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The WTA: Far From Fixed

February 18, 2010

Looking at this year’s Australian Open one might be fooled into believing that the WTA’s troubles are finally over. With quality matches, the best final we have seen in years, and the glorious comebacks of both Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, it would be easy for us to forget about the difficult past few years. But we shouldn’t. Things are far from fixed.

It was getting embarressing there for a while. We had slamless number ones, upsets were the norm, and there were lopsided finals that struggled to gain any interest. Serena Williams dominated the tour whilst Sharapova struggled with injury and Clijsters and Henin pondered a comeback.

With Clijsters and Henin back, things are certainly going to be more interesting. Yet there is a horrible temporary feel about them, much like an Ernests Gulbis win. How long can the Belgian dream team last? If Henin fufills her Wimbledom dream soon will she still feel the need to play? Does Kim see more children on the cards? With that in mind, us temporarily satisfied tennis fans must look towards the young guns and hope someone pulls through to ensure the WTA stays healthy for longer.

Girls like Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, and Yanina Wickmayer, arguably have more promise than the jaded Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic, and Ana Ivanovic. Despite their high rankings and promising baseline shots, the girls need to step it up one notch further to consistantly challenge Serena, Henin, and Clijsters, and prove that the tour will continue to survive after the greats retire (for good). They will struggle to do this, however, without the one shot most of them are missing at the moment. The serve.

It is no coincidence that Serena is ranked number one and has the best serve in the WTA. At the latest Slam, she lead the ace count with 65 aces, 36 more than Nadia Petrova in second place. Neither Wozniacki or Azarenka, two players considered the next big things, featured in the top twenty. It seems that amongst the younger players there is too much emphasis on the return, yet it is the serve that starts the point, the serve that can give you the advantage, and the serve that can save you from physically and mentally tiring rallies. Consider Azarenka’s loss to Serena at the Australian Open. She led by a set and 4-0 before losing the match. With Azarenka having to rally for every point and unable to get short, easier points on serve, it isn’t hard to see why she fell off the tracks despite being so close to the finish line.

Wozniacki is arguably the most promising player at present and currently ranked three. She, much like her good friend Azarenka, has punishing groundstrokes and mental toughness. She also lacks a decent serve. After an average start to the year with a fourth round loss to Na Li at the Australian Open, and a recent loss in Dubai to unseeded Shahaar Peer, Wozniacki has to look to improve parts of her game if she wants to avoid the pitfalls of Safina and Ivanovic. The obvious place to start? Her serve.

Perhaps the girl we should all be looking towards is Yanina Wickmayer, the ‘other’ Belgian. Wickmayer has strong groundstrokes, particularly her forehand, and more importantly, can serve. She ranked seventh on the ace leaders board at the Australian Open, and recorded the tenth fastest serve. Not to say her serve is fantastic just yet, she also ranked sixth for double faults. At twenty, however, Wickmayer has a lot of time to work on her already promising serve and game. Perhaps the most important statistic is that Wickmayer is ranked at fifteen, putting her under a lot less pressure than some of the other young stars.

2010 is going to be a great year for women’s tennis, of that there is no doubt. With Clijsters, Henin, Serena, and hopefully Sharapova fully fit from injury, we are guaranteed great tennis for the present. With Azarenka, Wozniacki, and Wickmayer, there seems to be plenty of promise for the future too. They just need to do what a few before them didn’t. Fufill it.

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