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Hungry for tennis,
I had vodka rush

Sep 14, 2004 9:21 AM

Looking for some wholesome entertainment last Saturday night, I got in the mood for women’s tennis by firing up the old samovar, putting on a tape of Boris Gudonov, getting out Tolstoy’s War and Peace, opening a can of Beluga caviar, grabbing some chilled borscht out of the refrigerator, and settling back with a tall shot of vodka to watch the quaintly named U.S. Open and its stars, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva.

I was interested in their meeting because earlier in this world series of women’s tennis, I had watched Nadia Petrova eliminate the world’s number one-ranked player, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and also got an eyeful of Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova, Anna Chakvetadze, and Anastasia Myskina. I unfortunately did not get to see Elena Likhovtseva, Elena Bovina or Vera Zvonarova.

Jennifer Capriati, who fell to Dementieva in the semifinals, had her own explanation of the successful hordes of the Russian invasion, which was accomplished without a whimper from Donald Rumsfeld or a warning from Tom Ridge.

"I guess they’re just pretty hungry to play," Capriati said. And then she echoed a line first heard from General George Custer at Little Big Horn and later by the Germans at Stalingrad. "You know, there’s just so many of them."

The reason that there are so many of them, and that they are so good, is that the Russian government decided a decade or two ago that it was going to develop world class tennis players, and embarked on a national program to train and develop them.

The result was seen at Flushing Meadow. They now are the world’s best players, skilled in play and deep in talent. I must admit it was a little incongruous to see a 23-year-old girl, wearing braces on her teeth and coming from one of the world’s great socialist powers, receive a check for a cool one million in U.S. dollars from the president of J.P. Morgan Chase, but as he said in handing over the dough, "The world is changing."

It sure is.

While these strange new doings were taking place at Flushing Meadow, football returned with a vengeance and its usual violence.

Americans love this stuff, just like they love watching cars smash into the walls and one another at Indianapolis and elsewhere, just as they are fascinated by people threatening to jump off high window ledges or bridges, just as they love guns and killing deer.So, with the college and pro season upon us, a quick quiz on gridiron happenings that will make headlines in the months between now and the Sugar Bowl or Super Bowl: "Sports books may copy without charge."

Who will be the first running back or interior lineman suspended for throwing his live-in girlfriend down a stairwell?

Who will be the first pro player suspended for taking drugs?

Who will be the first college player arrested for assault?

Who will be the first quarterback broken in two pieces?

Who will be the first 275-pound, 6-foot-6 tackle charged with beating up some 150-pound heckler at a strip bar?

Who will be the first player arrested for driving his Ferrari 120 miles and hour while drunk.

Who will be the first player disqualified because a prof in summer school gave him a passing grade in a final that he flunked?

Who will be the first coach to say, "We’ll let local authorities handle this" when a star player gets in serious trouble?

Who will be the first coach to reinstate (just before a big game) a star player who has been suspended, noting that everyone deserves a second chance.

All of the above are guaranteed to happen before the first snow flies.

If it turns out you answer more than two of the questions correctly you will receive a month’s supply of cold beer and potato chips and a used soft pillow for the couch to hold you through the season.

Now, to get a head start on next year’s U.S. Women’s Open, back to our Russian textbook. Damn, these backward letters are hard to understand.