Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
For those tennis enthusiasts who like to look at the glass half empty instead of half full it would be easy to trash Women’s tennis as we get ready for the Roger’s Cup in Toronto in a few weeks time. Too much grunting, too many double faults, too much slugging from the baseline, too many robots that all look the same, too many no-name athletes!
But what about the flip side? Pin point accuracy from outrageous positions on the court, enormous talent, no fear on nerve wrecking points, relentless attacking tennis that is beautiful to watch and counter-attacking that is bringing the game to a new level!
Those that see the sport in disarray – they are misguided and looking for something to berate.
In my estimation they are completely out of line – the game has never been more interesting than it is now. There are multiple players (anybody in the top 40) who can win a major as we get ready for the upcoming North American hard court season.
If you were taking bets for the final major of the season in Flushing Meadows, New York – who would be the favourite – Wozniacki, Clijsters, Zvonareva, Azarenka, Sharapova, Li, Kvitova, Schiavone, Bartoli, Stosur – one could make an argument for any of the above players. All of these top-10 players can win a major championship at this point in their career. The better question is – when all is said and done – will all of these players have a major championship beside their name?
This sport has never been so wide open. And what about the former #1s who have been off the radar for most of the season – Kuznetsova, Jankovic, Ivanovic and Safina – can they still be counted as potential winners? My guess is yes – absolutely – because nobody stands out as the dominant performer in this circle of players.
Then there are the emerging stars like Julia Goerges (2 wins over Wozniacki in the early part of 2011) and Sabine Lisicki (Wimbledon semi-finalist) who have to be considered major threats. What about Cibulkova, Hantuchova and Petrova – we know they have immense talent but should they be considered threats to the top 10?
So far I have mentioned 19 players as potential winners in the 2nd half of the 2011 season and have not mentioned the Williams sisters. That is almost absurd. But it just goes to show you how much talent is out there on the Women’s tour. The depth is by far the best it’s ever been. First week matches in the slams can now be barn-burners – like Schiavone and Kuznetsova in the 4th round of the 2010 Aussie Open. The longest match in Women’s history lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes. Not quite Isner/Mahut like but considering it was only best of three sets – this is a remarkable achievement for both players. This match was not the boring lob-fest match we used to see in the 70s and 80s in women’s tennis. This was a blistering groundstroke affair that had everything right till the final point.
Was there a better story than Li Na winning her first major championship at 29 years of age? Li became the first player from an Asian nation to win a grand slam singles title when she beat last year’s winner Francesca Schiavone in early June at Stade Roland Garros. She was previously a runner-up at the Australian Open final in January.
LI Na’s French Open triumph is great for women’s tennis and follows a push to develop the sport in China which officials now want to replicate in India, WTA tour chief executive Stacey Allaster said.
And who could forget Petra Kvitova – the 4th lefty to win the Ladies championship at Wimbledon in the game’s storied history?
The 21-year-old Czech produced a stunning performance of power tennis to defeat the fancied Russian Maria Sharapova 6-3 6-4, grabbing her first grand slam title. Kvitova, is the first player born in the 1990s to win a grand slam. She appeared to have nerves of steel in her maiden final, by swinging freely and crushing winner after winner past the hapless Sharapova, before achieving victory with an ace on her first match point. Kvitova, is the real deal and she’ll be a threat to win many more major championships if she plays with that much courage in future championships.
Allaster said the open nature of the women’s game made it attractive even if there are no big rivalries like in the men’s. “The standard is much higher. On any given day anyone in the top 40 can win, we don’t have these 40-minute 6-0 and 6-0 first round matches any more. They are much more competitive, there is much more parity,” she said.
It’s ironic to some extend that Allaster picked anybody inside the top 40 as a potential winner. Our own Canadian female superstar is Rebecca Marino who currently sits at #39 in the latest rankings. Some purists would argue this talented lefty cannot win yet at this level – I would beg to differ. She has all the tools to beat any of these giants. All she needs is a little confidence and she’ll be included in this group of potential winners.
Women’s tennis may also be feeling the effects of age inflation – but this is a good thing. Having teenagers battling for the games top prizes is not healthy in my estimation and the older generation is much better equipped to deal with the pressures of today’s stress. This year, the ages of the four Australian Open semifinalists were as follows: 20 (Wozniacki), 26 (Zvonareva), 27 (Clijsters) and almost 29 (Li Na). Ten years ago, the ages of the semifinalists were 20 (Hingis), 20 (V. Williams), 24 (Capriati) and 24 (Davenport). And twenty years ago the ages were younger still: 17 (Seles), 19 (Fernandez), 19 (Sanchez-Vicario) and Jana Novotna was the senior in the bunch at age 22.
One thing’s for sure: the door of opportunity is wide open for any female player who decides to step through in the second half of this season. As the WTA knows well, the “next big thing” might be right around the corner.