It went largely unnoticed, but yesterday Svetlana Kuznetsova (pictured) became the greatest female Russian tennis player in history, the only Russian woman ever to play in two Grand Slam finals (the U.S. Open two years ago and yesterday’s French Open) and win at least one.
Unlike Maria Sharapova, Kuznetsova has played for her country in both Fed Cup and Olympic tournaments.
Also unlike Sharapova, Kuznetsova spends a considerable amont of time in Russia and still lists her official residence as St. Petersburg, Russia.
Yet, it’s the undeserving Sharapova who is the richest female athlete in the world, not Kuznetsvova, and it’s the undeserving Sharapova who was offered the chance to front her country’s most recent (and failed) Olympic bid, not Kuznetsova. Women’s tennis has chosen to market itself on the basis of sex appeal rather than talent and exectution, much as Russia has chosen to market itself on the basis of oil revenuse and nuclear weapons rather than the manufacture of consumer products and the development of democracy. Neither approach has the slightest chance of real success. Despite all her Maria’s puffing, Kuznetsova’s progress at the French Open now gives her the opportunity to catch and pass Sharapova on the world rankings before the end of the year.
Sharapova is a charade, but it is most clear this is so when taking a good hard look at her competition. Without the distraction of Maria’s striptease, the television commentators got down to business on Russia during Svetlana’s match yesterday. Suddenly, they were willing to talk about Russian athletes spending so much time outside of Russia (without naming Maria’s cherished name, of course). Suddenly, they were wiling to to talk about how Russians were major head cases whose games fell embarrassingly apart under the pressure of the true greats in the game (Kuznetsova was surgically taken apart yesterday by Justine-Henin Hardenne). They were even willing to discuss the rumors about Russians using performance-enhancing drugs — all because they haven’t been told by the sponsor’s of women’s tennis to lay off Kuznetsova, who most people have hardly heard of, they way they have been told to lay off (and in fact to puff whenever possible, no matter the facts) Sharapova.
Sharapova does have one fact in her favor: She’s the only Russian ever to win a Grand Slam final by beating a non-Russian (Serena Williams) in the finals of the event. But as she beat Serena’s sister Venus as well as World #1 Amelie Mauresmo on her way to the French Open Semifinals this year, Sharapova’s clone Nicole Vaidsova of Czech Republic (just 17 years old) proved that many are capable of such a fluke peformance as Sharapova delivered at Wimbledon two years ago, that all that is really needed is some good old dumb luck, which Sharapova certainly has in spades (how else to explain her magical ability to leave Siberia and study tennis at the world’s greatest tennis academy in Florida basically for free?).
If Russians don’t wise up soon and realize that absurd illusions like Maria Sharapova specifically and Russian tennis generally won’t get you very far, we’ll soon see both disappear.