Tennis is perhaps the most equal sport (gender wise) in the world. Both male and female tennis players receive the same prize money at tournaments, draw in the same number of television viewers and have the same number of spectators present, regardless of whether it is a men’s or women’s match on court. This type of equality is virtually unheard of in other sports such as football and rugby, where males dominate the headlines and media. Why, therefore, does women’s tennis not gain recognition, and thus an increase in popularity, for this seeming achievement?
There is a pretty obvious reason: lack of star power on the women’s tour……not to mention lack of serious talent. Some may say that I’m harsh in my judgement but I stand by my opinion: women’s tennis has become boring beyond belief. When I first started watching tennis in early 2003, there was an abundance of talent and excitement on the tour that kept me entertained from match to match. The mighty Williams sisters (Venus and Serena) transcended the sport altogether; the sheer power in their shots, the precision of their serves and their overall superior fitness and movement meant that women’s tennis had two superstars who reigned supreme. They shared every major title between themselves for most of the early part of the first decade of the 21st century. They were not just tennis stars, they were superstars.
Following closely behind them were two Belgians by the names of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. They were forced to up their games and fitness due to overwhelming pressure by the Williams sisters. Once they found their groove, the women’s game had a rivalry worth mentioning. With a handful of Russians, such as Maria Sharapova (whose Wimbledon win in 2004 at the age at 17 was the stuff of Hollywood dreams) and Elena Dementieva (2008 Olympic gold medallist), thrown into the mix, women’s tennis was at its Golden Age and was elevated right up to rival the popularity of the men’s tour.
Then, in what can only have been the space of a year or two, the women’s game stagnated. After 2009, it seemed all the passion and excitement had evaporated from the WTA tour and the stars had disappeared. The Williams sisters were busy with injuries and other business ventures away from the courts, Sharapova suffered a major setback with a shoulder injury and the Belgians took off for early retirement and motherhood. We were not worried however: the new generation that was coming up promised to fill that void. Alas, despite a good start and expectations of brilliance from these up-and-coming youngsters, they crashed and burned to the ground, bringing the vitality of the game with them. So, unfortunately, we were left with the generation that came after them.
This generation was not so promising. It brought with it the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka. To sum up these players in one word: pitiful. Harsh I know, but true. There is nothing special about their shots, they lack sufficient weapons on the court with their strokes to truly dominate other players and the rankings. The lack of excitement that surrounds these players is astounding. Never before have I experienced such utter boredom watching tennis than I do when I watch Caroline Wozniacki play. Where is the tension and suspense that comes with sport? There are no memorable moments or superb sets anymore to discuss; its like women’s tennis has been thrown back to the 60′s and 70′s when wooden rackets where being used.
Without a major player to dominate over the last few years, numerous faceless players have won Grand Slams and have fell by the wayside shortly afterwards. No one seems to have the game to lead the rest of the pack or even the star quality to appeal to the media and entertainment industry. While the men’s sport has megastars such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djockovic who, over the last three or four years have provided some of the most thrilling and memorable matches in the history of the sport, the women’s game cannot boast such feats. With the Williams sisters most likely playing their final season and Sharapova not the force she once was, who will save the women’s game? There is the Czech player, Petra Kivitova, who won Wimbledon last year, but can she sustain her sometimes erratic power? Azarenka has the game but has not broken through in the already weak field. Who is left to take over the reins and save women’s tennis from its demise? At the moment, the future looks bleak and is showing no improvement. It may be best off to stick with following just men’s tennis for the forseeable future.
Do you agree with Emily that women’s tennis has become boring and of a poor standard in recent times? Will it ever see a return to its glory days?