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U.S. Open: Russian Roulette

The 2007 U.S. Open has proven unkind to the top Russian stars. Perhaps it's no surprise when former men's champion Marat Safin self-destructs in a flurry of rage and errors, as he did in a second round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka; maybe the unpredictable Nadia Petrova's loss to talented up-and-comer Agnes Szavay isn't the most shocking result; and former finalist Elena Dementieva or last year's semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny bowing out turned relatively few heads.

Defending women's champion Maria Sharapova's three-set defeat in the third round, however, resonates like a bullet to the brain.

Sharapova had been gifted with what was, by all accounts, a creampuff draw that should have ensured safe passage to at least the semifinals. 18-year-old Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland had different ideas. Radwanska, who idolizes Martina Hingis, played smart and took away second-ranked Sharapova's rhythm with a deft mix of spins and paces. Maria won eight consecutive games to force a third set, but played sloppy when it mattered most, producing only 9 winners to 20 unforced errors in the decider.

The shock loss caps a rotten year for tennis's glamour girl. Sharapova was humiliated by Serena Williams in the final of the Australian Open; defeated equally as soundly by Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals of the French Open; found herself on the wrong end of another deathly dismissal by the Williams family when she lost in the fourth round of Wimbledon to eventual champion Venus; and now has lost her U.S. Open title to Radwanska.

The losses by Sharapova and Petrova open up the bottom half of the women's draw even futher. Two former champions, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Martina Hingis, would love to take advantage. Judging from the emphatic statements sent today by the next generation of women's players, however, they may have to wait their turn. --Wyman Meers