The stadium court in Cincinnati, Ohio, stood humiliatingly half empty on August 21st as the women’s final of the WTA’s Western & Southern Open began.
The reason was simple: Russia’s second best player, the hapless and grating Maria Sharapova was playing. Had a second Russian stood on the court opposite, the place might well have been entirely vacant.
Sharapova had reached the final in the classic Russian manner, by beating other Russians who were even more hopeless than she. Three of her four opponents prior to the finals were fellow Russians, and in their predictable manner they fell like houses of cards to their American-trained and resident rival.
Sharapova lost the first set in the finals and barely managed to win the second in a tiebreaker. But it wasn’t because her opponent was playing well, and indeed in the third and decisive set her her finals match against Serbian Jelena Jankovic, Sharapova was broken in all three of her first three service games. She served a nauseating 11 double faults over the course of the match, and struck more than 50 unforced errors. Yet, she still beat Janicovic, who played even worse (Jankovic was the lowly #13 seed and had not won a singles title in a year and a half). The American TV commentator called it “winning very, very ugly.”
And winning ugly, of course, is not what fans pay to watch. In fact, if tennis were routinely played at this level, the sport would disappear from TV screens entirely. And, make no mistake, this is the kind of tennis Sharapova routinely generates. Once again proving she’s one of the luckiest human beings ever born to live, the type of player who can only take a title when it is handed to her by her opponent, Sharapova personified the very worst that a tennis player can be. The myth that her good looks are sufficient to draw a big fan base was emphatically exploded, and the few fans foolish enough to pay good money to watch her play surely left the stadium swearing they would never make the same mistake again.