If we told you than none of the top 5 seeds made it as far as the semi-finals in last weeks WTA tour event in Los Angeles, California, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that three of those five, including the top two, were Russians. None of the players ranked #2-#6 in the world even showed up, so the going was hardly difficult.
But the Russians still couldn’t hang. Least of all Maria Sharoidpova.
#1 seed Dinara Safina lost her second match of the tournament to the #14 seed, from China.
#2 seed Vera Zvonareva at least did better than Russia’s so-called “best” player, managing to win two matches before being dismissed by the #10 seed, from Italy.
But #5 seed Nadia Petrova, who only won her first match because of a walkover, went down in her second match just like Safina had done, losing to the same Russian-killing Italian who would dispatch Zvonareva.
This left Maria Sharapova as the only Russian in the semi-finals with no player ranked in the world’s top 14 left to defeat. Only half of the world’s top ten players even showed up at the tournament, and not one the five who did got as far as the semifinals. It was as if the tournament had been rigged for Sharapova to win (in the same way that Wimbledon rigged its draw to give Sharapova a free seed she did not deserve, something even the LA event was not willing to do).
And yet, she still could not close the deal.
With Russians at the top of the draw, the tournament had quickly become yet another unwatchable train wreck, much like this year’s French Open. And indeed, if you tried to visit the tournament’s website on Saturday afternoon before the semis were contested, this is what you saw:
Points for shamelessness, no? See her do what? Lose yet again to a second-rate opponent? Watch her double fault over and over and over, handing innumerable break points to her rival? And you want us to pay how much for that privilege? Shamapova served sixteen — that’s right, sixteen — double faults, four full free games to her opponent. Her serve was broken five times. She was out-classed in every aspect of the game by a player who is virtually unknown.
Get this: three of Sharapova’s four matches en route to the semi finals came against unseeded opponents. Her only serious challenger came in her second-round duel with the tournament’s #3 seed, where she managed to squeak out a three-set victory.
And she still could not win the lowly second-rate tournament and was slaughtered by the same #10-seeded Russian-killer who took out both Zvonareva and Petrova.
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As if to add insult to injury, the Moscow Times reports that in Putin’s Russia, only the rich can play tennis (little wonder, then, that so many of Russia’s professional players leave the country for other shores:
Anyone who looks at the top 10 female tennis players in the world right now might think that Russia is a paradise for the sport. The country has the No. 1 player in the world, Dinara Safina, and another four in the top 10. But try and get a game in the city, and you are soon struggling. [LR: Maybe if you actually looked at what these players do on the court, madam reporter, it wouldn’t be such a surprise!]
There are public tennis courts in many European countries and the United States where anyone can play for free, but renting a tennis court in Moscow means paying through the nose.
“Tennis is definitely a sport for wealthy people,” said Ivan Budanov, owner of the outdoor tennis courts in Yekaterininsky Park, where courts cost 1,000 rubles ($31.50) to 1,200 rubles ($38) per hour.
“In the Soviet Union, playing tennis was free for everyone, but there were not enough courts by far,” said Vladimir Lazarev, chairman of the Russian Tennis Federation. Today it is better, he said, because there are many more courts.
The federation runs a program to help the country’s young, talented tennis players, and it has had great success — but that is of little comfort to the causal player who, having seen the French Open and Wimbledon, fancies bumbling around a court on a sunny summer day.
When Lazarev was asked if there were any free courts in Russia, he could only come up with a tennis complex in Penza, a town 600 kilometers southeast of Moscow. And even they charge a “symbolic” fee of about a dollar, he said.
“I am very unhappy about today’s insane prices for tennis courts,” said tennis coach Valentina Modnova, who has seen two of her students move to Germany or Spain, where playing and coaching is much more affordable.
“Rich people in Moscow don’t count their money. They probably enjoy being among themselves at the courts,” she said.
If you are unwilling to make the journey to Penza or stump up 1,000 rubles a go, then there are a few options. The Moscow Times has found four central courts for prices between 250 rubles ($8) and 600 rubles ($19).
The courts aren’t necessarily in the best conditions nor are the changing facilities, but they are cheaper.