You know things are going rather badly for Russia’s female tennis players when they have the same number of representatives in the fourth round of a tournament as Russia’s woeful men do — and that’s exactly what occurred at last week’s U.S. Open tournament in New York City last week.
Russia currently has six of the top ten players in the world rankings, yet two-thirds of them (Vera Zvonareva, Anna Chakvetadze, Maria Sharapova and Russia’s top-ranked player, Svetlana Kuznetsova) failed to get as far as the round of 16 at the Open. None of Russia’s non-top-ten entrants (of whom there were many) did so either, and this left Russia with only two players in fourth round, namely Dinara Safina and Yelena Dementieva — the same number Russia’s men had at that stage. Luckily for Russia, both women won their fourth-round matches. Not so lucky those paying big bucks to see late round matches at Forest Hills — if you doubt that, just ask one whether he’d be content watching either of these two major yawners.
Safina should have had to play world #1 Ana Ivanovic in the quarters, but the Serbian flamed out in her second-round match (yet another rough one for Russian Slavophiles) so Safina got a patsy opponent, the lowly world #16 Flavia Pennetta. Dementieva was simliarly blessed with good fortune and was only required to face world #15 Patty Schyder in her quarterfinals match, instead of Russia’s #1 Kuznetsova (who meekly surrendered to a non-top-25 opponent in the third round) as she should have done. Thus, it was hardly a surprise when both won their matches — and everyone who is a tennis fan got a giant letdown at the prospect of watching these two amazingly insipid Russians take all the interest out of the semi-finals.
In an utterly insane act the tournament organizers placed the two most interesting female players by far — the two Williams sisters, who faced off in the finals of the last grand slam — in the same quarter of the draw, so that fans could see at most one of them in the semi-finals (to say nothing of the obvious unfairness of forcing the two to exhaust themselves in a battle of titans so early in the draw). Venus and Serena delivered a sizzling, thrilling show in their quarterfinals match, one that no Russian player can even dream of emulating. Meanwhile, this meant that Safina and Dementieva would have to face only one of them in order to win the title — more ridiculous good luck for the Russians.
Russia’s surviving men (its most famous player, Marat Safin, lost his second round match to the #15 seed) were not so lucky — both (#5 seed and top-ranked Russian Nikolay Davydenko and #23 seed Igor Andreev) found themselves in world #2 Roger Federer’s quarter of the draw. Davydenko never got the chance to be destroyed by Federer as he was blown off the court in his fourth-round match by an unseeded, big-serving Luxumberger, a mere qualifier not ranked in the world’s top 125 players — meaning that neither Russia’s top-ranked male or female player got as far as the quarter finals at this year’s final grand slam event. Ouch. Andreev, on the other hand, impressively took the first set of his fourth-round match with Federer (in a tiebreaker) and pushed the mighty Federer to a fifth set and a thrilling battle on Federer’s serve with the world #2 up a break 4-2. Federer needed all he had to edge out Andreev in that game and take a dominant 5-2 lead; he closed out the match at love on his next service. Thus, no Russian man made the quarterfinals in Queens this year. Andreev lives in Moscow, where he was born, emphatically giving the lie to Maria Sharapova’s ridiculous claim of needing to live in the United States. In fact, Sharapova is simply a classically dishonest Russian, living off American virtues while retaining Russian citizenship for reasons known to nobody but herself.
As for the women, Olympic gold medalist Dementieva was promptly crushed in easy straight sets by Serbian Jelena Jankovic in their semi-finals contest, leaving Marat Safin’s little sister the only Russian remaining in the tournament on Friday and facing Serena Williams in her semi-finals contest. In a woeful performance even by her own woeful standards, Dementieva struck nearly as many unforced errors as she won points (42 vs. 58) and served six double faults even though her serve is pathetically soft, more than a free game to her opponent. Amazingly, as badly as she played she still had nearly twice as many winners as her opponent, an indication of how utterly wretched and unwatchable the match really was. Not a good outing for the Slavs, to put it mildly. If the women’s game had to rely on such pathetic spectacles, it would be extinct. Williams, meanwhile, broke Safina five times out of the first seven games the Russian served, dominating the Olympics silver medalist (and so-called “top 10” player) in every aspect of the game, brutally smashing Safina in hilariously easy straight sets.
Hilarious, that is, unless you paid huge coin to watch a great grand slam tennis match. Then it was pretty darned infuriating, to say the least. Just like Dementieva, Safina struck nearly as many unforced errors (41) as she had points (58) and added six double faults for good measure while serving only two aces. The kind of stuff that makes you want to avert your eyes — unless of course you’ve dropped big bucks for the privilege of watching.
Thus endeth the Russians.
Meanwhile, as of Friday the Americans had won both the women’s and men’s doubles contests and secured a place in the women’s finals, where Serena Williams, by winning, could retake the #1 world ranking.