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The Enigma That is Women's Tennis

Posted on the 11 September 2011 by Crapblog
The Enigma that is Women's TennisOne fact which is hard to ignore when talking about the equal prize money debate is the current state of women’s tennis. Those who aren’t huge followers of the sport simply don’t care about what is happening on the women’s side. This is because there are no ambassadors for the sport. The only household names are the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova. The Williams have the talent to dominate the sport, but injuries and lack of interest have meant that they haven’t, and their inability to ‘play the game’ in terms of endearing themselves to crowds and to the media has meant that they don’t have the fan base they should. They have also been around for a long time, which makes them ‘old news’. When Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of 17, she was thrust into the spotlight. Her looks and precocious talent made her the face of the WTA, but again injury, and the resulting lack of grand slam titles has meant that her star has faded.So here are the facts: Since Roger Federer became world number 1 in 2004, the top ranking has changed just 4 times, and has only been held by three men, all of whom have distinguished themselves as multiple grand slam champions, and all have made some sort of challenge to be the greatest of all time, or at least shown that one day they might be. In the same period, the women’s top ranking has been held by ten different women, and the position has changed hands a ridiculous 25 times, with only Justine Henin remaining at the top for more than a year (61 weeks). Of these, three have never won a grand slam (Jankovic, Safina and Wozniaki), and several others have experienced huge losses of form, dropping out of the top 50 or even lower. Furthermore, many of the grand slams have been won by players not at the top of the game (Myskina, Schiavone, Li Na, Kvitova). These winners, mostly unknown to the average tennis fan who only watches the grand slams, simply detract from the excitement of the tournament. These fans would much rather see someone they know and love win the only tournaments they watch. Conversely on the men’s side, since 2005, only Del Potro has been able to brake the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic hold on the majors. It’s a far cry from the glory days of the 90s, when greats such as Graf, Seles and Hingis were so dominant, and were true ambassadors for the women’s game, so it begs the question as to what it is about female tennis at the moment which means that no group of players have come through to dominate since the Williams sisters. The Belgians, especially Henin, as well as Sharapova mounted a decent challenge for a while, but no one else has really had a look in, with no other woman winning more than two slams. On so many occasions the Williams have gone into the majors with little or no preparation and come out victorious. I think the most embarrassing moment for the women’s game was when Kim Clijsters came back from two years of retirement, during which she had a baby, and managed to win the US Open as a wildcard in only her third tournament back. This is surely evidence that in that period at least, the game did not move on one bit, and may have in fact regressed.When the Williams sisters first arrived on the scene, they did for the game what Martina Navratilova did; they forced it to evolve. They came with as much power as the game had ever seen, along with the best movement it had ever seen. On top of this, they introduced something new; the ability to turn defence into attack and to hit winners on the run. All of this teamed with steely determination and winning mentalities has made them hard to beat. Maybe the fact that they did advance the game so much is the reason for which it is yet to move on. Players watching the Williams sisters had to work so hard to get to their level that there was nothing left in them to take the game further. But for the most part, women have failed even to reach the same level as Venus and Serena. There are several girls who hit the ball hard, but the Williams athleticism is rarely matched. The Belgians had brilliant movement, which is what allowed them to challenge. Because of this, there was for a brief period a sense of excitement when a Belgian was drawn against a Williams in a slam. However, the anticipation of this was also reduced due to the fact that they normally met in earlier rounds due to unreflective seedings.  More recently, players such as Jankovic and Wozniaki have moved well, but have not had the potent groundstrokes to make the most of their movement. Nonetheless, it does surprise me that Serena goes into basically every slam as favorite. It’s been twelve years since she won her first, so you would think that someone would have come along in that period to take the game to the next level. That’s what Nadal did to Federer, and the Swiss great has had to step up to keep up, a progression that has been fascinating to follow. Djokovic’s addition to the mix has made the slams more intriguing, and the fact that Murray crops up occasionally only adds to this. The lack of such superstars in the women’s game is what makes it so uninteresting to most casual fans. When the Williams came along to challenge the greats of the 90s it was exciting, and it is with bated breath that I wait for the next crop of players to reinvigorate the women’s game.*Update* Sam Stosur has just beaten Serena in the US Open final. Her chances of dominating: not good.

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