The problem with women’s tennis
Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova sits on the court as she plays Serena Williams of the United States during a Women's singles quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009. AP Photo/Dita Alangkara
Unlike other women’s sports, women’s tennis does get its fair share of media coverage. It is one of the few sports wherein female players are given due recognition for their achievements.
However, in contrast with the men’s game, women’s tennis has had to endure the burden of unpredictability since the turn of the millennium.
With Serena Williams’ shocking exit in the first round of the 2012 French Open, women’s tennis continues to be robbed of consistency a la the male equivalent. Over the last few decades, women’s tennis has witnessed some of the greatest rivalries in sport, something that ceases to exist among the current crop of players.
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert dominated the sport in the late seventies and early eighties, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were at the pinnacle of their game in the mid-nineties. Then, the Williams sisters along with Martina Hingis and Justine Henin burst onto the scene to dictate proceedings. These are just some of the indisputable legends of the game whose achievements will never be matched by the modern breed of upcoming players.
While some concur that the element of unpredictability in women’s tennis adds to the curiosity factor, there’s another school of thought that’s in complete denial that women’s tennis is as intriguing as the men’s game.
With the Williams sisters on the decline, the sport is in desperate need of a superstar akin to the status of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – the peerless trio who are not just supremely consistent throughout the year but have maintained a vice-like grip on the entire ATP tour for years. Moreover, the chasing pack of top players such as Andy Murray, David Ferrer, Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, to name a few, are pretty consistent themselves and possess sufficient arsenal to throw a spanner in the works thereby, adding to the excitement of men’s tennis.
In contrast, there has been no female player to dominate the game, let alone a chasing pack, with incessant rounds of musical chairs at the top of the perch.
We have had top-ranked players such as Caroline Wozniacki (67 weeks as number one), Dinara Safina (26 weeks), Jelena Jankovic (18 weeks), Victoria Azarenka (19 weeks) and Ana Ivanovic (12 weeks), who have failed to remain in the top bracket for extensive periods. Moreover, these numbers don’t even come within a bull’s roar from the likes of ex-superstars such as Martina Navratilova (332 weeks in all) and Steffi Graf (377 weeks), keeping aside the number of Grand Slams won. There obviously is a problem in the women’s game.
It seems that modern-day female players are mentally fragile, finding it nearly impossible to match the expectations and demands of the game. For instance, despite being a knowledgeable student from the reputed Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia, Vera Zvonareva can be a wreck on court throwing tantrums, sobbing and sufferings meltdowns. Another notable example is Sam Stosur, a brilliant player who has so far failed to put up a good show on home turf at the Australian Open, clearly, an indication of her succumbing to the burden of playing at home.
On this concern, the legendary Martina Navratilova says, “With a lot of the field, when they get to a final, they freeze and I’ve seen it time and time again. They just freeze, they don’t compete, and they can’t play.
“Being in a final is something to cherish, not dread”. This explains Navratilova’s success in the finals of the many majors she has won.
Female players are unable to remain injury-free for continuous periods of time and once back on court they find it gruelling to recapture ‘form’. No one would attest to this fact better than Serena Williams who has been patchily consistent since her return to the tour following a lengthy lay-off in 2011 due to severe health concerns.
There have also been players such as Tracy Austin, Andrea Jaeger, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters who have excelled for brief periods and then either quit or took a long sabbatical from the game for various reasons. By contrast, in the men’s game, the only example is Björn Borg, who rocked the entire tennis fraternity by retiring at the age of 26 at the peak of his powers.
The current lot of young players do possess all the ingredients necessary to dominate the game but there seems to be the missing element of ‘competition’. Maybe, the WTA should amend the game from the stipulated three sets to five in the majors to offer the players a whole new challenge both physically as well as mentally. Yes, it might be taxing for the players but they are well-conditioned and strong enough to survive the demands of five-setters.
I think it’s worth a try because the women’s game needs a shake-up.
Women’s tennis is in desperate need of superstars that its male equivalent has enjoyed in recent years and as it stands, it’s unlikely that one is bound to emerge any time soon. Not having truly dominant women on tour might offer room for more parity, but I’m not sure if having every player in the top 25 capable of winning a Slam is a blessing for women’s tennis.
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