Russia put five male players and seven female players into the singles draws at this year’s first grand slam tennis event, the Australian Open.
By the end of the first week of the tournament, not one male player was still alive and among the women only Maria Sharapova, who has lived in the USA since she was a child and learned her game there, had survived.
Other than Sharapova, the only Russian singles player to reach the tournament’s fourth round was Ekaterina Makarova, who there faced Chinese opponent Li Na. The pair played fourteen games and Na won twelve of them, including every game in the second set.
On the women’s side, Russians Elena Vesnina and Vera Zvonareva lost in easy straight sets in the first round, while Alla Kudravsteva and Svetlana Kuznetsova lost in similarly one-sided straight set contests in the second. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova got as far as the third and was the most credible in defeat, pushing her opponent to a third set before surrendering meekly there, 2-6.
As for the men, things were similarly ugly. Alex Bogomolov simply quit after being crushed in the first two sets of his opening match. Nikolay Davydenko, Dmitry Tursunov and Mikhail Youzhny all went down in the second round, with only Youzhny and Tursunov managing to produce competitive matches. Both were seeded in the draw and booted out by lowly unseeded opponents. As with the women, the standout among the Russian men wasn’t really a Russian at all but one Teymuraz Gabashvili, who reached the third round before going out in straight sets to court legend Roger Federer. Ask any Slavic Russian whether someone named “Teymuraz Gabashvili” can be considered Russian, and you’ll see that Russia can hardly claim credit for this modest achievement.
So once again, Russia was left in the pathetic position of having its national tennis honor defended by a player, Sharapova, who is about as Russian as Levi’s.
To say the least, Sharapova wasn’t up to the task. Indeed, her level of play was truly appalling. In her first three matches, Sharapova tossed in a shocking 29 double faults and struck a nauseating 130 unforced errors.
And just remember dear reader, this is the very best Russia has to offer. Do you dare imagine what you’d find if you studied the worst?
Consider this: Sharapova, seeded #3, had one-third more double faults and only four fewer unforced errors than the #1 and #2 seeds combined in the first three rounds of the tournament. It was truly an embarrassment, even by Sharapova’s wretched standards.
In other words, as has been the case so often throughout her checkered career, Sharapova moved forward in the tournament by sheer dumb luck, because she happened to face opponents who were even more pathetic than her.
But all good luck must come to an end.
In the fourth round, Sharapova found herself facing off against the diminutive #20 seed, Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, who stands more than a foot shorter than Sharapova. The pair split the first two sets and then Sharapova promptly fell apart, taking only one of the seven games played in the deciding set. With eight double faults and 45 unforced errors, Sharapova brought her totals to 37 and 175 respectively, over the course of just four matches.
And then there were none. Not one Russian player, male or female, managed to get as far as the quarterfinals at the year’s first grand slam event.