- By P.J. Aroon
People may be fixated on the World Cup right now, but there’s also another big tournament going on — Wimbledon! And all the racket swinging has inspired this week’s quiz question:
Which country has the most women tennis players among the world’s top 200?
a) Australia b) Czech Republic c) Russia
Answer after the jump …
Russia’s sports machine may be in decline overall, as evidenced by the country’s terrible performance during February’s Winter Olympics, but Russian women have been slamming the competition in tennis. In the WTA Tour’s rankings, as of June 21, 27 of the world’s top 200 female tennis players are Russian, nearly double No. 2 United States’ 14 women. The countries tying for third with 12 each are France and the Czech Republic, formerly part of Czechoslovakia, tennis champ Martina Navratilova’s birth country. Among the world’s top 25 women, six are Russian. (Meanwhile, there are just five Russian men among the world’s top 200 male tennis players, as of June 21.)
So, why has Russia been serving up so many women? Part of the reason is that Russian girls have been swayed by the success of tennis stars Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova, who gained widespread celebrity by using their stunning good looks in glamorous modeling gigs. "A lot of girls are coming to tennis," Ekaterina Makarova, the world’s No. 67, told the Washington Post. "It’s really popular in Russia. Maybe every girl wants to be Sharapova or something."
It also turns out that late President Boris Yeltsin is behind Russia’s tennis boom. Obsessed with tennis, he played three times a week, and under his influence, tennis facilities sprang up rapidly, particularly in the early part of the millennium. In 1990, the Soviet Union had fewer than 200 tennis courts, but by 2004, Russia had about 2,500, Britain’s The Independent reported in July 2004. "Boris Yeltsin really helped the game," Elena Dementieva, the world’s No. 5 player, told the Washington Post. "He was the biggest fan. He started developing tennis facilities in Moscow and around the country.… It changed a lot. Tennis really became a huge sport in Russia."
But when it comes to the top of the top, the USA still dominates: The world’s No. 1 and 2 are Serena and Venus Williams.
(In the photo above, the Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova hits a ball back to Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi during the Wimbledon tournament on June 29.)
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| Passport |