Well, a Russian woman won a significant tennis tournament last week, but once again it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it reminded one of the way in which Russia “won” World War II, at a cost of millions of lives and with whole cities razed to nothing.
At the Tier I, $4.5-million WTA tour event last week in Indian Wells, California, Russia had four of the top six seeds and its marquee player, Maria Sharapova (too gutless to face a singles match yet), entered in the doubles draw to boot.
By the time the dust had settled after the first week of tournament play, only two of Russia’s five top players were still standing.
Sharapova and her Russian partner were ejected in their first match, while #3 seed Elena Dementieva and #6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova both lost their first matches in singles play as well. Only Dinara Safina, the number one seed with World #1 Serena Williams skipping the event, and journeywoman Vera Zvonareva, seeded #4, managed to survive their first-round matches, and Safina needed to squeak by her lowly unseeded opponent in a tiebreaker to do it. The tournament’s #2 seed, Jelena Jancovic, also lost her opening-round match, making the Slavic bloodbath nearly complete (Jancovic is the only female player ever to hold the number one ranking without ever having competed in a grand slam final, making her seem ever more like a fraud). Two of Russia’s other three seeded players were eliminated before the fourth round, leaving only Safina and Zvonareva with chances to reach the quarter finals.
In typical fashion for the lucky Russians, all the seeded players opposite both Zvonarea and Safina in the first four rounds of play fell by the wayside before the Russians had to face them. This meant that in the tournament’s fourth round neither Russian met an opponent ranked in the world’s top 40, and Safina’s opponent was not in the top 100.
Despite all this horror, Safina still had the chance to take over the #1 ranking, for the sole reason that Serena Williams did not enter the tournament, and become just the second Russian female ever to hold that lofty position. Safina at least, unlike Jancovic, had appeared in two grand slam finals before receiving the top spot (Janovic had never been in so much as one), so she had a better claim than Jancovic. But Safina fell apart in the quarter finals, losing to the #8 seed in disgraceful fashion. After barely managing to win the first set in a tight tiebreaker, she proceeded to win only four of the 16 games over the course of the next two sets.
This left Zvonareva as the only seeded Russian to claim a spot in the semi-finals, and she not only advanced but went on to take the title against defending champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia. In fact, however, Ivanovic simply served the title to Zvonareva on a silver platter, and Zvonareva lucked out in the semis too, needing only to beat the tournament’s #8 seed, a player not even ranked in the world’s top 10. In the finals, Ivanovic simply fell apart, serving near 50%, winning only half her first-serve points and throwing in five double faults while offering Zvonareva 12 break chances and allowing five conversions in two quick sets. Once again, the Russian-Serbian players showed themselves to be incapable of generating real championship quality tennis or fan excitement. If they are the future of the game, the game is doomed. Ivanovic is the only one with true star quality in the group, and the way her games has fizzled over the past year does not bode well for her chances of being the savior of the contingent.