Russian Empire In Trouble?
Published June 09, 2010 12:00
Throughout history, empires have risen to the top of the world by conquering their competitors. For many, their rise has led to their ruin, and history has kept repeating itself. In the world of women's tennis, Russia is no different.
By the end of August 2008, six Russian women - Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Anna Chakvetadze and Vera Zvonareva - found themselves among the Top 10 rankings. Now for the first time since the week of August 25, 2003, only one Russian will be in the Top 10. Then, it was Anastasia Myskina, and now Dementieva.
Dementieva has been nothing less than consistent being in the Top 10 since April 7, 2008, and cementing herself in the Top 20 for 372 weeks. But her name among the top rankings has sometimes gone unnoticed, skimmed right over as she has chased that elusive Slam to no avail. Earlier, she appeared in conversations at Roland Garros that she might finally catch the Slam that has seemingly been a drop shot away, but the only thing dropping are the Russians.
Russian domination is over, for now. Tennis blogs and forums have bold predictions of no Russian women in the year-end Top 10, and Dementieva could have tough times ahead of her after a calf injury so painful it caused her to retire in the semifinals of last week - her first ever retirement at a major.
When one superpower falls, another takes it place. Who will that be? Tennis has yet to see. Once ranked as high as No.2 in the world, Kuznetsova was asked in an interview about the rise of China in tennis. Her response, "Russia is better." But now Kuznetsova has fallen behind China's Li Na in the rankings.
Safina has been hindered with a back injury. Sharapova has shown flashes of power since returning from shoulder surgery, but has yet to find her consistent prowess on the court from which she won three Grand Slams.
The Russians have fallen, but years ago no one in tennis would have thought there would even be one Russian player in the Top 10, let alone six at one time. Two decades ago there were no Russians in the Top 100 players. However, history repeats itself. Rise, fall. Rise, fall. The Russians have fallen out of the Top 10, but they are not gone. In the Top 200, there are 28 Russian women - more than two times the number from any other nation except the United States, which has 14; Italy (10) and France (8); and by comparison, there are six Russian men in the ATP World Tour Top 200.
Tennis in Russia has spread like wildfire. It started in 1988, when tennis returned to the Olympics and the Soviet Union eased its grip. The energy and enthusiasm from the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin helped pave tennis courts all over the country. Moreover, Russian women have become marketing stars inspiring young girls throughout the country to pick up a racquet. Anna Kournikova signed a modeling contract bringing tennis mainstream. Sharapova followed suit, and despite not being in the Top 10 since January of 2009, she has stayed top news by extending her deal with Nike for eight years and $70 million, making her the highest paid female athlete and an icon for Russian girls.
From nothing, with no one in the Top 100 decades ago, Russia built a dominant tennis empire. Now that dominance is gone, and the empire that was has fallen. But Russia has numbers, an army of young girls playing tennis seeking the toughness in Kuznetsova, the grace in Dementieva and the serve in Sharapova. When will the Tour have Russian dominated rankings again? No one knows, but as always history repeats itself.