Pain and Humiliation for Russia at the All-England Club

The third round of play at the All-England Club this year was utterly disastrous for Russian female tennis players .

It never ceases to amaze us how so many Russians will, when confronted by evidence of catastrophic failure like this, seek to rationalize it rather than to demand reform — the very thing they do in politics and all other aspects of their lives.  Instead of calling for improvement by Russia, they invariably point to failures by other countries, as if that made it OK for Russia to fail.

It reminds us of the old Soviet-era joke:  An American walks up to a hotel desk clerk in Moscow and complains loudly about the shockingly poor accommodations in his Russian hotel room. The clerk responds:  “Yes, but you lynch blacks.”  The result of this attitude was that the USSR never improved, collapsed and disappeared into the ashcan of history.  And, or so it seems, Russians have learned absolutely nothing from that experience.

In the third round at Wimbledon 2011, both Russia’s top seed, world #3 Vera Zvonareva, and its third seed, world #12 Svetlana Kuznetsova, were cruelly slaughtered by lower-ranked opponents. Zvonareva, supposedly Russia’ s best player, suffered particularly intense humiliation, getting blasted off the court in easy straight sets  by the tournaments’s lowest seed, a Bulgarian not ranked in the top 30 (and we report elsewhere in today’s issue on how the Bulgarians recently thumbed their noses at Russia over World War II  — ouch!).

Declining Russia, which some idiots used to refer to as “dominant” in the sport, had a pathetic six seeds going into the tournament, and now two of the top three were gone before the fourth round could begin.  What’s more, the #14 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had already lost in the second round, as had the #28 seed Ekaterina Makarova.  After Kuznetsova and Zvonareva went down, this left only two Russian seeds with a chance of getting as far as the fourth round.

Maria Kirilenko, the tournament’s #26 seed, faced American force of nature (but extremely rusty) Serena Williams in her third-round match.  The Russian double-faulted on break point in her first service game, and the first set flew by in 43 minutes; the Russian lost set point on a booming American ace, which she hopelessly sought to challenge. Serena bombarded her with ten total aces in the match.  As the Russian was summarily throttled in the second set, American champion Chris Everett opined that Kirilenko had shown herself to be a player “satisfied with top 20” and not interested in putting in the work necessary to be a truly great player.  Surprise, surprise.  Williams went on to lose her next match in straight sets, so she was far from unbeatable.

And then there was one.  It all came down to Maria Sharapova,  Russia’s #2 seed and the least “Russian” of any of the country’s players (having spent most of her life in the USA, learning her game there).  It was as if the tennis world was emphatically proving that the only way Russians can succeed in tennis is to be helped along by the hated Americans.  Shamapova drew an unseeded journeywoman opponent not ranked in the top 32 in the world and easily advanced to the fourth round. Once again, the American-Russian saved “her country” (in which she spends virtually no time) from utter, bone-crushing disgrace.

The lone bright spot for Russia in the first week was unknown Ksenia Pervak, world #89, who scored an upset victory over #11 seed Andrea Petkovic. Although Petkovic hit one-third more winners than the Russian, she also struck twice as many unforced errors, handing the Russian the match.  Nadia Petrova, also unseeded, defeated a lower-ranked opponent to advance to the fourth round as well.

But then both Petrova and Pervak promptly lost their fourth-round matches, leaving Shamapova, the fake Russian, as the country’s only entry in the quarter-finals.

Our gal Maria, who we have repeatedly characterized as the luckiest person ever born to live, proved us right once again when she drew the lowly #20 seed in her fourth-round match and once again had victory handed to her on a silver platter.  But that was only the appetizer. For her main course of insane good fortune,  not one but both of the dangerous opponents remaining in her half of the draw, two-time defending champion Serena Williams and world #1 Carolyn Wozniaki, lost their fourth-round matches.  This meant that Sharapova would only need to defeat the #24 seed in her quarterfinals match and, upon doing so, could not face a player more dangerous than #9 seed Marion Bartoli in the semi-finals, with the chance of getting an unseeded opponent.

And lo and behold!  Bartoli lost her quarterfinals match, meaning that upon winning Sharapova would face the unseeded Sabine Liseki of Germany, a player not ranked in the top 60 in the world, in the semifinals.  Meanwhile, the #24 seed Sharapova faced in her own quarterfinals match, a player nearly a whole foot shorter than our gal Maria, surrendered meekly as a kitten, barely managing to win a single game. It would turn out that Sharpova’s fourth-round opponent would be the toughest she would face until she reached the finals.  Talk about a sham-a-pova!!

Let’s repeat that:  “Russian” Maria Shamapova was able to reach the finals of the world’s greatest tennis tournament without needing to defeat a single player ranked in the world’s top 19! It was almost as if the tournament had been rigged for Shamapova to prevail.

In her semifinal match, Sharapova had served a shocking five double faults by the time six games had been completed, averaging nearly two double faults per service game. She got her first serve in less than half the time, and was broken once.   At that point in the match she had struck twice as many unforced errors as her opponent and half as many winners.  Against a rival that was even remotely credible, in other words, Sharapova would have been blown right off the court. Yet the score was tied and, against this German pretender, she still managed to go on and win the set.  Then the German totally collapsed in the second set and handed the match to Sharapova without a whimper. Sharapova “won” the match while serving a horrifying twelve double faults (with a pathetic pair of aces to compensate), making more unforced errors than her opponent and striking fewer winners.  See why we call her Shamapova?

Arriving in the finals, Sharapova looked across the net and for the first time saw a player ranked in the world’s top 19, although she should already have had to defeat at least two if not three such players.  But her opponent was not, of course given Sharapova’s insane dumb luck, the #4 seed Victoria Azarenka who should have emerged from the semifinal contest on the other side of the draw. Instead it was the #8 seed, a very much unheralded Petra Kvitova, who had reached the semifinals at the same event last year but on only one other occasion in her entire career been past the fourth round of any grand slam event.  Kvitova had only four tour titles to her credit in her entire professional careeer.

So whether Sharapova defeated Kvitova or lost to her was such a non-issue that we go to press without caring or waiting to report the same.  At each and every stage of the tournament Shamapova avoided the dangerous players she should have been forced to defeat and feasted on second-string nobodies.  In other words she did what she’s been doing throughout her career, starting with being able to leave Russia and live in Florida and study tennis from a great American master.

She lucked out.

UPDATE:  Just in case you were wondering, the first time Shamapova was called upon to defeat a player ranked in the top 19 she was blown off the court in easy straight sets even though the player was ranked and seeded below her. See why we call her Shamapova now?

Russia had a chance to save face with a title in mixed doubles and another one in girl’s singles. It lost both of those matches as well, while Americans took the men’s doubles crown as well as the girls’ doubles. Ouch.

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