The Reuters global sports blog
It’s beyond me how anyone can deride women’s tennis as being dull. The relentless changing of the guard at the top of the world rankings and the general air of a free-for-all that the grand slams are cited as weak points in the game, when the sheer unpredictability of women’s tennis (compared to the men’s game) is precisely the reason it should be celebrated.
What many of the critics are really bemoaning, I suspect, is that Maria Sharapova didn’t go on to become the women’s Roger Federer. And while you couldn’t help be enthralled by her Wimbledon match against Gisela Dulko of Argentina on Wednesday, the Russian’s nailbiting defeat beneath the sunshine on centre-court is only going to bring more tut-tuts about the state of the game.
Which is a shame… because this was an absolute humdinger — the best match, involving men or women, on centre court so far this year.
When Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of just 17, the breathtaking power and accuracy with which she hit her shots seemed set to usher in a long spell as the game’s dominant force.
“Clearly women’s tennis is better than men’s tennis. It’s way cattier, so it’s way more exciting to watch.”
Before the anti-sexism police start to wave their batons in my direction, I would like to clarify that these are not my words but those of 10-times grand slam champion Serena Williams, who lost in the Roland Garros quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Serena Williams just survived a real scare against China’s Li Na at the Sony Ericsson Open here at Key Biscayne, Miami. The world number one’s bid to reach her sixth title in this event hung in the balance during a second set tie-break after she had made a dreadful start losing the first set 6-4.
Serena won that tie break to two and then cruised through the third set for a hard-earned victory in intense Floridian heat but hers would not have been the first shock at this tournament.
“Embarrassing”, “pitiful” and “pathetic” were just some of the words used by the global press to describe last month’s Australian Open final between Serena Williams and Dinara Safina.
Some observers went even further and suggested women should give up their right to receive equal prize money after Williams walloped the Russian in just 59 minutes to claim her 10th grand slam crown.
The tennis police have extremely short memories. While everyone was quick to compare it to Rafael Nadal’s heart-stopping 4-1/2 hour epic win over Roger Federer in Melbourne, people have forgotten it was only eight months ago when the Swiss won a paltry four games in the French Open final against his Spanish nemesis.
In fact, on that occasion Federer won fewer games than Roland Garros runner-up Safina had a day earlier in the women’s showpiece match against Ana Ivanovic. Were people expecting Federer to hand back some of his prize money simply because he had failed to produce his A-game against Nadal? Of course not.
While there is no doubt that the Federer-Nadal thriller in Melbourne will live long in people’s memories, it should be noted that it was the first five-set men’s final in Melbourne for 21 years.
In that same time, the women’s finale in Australia has gone down to the wire six times — including the 2002 classic when Jennifer Capriati saved four match points before sneaking past Martina Hingis.
Also, the men’s game has effectively become a two-horse race over the past four years. In the 16 majors that have been contested since the 2005 French Open, either Nadal or Federer have claimed the top prize 15 times.
Over the same period, the women’s roll of honour lists champions such as Venus and Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters and Ivanovic.
All four majors in 2008 were won by different women and the battle for supremacy became so intense that the top ranking changed hands six times until Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic won the final round of musical chairs to clinch the coveted year-end prize.
Proving that women’s tennis remains unpredictable, Serena has already snatched that top spot for herself this year.
As Jankovic said: “It’s irrelevant to compare men’s tennis and women’s tennis… which by the way is probably more enthralling.
“It’s a big battle between something like five players, so you never really know who is going to prevail, it’s very hard to guess who will be number one.”
The same cannot be said of men’s tennis.