Play began at this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament on Monday, August 29, 2011, with 21 Russians represented in the main draws. Only France and the USA had contingents of equal or larger size at the year’s final grand slam event, so Russia might have taken some pride in the achievement.
But within days, Russia probably wished it had skipped the tournament entirely.
Before play had begun on Wednesday, August 31, a mere two days in, 11 of those 21 Russians were gone. Only the USA saw more players eliminated from the draws in the first two days, but the USA had one-third more entries in the draw and as a result lost only one-third of its contingent. It had twice as many active players going into day three as Russia. Russia’s contingent had been cut by more than half and the tournament had hardly even begun.
And it wasn’t just Russia’s second-rate players who were cut down. Russia’s top-seeded male player, Mikhail Youzhny, lost his first-round match to an unseeded opponent in woefully noncompetitive fashion, showing the way to ten of his fellow Russians out the U.S. Open’s swinging door.
Russia’s next major humiliation was provided by Maria Sharapova, the country’s second-highest-seeded female player, in the third round.
In her third-round match the hapless, shrieking Russian, seeded #3 in the tournament, faced an Italian opponent seeded a distant #26. Her opponent got barely 50% of her first serves in play and struck twice as many unforced errors as winners, tossing in six double faults for good measure. But Sharapova still managed to lose the match, getting broken at love in the final game of the third set, because she hit a truly ghastly 58 unforced errors and added a whopping ten double faults while not serving a single ace and striking a mere 30 winning shots. Ouch.
Only two Russian men made it as far as the third round, namely the unseeded Nikolai Davydenko and Igor Kunitsyn. Neither of them got close to reaching the fourth.
The Russian women did a bit better: Vera Zvonareva, Maria Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuenkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova reached the fourth round and none were draw to face each other, so Russia had a chance to occupy half the quarter-finals slots.
Kuznetsova provided Russia’s third major humiliation of the tournament, in the fourth round. She won the first set against Carolyn Wozniaki of Denmark and raced out to a 4-1 lead in the second set. She then lost six of the next seven games played, surrendered the second set 5-7, and continued her total collapse into the final set, winning just a single game there. In other words, after going up a set and 4-1, Kuznetsova proceeded to lose twelve of the next fourteen games played, one of the epic implosions in all of grand slam history. Ouch.
Kirilenko fought harder and pushed Samatha Stosur of Australia to the longest tiebreaker in women’s history, winning it in the second set, but then meekly surrendered in the third.
This left only two Russians, both women, still competing in the singles draws at the quarter-finals stage, Pavlyuchenkova and Zvonareva. There was some minor form of achievement here again for Russia, since no other country had two entrants in the quarterfinals. Zvonareva faced the lower-ranked Stosur, who had just beaten not only Kirilenko but also the unseeded Russian Nadia Petrova (in the longest match of the tiebreak era, denying Russians much joy in not one but two historic events), while Pavlyuchenkova drew American force of nature Serena Williams.
Zvonareva, on paper Russia’s “best” player at the moment, ranked number 2 in the world, has been playing grand-slam events for a decade now. Yet, not only has she never won a single grand slam singles title, she has never even won a set in a finals contest. In fact, in her two grand-slam finals appearances, both last year, she has won a meager eight total games in the four sets she lost. That’s two games per set on average, if you are counting.
Pavlyuchenkova, on the other hand, has been playing only half as long as Zvonareva and before this year had never gotten as far as the quarterfinals in any grand slam event. But she reached the quarters of the French Open this year, getting there by whipping Zvonareva herself in three sets (as we’ve said many times before, beating another Russian is a Russian’s best way of achieving success on the tennis court), and once there she pushed the higher-ranked Francesca Schiavone of Italy to three sets before losing. Pavlyuchenkova impressively beat Schiavone in three sets in the fourth round at the US Open to advance to a second grand-slam quarterfinals, making her by far Russia’s most promising player this year.
Zvonareva had by far the easier road. While Serena had won the U.S. Open title three times, Stosur had never been past the third round in eight years of trying and was only seeded #9; what’s more, if Zvonareva managed to defeat Stosur then her semi-finals opponent could be seeded no higher than #27. To reach the finals, Pavlyuchenkova was drawn to have to defeat first Serena, who has won more grand-slam titles than all Russians who have ever played the game combined, and then world #1 Wozniaki.
But it did not matter. Both Russians were obliterated in their quarter-finals matches in easy straight sets by their foreign rivals, making Russia’s humiliation final and complete.
Russians dominant in women’s tennis? We think not.