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Monday, January 28, 2008

Annals of Russian Horror and Shame: An Australian Open Recap

Russia's top-ranked male tennis player Nikolay Davydenko
lost disgracefully at the Australian Open and faces a major
investigation for corruption

Well, let's see now, how did the Russian contingent do at the year's first grand slam tournament, the Australian Open down under?

Humiliation, as usual, of course. It's hard to imagine how the events could have unfolded more bitterly or disgracefully for the Russian nationalists. Their only consolation may have been that the entire tournament turned into a spectacular disaster, with neither of the two most interesting male players (Federer and Nadal) and none of the three most scintillating women (Henin and the two Williams sisters) making it into the finals. Except that this should have meant the top Russians had an excellent opportunity to notch a major title.

No such luck.

Just to start with, neither Russia's top-ranked woman, Svetlana Kuznetsova, nor its top-ranked man, Nikolay Davidenko, made it as far as the quarterfinals. Both were summarily brushed aside by much lower-ranked competition, and it's hard to say which loss was more humiliating. Kuznetsova was blown off the court in easy straight sets in the third round by, of all things, a Polish (ouch!) player (not ranked in the world's top 25), while Davydenko was brutally crushed in straight sets by a fellow Russian, winning only one game in the decisive set. Usually, highly ranked Russians can at least hope to beat other Russians.

In fact, doing so is pretty much how they get their high rankings in the first place (it's how "Russia's" #2 woman, Maria Sharapova -- a "Russian" who spends all her time in America for some reason -- for instance got out of the third round, by destroying Russia's #11-ranked Elena Dementieva in yet another pathetic outing for the serveless wonder). That same Pole who whipped Kuznetsova then did the same to Russia's #4 player, Nadia Petrova (ranked #14), who was unable to win a single game in the decisive third set of their match. Double ouch. Triple!

The most "Russian" player in the draw, world #27 Maria Kirilenko ("the Other Maria"), who hardly speaks English, was beaten by Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova in the fourth round when, after winning the first set, she proceeded to lose the next four games without winning a single point, one of the most unheard of and embarrassing implosions in modern tennis history. Kirilenko may actually have considered herself lucky to lose, though, since if she had won she would have had to face that Polish Russian-killer in her next match. Kirilenko had polished off the much higher-ranked Anna Chakvetadze Russia's #3 player, to round out Russia's third-round humiliation, with Chakvetadze managing to win a total only three games combined in the second two sets. After that win some thought Kirilenko might be "for real." Then again, not so much. They forgot that the win had come against a fellow Russian, not a good predictor for performance outside their sphere.

After this wholesale Russian slaughter, the only "Russian" woman to reach the quarterfinals was Sharapova, who has lived in the United States since childhood and owns property there, having learned her American game in Florida. And who, by the way, was bitterly booted off the Russian national team last year in a hissy fit of recrimination from the real Russian players. Talk about pouring salt in Russia's wounds!

The net result (pardon the pun) was that more American women (both Williams sisters) reached the quarterfinals than "Russians" (three Americans and no Russians, actually, if you count Sharapova, who has never played for the Russian national team and speaks English on the court, as American), and the same number of American men did so as Russians -- even though America is in a major lull in its glorious tennis history. The lone Russian male survivor, Mikhail Youzhny, was then summarily blown off the court by an unseeded Frenchman, failing to win a single game in the second set of a straight-set loss. One was left to wonder how that crazy idea about "dominant" Russian tennis players ever got started. Perhaps the KGB was involved? Or, perhaps, just morons.

Thus, by Tuesday the only "Russian" left standing in the men's or ladies' draw was the "Russian" who's lived most of her life in the United States, Shamapova, the one player the Russian nationalists would presumably least like to see in that position. Tiny Serbia had three times as many players in the semifinals as mighty Russia.

Surely the luckiest human being on Earth, based on her draw Sharapova by all rights should have had to face both world #1 Justine Henin and multiple Australian Open champion Serena Williams just to get to the finals, where she should have had to face multiple grand slam winner Venus Williams or prior French winner Amelie Mauresmo, yet in the end she had to face only one of them, winning a freakishly lop-sided victory against Henin that no knowledgable fan could attribute to Sharapova's skill. In the semi-finals, she met Serbian Jelena Jankovic who, hobbled by injuries, was barely able to even complete the match, vaulting Sharapova into the finals. It was as if the title had been gift-wrapped for her, and Sharapova conveniently seemed not to notice. Admitting that she was "desperate" to atone for her humiliating defeat at the hands of Serena in the finals last year, she stated: "I've been able to execute the things that I've been wanting to do and I've been able to do it consistently, not just for three, four games and then have a major letdown." Able to execute? Indeed so. Able to execute another amazing run of sheer dumb luck, catching the world's greatest player on a bad day and then totally avoiding any of the other dangerous players. As we note in our editorial today, it's exactly the same sort of bluster we see from the Putin regime, lost in a fog of self-delusion. And, believe it or not, this wasn't the worst of it, not by a long shot.

Because then there was Yuri.

When you look at this photograph of Maria Sharapova's father Yuri "Unabomber" Sharapov watching her play the world #1 Justine Henin from the stands at the Australian Open, do the words "innocent joke" come to mind? That's what Yuri said he was doing when, just after Sharapova's victory, he covered his head with his camouflage hood, donned dark glasses, and made a barbaric throat-slitting gesture, scowling like a barbaric madman in front of the world's television cameras. Joking? Sounds just like the type of explanations the Soviets used to give when the would invade Hungary or Afghanistan -- ridiculously embarrassing drivel that only a Russian, and maybe not even one, could believe. One Australian paper said: "Sharapov's belligerence, captured by a camera he knew was in his face, belongs in a professional wrestling ring not beside a tennis court." Yuri is too Russian even for many Russians themselves. French Open winner Anastasia Myskina once threatened to stand down from Fed Cup if Sharapova was selected -- because of the antics of her father. "If she joins our team next season you won't see me there, for sure," Myskina said.

It's really quite pathetic how some Russophile fanatics choose to see our criticisms of Sharapova as being anti-Russian; in fact, when we attack her it's one of the rare occasions when we are taking Russia's side, agreeing with folks like Ms. Myskina. It's so typical of Russians to be unable to recognize who their friends are, to attack them while comforting those who are really their enemies.

Yuri Sharapov is no doubt bitter from so many years of such spectacular failure by his daughter, desperate to inflate the significance of any kind of victory, as if history didn't exist. That's exactly the way the leaders of the USSR behaved, and it is exactly the way Vladimir Putin is behaving now. These sorts of Russians live in dream worlds of their own concoction, isolated from real information like the Emperor with his New Clothes. As we have said before, in this we see Russia displayed in perfect microcosm on the tennis court, which is why we continue reporting on such events.

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