Well, it wasn’t pretty. No, it surely was not.
Last year’s French Open finalist Dinara Safina of Russia was ousted in her very first match at this year’s tournament, ousted by a player who became the second-oldest in the tournament’s modern history to win as much as a single match.
Then there was the woman who defeated Safina to take the title last year, Svetlana Kuznetsova. She was ousted in her third match of the French Open by a player not seeded in the top 25.
So, just for starters, neither of the two Russians who contested last year’s final, widely seen as one of the most pathetic and unwatchable in the history of grand slam finals, managed to get as far as the fourth round this year.
Ouch, ouch, ouch. But there was more, oh, so very much more carnage to report.
Kuznetsova and Safina have turned in such pathetic performance since last year’s French Open that neither one of them came into the draw as Russia’s top seed. Yet, wretched as they are, they were still good enough to be two of Russia’s three top-ten seeds, so by the time the fourth round rolled in only one of Russia’s top-ten contingent had a chance to be there, namely the country’s number one seed Elena Dementieva, number five overall. The “demented one” might have been canon fodder too but she was lucky enough to draw an unseeded Canadian barely ranked in the world’s top 50, and so she squeaked into the fourth round in tough three-set nail-biter.
If there was any “good news” for Russia in the first three rounds of the tournament, it was that the #30 seed Maria Kirilenko was the one to oust Kuznetsova. But this is hardly the kind of news Russian fans want to crow about. That is unless Kirilenko goes on to win the tournament. Which, you may not be shocked to learn, she didn’t.
In addition to Kirilenko and its trio of top-tenners, Russia had Maria Sharapova, Nadia Petrova, Vera Zvonareva, Alisa Kleybanova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the 32-player French Open draw, in other words a total of nine players and nearly a third of the total.
But Zvonareva was ousted by an unseeded rival in her second match, and Kleybanova and Pavlyuchenkova both went out meekly in the third round. Russia’s most famous player, Maria Sharapova, met a resurgent Justine Henin in her own third-round match and was booted out of the tournament in three sets by her much lower-seeded opponent. Henin promptly lost the next match she played.
In other words, a shocking two thirds of Russia’s seeded contingent, including two of its top three players, were slaughtered before even reaching the fourth round of the tournament. By that early juncture, only three of Russia’s nine seeds (Dementieva, Petrova and Kirlienko), just one third of the total, had the chance to to make the quarter finals.
Dementieva made it. And why? Because Russia’s #1 seed was the only seeded player in group of sixteen players in the fourth round to face an unseeded opponent!
Kirilenko faced a higher seeded non-Russian in her fourth-round match, and predictably lost in easy straight sets.
So it fell to the likes of Nadia Petrova to record Russia’s lone victory of substance against a foreign player in the entire tournament. She faced #2 seed Venus Williams and dominated the much higher-seeded American in easy straight sets. Look a bit beneath the surface, though, and you immediately appreciate what a hollow victory that was. Unlike Kuznetsova and Safina, Venus is no clay court specialist, and had not made it past the third round of the tournament since 2006 and in 13 tries has made it as far as the semi-finals only once. Beating Venus Williams, one of the greatest grass-court players in the modern history of the sport, on the red clay of Paris is really not that hard. Still, compared to the performance of her countrywomen, Petrova was a superstar.
As luck would have it, though, Petrova and Dementieva were drawn to meet in the quarter finals, meaning that because of the woeful play of their compatriots no more than one Russian woman could appear in the semi-finals. Ask any tennis fan what the think about the prospect of paying big bucks to watch this Russian pair slug it out on clay and you’ll quickly learn why we say that the Russians are seriously undermining the fan base of the sport. The Russian duo played a “three-set match” in name only, as the ridiculous Petrova surrendered every single game of the third set to Dementieva in yet another one of her absurd mental breakdowns on the court.
So it was left to Russia’s “top seed,” referred to as “the demented one” by her fellow players because of her deranged manner of play and her inability to serve (breaking down in tears at one press conference, Dementieva wailed plaintively “I don’t know how to serve”), to defend Russia’s honor in the semi-finals against a journeywoman opponent not ranked in the world’s top 15 players.
Needless to say, she failed to do so, losing the first set and then retiring from the match claiming injury — a perfectly fitting end to an utterly disgraceful performance by the Russian contingent, yet another in a long string of humiliating disasters documented here on this blog. Handed match after easy match on her fraudulent way to the finals, when actually put to the test “the Demented One” simply collapsed. Still, compared to the rest fo the ridiculous Russian contingent in Paris, Dementieva shown like the sun.