Sunday, February 7, 2016

Russia collapses in first weekend of Fed Cup competition

"I can't remember things before they happen."
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," the Queen remarked.
From Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll

I propose a new Sugarpova flavor: Futility--it's hard to swallow, and it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

It wasn't just any team that crashed into wondrous depths in Fed Cup competition this weekend--it was four-time champion Russia, sunk by The Netherlands, and by the weight of its own irrationality. It's hard to imagine that the Russian team may have under-estimated Kiki Bertens, who entered this weekend's tie with a 11-1 Fed Cup singles record, but at this point, nothing would surprise me. Bertens has a 13-1 record now, having put away both Ekaterina Makarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Makarova has had a hard time of it lately because stayed out for so long with a leg injury. But she's been back a while, yet she failed to take even a set off of the Dutchwoman, who is ranked number 106 in the world.

"There's no use trying," she said, "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.
From Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll

Then there was Svetlana Kuznetsova, who can be either brilliant or a total puzzlement, depending on the day (or the game). Kuznetsova is known for engaging in extremely long matches, notably her two big-stage matches against Francesca Schiavone, who won both times. The Russian outdid herself yesterday, however, by playing a four-hour match against world number 141 Richel Hogenkamp. She lost that one, too. Hogenkamp, in a stunning display of endurance, beat Kuznetsova 7-6, 5-7, 10-8.

These kinds of "improbable" victories are not really that improbable in Fed Cup competition. Backed by the strength of an entire team and playing in a team sport atmosphere, lower-ranked players often rise to the occasion and pull big upsets. What The Netherlands did was especially notable, however, because they were competing in Moscow, with the crowd cheering for their opponents.

The Red Queen shook her head. "You may call it nonsense if you like," she said, "but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!"
From Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll 

So you have a questionable Makarova and an undoubtedly exhausted (at least mentally) Kuznetsova. But you also have mentally tough and impressive rising star Darya Kasatkina available. Oh--and world number 6 Maria Sharapova is on the bench, too. Granted, Olympic Games hopeful Sharapova was there for "doubles," but that's hardly the point, is it?

All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
From Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll 
What transpired with Sharapova, we'll probably never know. But again, there was Kasatkina, all ready. But it was Kuznetsova who was chosen to play the third rubber, against Bertens. And she lost in straight sets, which meant that Russia was defeated. Russia lost the last three finals the team played (all to the Czech Republic), but at least they made it to the finals. Now the team is out before the semifinals take place, and--while not to take anything away from Bertens and Hogenkamp--we are left to just scratch our heads and ask "What the hell happened?"

This is the first time in 19 years that The Netherlands has advanced to the Fed Cup semifinals. The Dutch team will next play France.


Todd.Spiker said...

Totally mind-boggling decision to push Kuznetsova out there in the first match of the day after yesterday's 4-hr. marathon. I like Myskina, but this is on the heels of her putting everything on Day 2 on the shoulders of Pavlyuchenkova in last year's final. I'd like to think maybe she's getting her "orders" from above in cases like this, but I don't know. We never have totally learned what issues the original Hordettes had with the Russian tennis higher-ups a couple of years ago, but they sure have seemed to be threatened and/or put in bad positions on a few occasions since Tarpischev's suspension ended, haven't they?

Diane said...

You really have to wonder, don't you? It's hard for me to believe that The Czarina could be behind this move (and the Pavlyuchenkova fiasco). And why on Earth didn't Kuznetsova just say "Thank you, but I'm in a 24-hour ice bath"?

To continue the Lewis Carroll theme: Curiouser and curiouser.