna Chakvetadeze (based on her last name, about as "Russian" as the president of Georgia). Kuznetsova, Russia's highest-ranked player and #2 in the world, has won exactly one tournament this entire year in 18 tries. That pretty much says it all about Russian ladies' tennis this year, now doesn't it? Her last significant match was against Serena Williams on her home turf in Moscow, and she got blown off the court in straight sets, winning only one game in the decisive second.

Oh and, by the way, the season pretty much does end today. There's only one more tournament left on the schedule, the lowly Tier III Bell Challenge in Quebec, Canada, which begins today. The Tour Championships begin November 5th, and none of the Russians listed above are playing in Quebec.

So get this: Just as many Americans qualified for the Tour Championships as Russians (if you count Chakvetadze, that is, and no true Slav would do so -- if not, America qualified twice as many). Americans also took two grand slam titles this year -- Russians took none. So much for Russian "dominance" eh?

What happened to the much ballyhooed Maria Sharapova? Over the weekend Daniela Hantuchova, formerly #9 on the 2007 results list (known as the "Sony Race to the Championships"), easily crushed Patty Schnyder to take the tour title in Linz, Austria. This booted Shamapova out of the #8 slot, down to ineligible #9. Sharapova can go to Madrid only if one of the players above her withdraws (it looks like Venus Williams may do so due to injury, more ridiculous dumb luck for Shamapova).

Sorry, Shamapova. But don't worry, you've always got Playboy.

Not much good news for the Russian men, either. Yahoo! Sports reports:
Russian tennis star Nikolay Davydenko has been fined $2,000 by the ATP on Friday for a lack of effort in a second-round loss at the St. Petersburg Open. Already at the center of an ATP investigation for irregular betting patterns in a match he lost against Martin Vassallo Arguello in August, Davydenko dropped a 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 decision to unseeded Marin Cilic on Thursday. The world No. 4 and the defending champion of the event, Davydenko was warned by Belgian umpire Jean-Philippe Dercq in the final set of match for not trying hard enough. "I double-faulted to lose a game in the third set and he gave me a warning saying I was trying to lose on purpose," said Davydenko, who also lost to Cilic last month in Beijing. "I was simply shocked to hear him say that. This is just outrageous. How does he know what I was trying to do? I was so upset with the whole thing I started crying." Playing against the world's 102nd-ranked player, the top-seeded Davydenko played a strong first set, but made numerous errors and committed 10 double faults during the remainder of the match. "The reality is that I started feeling tired. My legs were just dead by the third set," Davydenko said. "Maybe my problems are psychological, maybe it's in my head." Cilic said he had no way of knowing why Davydenko's play slipped, but did not think he was necessarily handed the match. "I don't think that he was not trying. Maybe he just lost his game plan and I took advantage of that," he said. In August, online bookmaker Betfair reported irregular betting patterns on a match involving Davydenko and Vassallo Arguello, ranked 87th at the time, at the Poland Open in Sopot. Around 10 times the usual amount of bets were placed on the match, most picking the Vassallo Arguello to win. Davydenko was trailing that match, 2-6, 6-2, 2-1, when he withdrew with a foot injury, prompting the betting exchange to report the matter to the ATP. That led to an ATP investigation, which is ongoing. Since that incident in August, various other professional tennis players have stated that they have been approached by those with gambling interests. Russian Dmitry Tursunov told Sports Illustrated earlier this year that he received an anonymous phone call in his hotel room last year from a person who offered him cash to fix a match.
At the St. Petersburg tournament in Russia which ended yesterday, only one Russian man made the quarter finals (the unknown Igor Kunitsyn) and the finals were contested between two non-Russians after Davydenko, the #1 seed, lost his first match to an unseeded player who would go on to retire from an injury in his second match. The #7 seed, Russian Mikhail Youzhny, also lost his opening match to an unseeded player, as did the #6 seed Dmitry Tursunov. In other words, total humiliation.

Situation normal in Russian tennis: All fouled up, but pretending to be "dominant."

As if.

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