If you know that “Russian” Maria Sharapova (she lives and pays taxes in America, not Russia) is currently ranked #59 in the world, then it will probably surprise you to learn that she received the #24 seed in the ladies draw at Wimbledon this year. Not the bottom seed of #32, mind you, but #24.
Why did she receive this generous gift?
Well, the tournament organizers were quite shameless in explaining. They’re desperate to create some kind of interest in their event: “Her presence can do nothing other than provide a huge boost to the women’s field at The Championships.” That’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of women’s tennis, but it’s quite true.
If you know that five of the top ten seeds at Wimbledon this year are horrifyingly unwatchable Russians (Dinara Safina, who disgraced herself at both the French and Australian opens earlier this year, as well as Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova), then you understand the tournament organizer’s sheer panic at the thought of semifinals and finals matches involving such players.
Why #24? Well, giving her that particular seed puts Sharapova in the same quarter of the draw as woeful #10 countrywoman Petrova (whose seed is the same as her current rank, as is the case with all of the other 23 seeds above Sharapova), and Petrova is the very same Russian that Sharapova managed to beat a few weeks earlier at the French Open. It keeps her away from both Venus and Serena Williams, Yelana Jancovic and Safina. It means that the only other player of note who would stand between Sharapova and a quarter-finals appearance would be the obscure #8 Victoria Azarenka of Bulgaria. It means Sharapova doesn’t have to face any really dangerous player until the semi-finals at the earliest.
Sound like the fix is in? You bet it does. Sharapova was the only woman given a seed different from her rank, and she leap-frogged over not just one seeded player but eight of them. Though Sharapova hasn’t won a tournament of any kind in ages, Wimbledon officials somehow decided she was more likely to prevail this year at the All-England club than Kaia Kanepi but not as likely to do so as Aleksandra Wozniak. Go figure.
Serena Williams, who has won two of the last three grand slam tournaments, was seeded number 2. Dinara Safina, who has never won any grand slam title in her entire career, was seeded number 1. Wimbledon religiously followed the rankings for both of them, as well as for every single one of the other top 23-ranked players. Meanwhile, current world #32 Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko was denied the seed she rightfully should have had in deference to Shamapova’s “huge boost,” whatever that means. Bondarenko thrashed Sharapova at the first tournament Maria played this year, in Warsaw in May, allowing Shamapova only 4 of 16 games played. Yet the tennis geniuses at the All-England club felt Bondarenko was significantly less likely to win the tournament than Shamapova!
Ironically, this wasn’t Shamapova’s luckiest day ever at Wimbledon. That day came in the year when she won the tournament. She was in the middle of a semi-finals match against American Lindsey Davenport and being brutally crushed, hardly able to win a point much less a game, when suddenly the skies opened and it began to rain, stopping the match. When play finally resumed the much older American had tightened up and Shamapova prevailed. Serena Williams, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport and who more recently humiliated Maria at the Australian Open with one of the worst beat-downs in grand slam finals history, then surrendered meekly to her in the finals.
And so it goes in Potemkin Russia.