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The center of attention

Matt Zemek

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Jimmie 48 Photography

You might read or hear from time to time in America about the “out of the way” places or “backwater” towns which nourish successful tennis careers. There’s an obscure village in Latvia here, or a player of Moldovan heritage there, or an Estonian over there.

Yet, what do those notions — “out of the way” or “remote” or “obscure” tell you about United States media outlets?

Do you hear or read about American players who come from obscure “backwater” small towns? Maybe some examples exist, but I don’t recall seeing very many. With the Williams sisters, the media angle on Serena and Venus often focused on how Richard and Oracene raised them from “the mean streets of Compton, California,” but that story was more in the vein of a “gritty upbringing,” not so much obscurity.

No, in an American media lens, “obscure” is often just another coded expression for “a culture or part of the world very different from American culture.”

Eastern and Central Europe — comprising the nations or lands which used to be part of the Warsaw Pact in the Cold War era — has often been the easy, reflexive, and very lazy reference point for American media outlets and commentators who dip into the “obscure/remote/out of the way” word salad bowl.

Let it be said very clearly and plainly: There is absolutely NOTHING which is “out of the way” about the players who represent 75 percent of the remaining WTA field at Roland Garros, with the fourth round now set in Paris.

After the first week of play in France, 12 members of the round of 16 have a connection to the Warsaw Pact’s geographical footprint (not the specific list of Warsaw Pact countries, but the lands encompassing almost all of the region).

Kaia Kanepi is from a former Soviet Republic (Estonia). So is Anastasija Sevastova (Latvia). So is Aliona Bolsova, who plays for Spain but owns Moldovan heritage. Jo Konta is British but has Hungarian heritage. Two Americans born to Russian parents — Sofia Kenin and Amanda Anisimova — are part of the round of 16.

Petra Martic is from Croatia (the former Yugoslavia), as is Donna Vekic. Marketa Vondrousova and Katerina Siniakova are Czechs. Simona Halep is from Romania. Iga Swiatek is from Poland.

There you go: 12 of 16 players in the WTA field have a strong connection to one part of the world.

The four exceptions: Ashleigh Barty, Sloane Stephens, Garbine Muguruza, and Madison Keys. Stephens and Muguruza will meet in the fourth round, so only one will make the quarterfinals. Keys and Barty are both in the top quarter, so only one will make the semifinals. This means that Central and Eastern Europe are guaranteed to produce 5 of 8 quarterfinalists and at least two semifinalists.

If neither Barty nor Keys make the semifinal from the top quarter, Central and Eastern Europe will have at least three semifinalists. If that happens and the Stephens-Muguruza winner loses in the quarterfinals, Central and Eastern Europe will own all four semifinal spots.

Out of the way? Obscure? Only if you are looking at the world through a very narrow American-centric lens, probably influenced by an elite American media outlet.

Eastern and Central Europe are the center of women’s tennis right now — the results in Paris prove as much.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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