The WTA: Better Than Before
Remember 2008? When the WTA had slamless number ones, one-slam wonders, and double faults galore? It’s hard to remember those days isn’t it, what, with the golden age of women’s tennis we are currently experiencing. Alright, it’s not exactly a golden age. We still have a slamless number one, our French Open champion isn’t exactly a young up-and-comer, and we often see more double faults then aces. But 2010 has seen a significant improvement in the WTA and here’s why…
We have had two true number ones: It’s a fact that Serena Williams was the best player in the world when her foot was injured causing her to miss the US Open and eventually the rest of the season. In the old days, a missing Serena would spell disaster for the tour, giving way to all sorts of new world number ones that would prove to be unprepared in dealing with the inevitable pressure. This year though, everything has changed. Despite being the target of the media just like those before her, Caroline Wozniacki has stood her ground and has remained firm in her belief that she deserves the number one ranking. It’s hard to disagree with her. She’s won six titles this year, including Beijing and Tokyo which were both after the US Open, where she made the semi-finals. Wozniacki may not be the best player in the world until she beats Williams in a Slam situation, but she’s the most consistent and dedicated to the tour. Not only that, she’s a positive and upbeat number one who fights criticism in the best way possible; by winning. It’s hard to ask much more from a number one except of course that coveted Slam. That is likely to come eventually if the 20-year-old keeps up her fighting mentality.
Chokers are giving way to mental giants: I could be exaggerating the mental giant part, but there are certainly more women on tour now who know how to keep a cool head. Williams and Maria Sharapova have always had that killer instinct but we are now seeing the same thing from Wozniacki. Women who used to be considered chokers are now getting things together, with the likes of Sam Stosur and Vera Zvonareva showing improved mental strength in 2010. It’s not perfect; Zvonareva was less than stellar in her two Slam finals and Stosur was also blatantly nervous, but they have made huge inroads this year. Unfortunately for them, their opponents in their finals played at the top of their game. One of those women was Francesca Schiavone who showed the world how not to choke when contesting your first Slam final. That’s something that even ATP players haven’t done recently.
There has been consistency: Too often we’ve seen women make marvelous runs at Slams and then suffer bizarre losses afterwards. There’s also been many former ones reach that pinnacle and then fall into a slump. Names like Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina have suffered huge ranking dives after being at the top. The WTA has stepped it up in 2010. Serena Williams has always been a model of consistency, but we have also seen shock French Open winner Schiavone carry her good form throughout the year. She won a title in Barcelona earlier in the year and carried her good form over after winning the French Open. She made the quarter-finals of the Rogers Cup, the US Open, and the semis of Tokyo.
Kim Clijsters also found her best form when it mattered at the US Open and managed to defend, that’s right DEFEND, her title. The women she beat in the final, Zvonareva, hasn’t exactly beaten herself up after losing two Slam finals this year. Instead she’s gone on to make the quarters of Tokyo and the finals of China, propelling herself up to number two in the world. Then there’s Wozniacki. The new number one may not have made a Slam final this year, but she’s consistency personified.
We’re seeing variety: She may not have the most free-flowing game on tour, but Wozniacki adds Andy Murray like variety to the WTA with her counterpunching game. The hard-hitting aggressors that dominated 2008 have been pushed aside to make way for the likes of the Danish star. Clijsters can also retrieve with the best, but a nice serve and an aggressive forehand keep her game different and fresh. Schiavone showed us some old-school style with her fierce one-handed backhand this year, and Stosur proved that women can hit a topspin serve. Add into the mix big-hitters like Sharapova and the Williams girls and it’s undeniable that the tour now has some much-needed variety. Justine Henin, the ultimate all-courter, completes the mix but unfortunately had to sit out half the year with an elbow fracture. Still, she’ll be back in 2011 ensuring the tour continues to grow.
We no longer need to rely on Serena Williams: Let’s face it, Serena has all the above. She’s one of the greatest players of all time and she stepped in to remind us how women’s tennis can look during a time the WTA was struggling. She’s still going strong, but Serena focusses heavily on the Slams. The WTA struggled to put interesting tournaments together before 2010 because they lacked dominate female players. They finally have their answers. Zvonareva, Wozniacki, Schiavone, and Stosur among others have kept us entertained all year. We are seeing more tournaments follow the seedings and less dramatic upsets. Serena may still rule the court when she plays, but we are now able to watch a tour that has managed to be exciting and competitive this year whether Serena shows up or not.
2010 has been a vast improvement from the two earlier years but the improvements are only just beginning. When Clijsters, Henin, and Hingis retired prematurely, it left a huge gap where the natural successors were still years off hitting their peaks. Serena Williams did a good job of stepping up to the plate and ensured her domination continued over this period but we can expect this dominance to be challenged in 2011 with a wave of players finally beginning to make their mark. With a solid number one and many more to challenge her, 2010 has been a good year for the WTA. 2011 should be even better.