The Real No. 1

Today Caroline Wozniacki played in her first Year End Championship in Doha. She lost 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 to current USO Champion and in case you did not get the memo, Mommy, Kim Clijsters.

As a long time fan of women’s tennis, I think Wozniacki is an able No. 1. There have been arguments made for or against her being No. 1 without winning a major. 2 years ago I was one of those who looked at Jankovic and Safina and said ‘how can you be No. 1 when you have not even won a major’. At that time, as is the case now, Serena Williams held 2 majors and had beaten both players rather handily in Grand Slam finals.

Wozniacki however is a different kettle of fish. The first time I saw her play was in an ITF event in Las Vegas. She was playing a Japanese veteran and she won that tournament rather handily. I felt at the time that her game needed more power as well as quite a few other things and I have to say that since that initial title when she was about 16 or 17 years old, Wozniacki has performed exceptionally well since playing a full season.

When Safina and Jankovic held the No. 1 rank, not only had they been in Grand Slam finals, but they had won Premier events as well. The difference for me is the way how Wozniacki has held up under the glare of the media spotlight and the way she has gone about her business on Tour. No drama. No crying to the heavens when her game has gone awry. No breaking down in tears during trophy ceremonies and no berating of herself when she loses a point. She is 20 years old and she is poised, confident, a smile on her face as she goes about her business. At times she is ice-cold in her temperament, especially when it comes to bagelling her opponents. She shows absolutely no mercy.

However, there is one thing about Wozniacki that I do not like, well 2 things really. I hate her forehand. I absolutely hate it. I play tennis and my forehand is my shot of choice. If I can run around my pathetic excuse for a backhand and rip a forehand, then I am one happy woman. As such I am always drawn to those players who can hit winners from the forehand side. Wozniacki needs to use the off-season to learn to hit through the ball on her forehand side. Most players have found a way to beat her (at least the good ones with forehands) and they go to that wing relentlessly until they inevitably get a short ball and she is dead to rights.

Another thing I do not particularly like about Wozniacki is her constant reliance on her father to come out and coach her. I think going into 2011 she should try her hardest at Tour level events not to call her father down court side. You cannot use it at the majors, and I think that is the main reason (and her forehand) why she has not been able to get to any more Grand Slam finals since her debut at the 2009 USO.

Wozniacki wears the mantle of No. 1 very well. She has received the blessing of the first family of women’s tennis, Venus and Serena Williams. She is articulate, employs good sportsmanship on the field and apart from a few instances of racquet throwing (something she really needs to stop) she has worn the mantle well.

I am not sure what the future holds for Caroline Wozniacki come 2011 but from where I sit she should at least make it to the final round of a major come 2011 and who knows she may just strike it rich and get one. After all, many before her who did not have half the talent that she has and did so, and I see no reason why Wozniacki cannot do the same.

WTA Year in Review – January

This is a review of the WTA’s 2010 Season. A chance to look back with fondness, a smile, a smirk, a shake of the head and see just what we missed and if there is anything worth looking forward to in 2011.

The 2010 season of the WTA started very much like how 2009 ended. Questions being asked as to who would be the contenders coming into this season. Who was injury free and would make an impact and even more talk of impending retirements.

2010 also saw the continued troubles of various marquee players in women’s tennis. Ivanovic, Sharapova, Jankovic, Venus and Serena Williams, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Zvonreva and the list went on and on. The injury issues were not only for those players who were singles specialists but ran rampant throughout the doubles tour as well.

The biggest news to greet fans of women’s tennis however was the announcement by Justine Henin, former World No.1 and holder of 7 Grand Slam titles that she would be returning to the WTA Tour. She made this decision after seeing Roger Federer finally accomplish his Career Slam by winning the French Open. Fans of the Henin’s game were thrilled at this announcement as it was felt that her return would bring back some added competitiveness to the Tour and perhaps do away with those pesky also-rans who were occupying the WTA Penthouse. However, the reality was far different than what many dreamed.

January

The season started off as usual in Sydney with the AO tune up event. This event announced to the tennis world, one Aravane Rezai. I have to confess that I had never heard of Rezai. I perhaps saw her name in the draw but had never seen her play. She played Serena Williams in a match that is as compelling now as it was then. She was fiery. She was passionate and she had no regard for the woman standing across the net. 11 time Grand Slam champion and at the time World No.1, Serena Williams. The match had its ebbs and flows but at the end of the day, Serena gutted out the win, went on to the final where she lost in a lackluster match to her nemesis at the Tour level, Dementieva.

January also saw for the first time, the new Justine Henin, or as fans have christened her, Henin 2.0. She was more aggressive than we had seen in her previous career. She was more attacking, playing more in the forecourt and rushing the net at every given opportunity. She played her first match upon her return at a tournament in Brisbane. I saw her play against Ana Ivanovic and she properly schooled Ivanovic. It was as if she had not left the Tour.

I saw the final of her match against Clijsters and while many commentators proclaimed it the best match of the year, what I saw were 2 players who could not hold serve or put a serve in court on a continuous basis to save their collective lives. Numerous breaks of serve, tons of double faults. The only redeeming quality of the match was the drama that it elicited in the saving of match points and the rallies where were a joy to behold, especially when they ended in winners and not UFEs (which they mostly did).

January also saw the Australian Open and some big upsets and questions being asked about the longevity of some players in the game.

The biggest upset of the tournament saw Maria Kirilenko taking out Maria Sharapova in what has to go down as one of the ugliest matches ever played on a Centre Court at a major by two of arguably the best looking women in women’s tennis. Double faults, check. Unforced error, check. Screaming, check and check. The screaming and screeching by both women and the length of time between serves made this match one of the most painful I have ever had to watch. It was a disaster. Needless to say women’s tennis lost for me that night.

However, January also saw the rise of Chinese tennis at the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific. Li Na and Jie Zheng both got to the semis of the Australian Open. Na by taking out Venus Williams in a tough quarter final match and Zheng by taking out Kirilenko. They would both go on to lose to the eventual finalists, Henin and eventual champion, Serena Williams.

I was able to finally see Petra Kvitova at this year’s AO when she played Serena Williams in a second round match. She has game but absolutely no consistency. She would show us later on in the season just what she promised at the beginning of the year.

During the year’s first major, players who seemed to be on form coming into the Open and who were early round picks to do well bombed out in inglorious fashion. Dementieva went down in the second round to Henin. Clijsters in the third round against Petrova with a score that still have people scratching their collective heads, including Clijsters, who said after the match that she could not feel the ball.

Early signs of some players who seemed to be making very good improvements and would be players to watch were Stosur, Schiavone, Na, Azarenka, Zheng. There were some players who snuck upon us early in the season and announced their arrival on the scene. Players like Petkovic, Semastova, and Pavlychenkova.

One would not know it but Wozniacki would prove to us later in the year that she is as tough as she looks. In January however, the name Pushniacki was coined and she was dismissed as a Tier IV player who would never win a major or indeed make it to the top. How wrong we were?

Dinara Safina, the finalist at 2 majors in 2009 began her slump to the bottom of the rankings in spectacular fashion by retiring in her fourth round match against Kirilenko. That back injury would basically put paid to one of the Tour’s brightest stars.

Zvonreva also announced that she was more than a pretty face in January and would go on to do wonderful things as the season progressed.

The match of the month was no doubt the Australian Open final between Justine Henin and Serena Williams. It was a match with ebbs and flows. There was considerable gritting of the teeth and toughing it out in the tough moments, but at the end of the day 2 of the Tour’s most polarizing figures came on stage to show the youngsters just how tennis should be played at the Grand Slam level.

There was no calling to the coach. There were no tears. There was no shouting. There were no arguments with the lines persons and tournament officials. The fans in Rod Laver Arena got their money’s worth and then some. The match started out with Henin playing the newest version of her game, attacking and putting pressure on Serena. Serena for her part does what she does best. She held her ground, held her nerve and never backed down. It would go 3 sets and until the middle of the third set, no one knew who would win, although fans of Serena would say differently. It was a match for the ages and it has without a doubt made its way into the annals of those matches that can be considered Best Match Ever.

Prior to that final though Serena had to get through a red lining Victoria Azarenka, a player that I believe has so much potential but does not seem to have what it takes to finish off the top players. Up a set and a double break at the quarter final stage, Azarenka came across the woman that is Serena Williams. Big serves, huge groundies, fist pumps, snarls, defence, offence. Serena came out with her every arsenal to win a game at 4-0 and never looked back. Going into the tie-break Azarenka was up a mini-break up but that meant nothing against the woman who would not be denied a chance to defend her title from the year before and finally win the Australian Open in an even year.

Serena would take the second set 7-6 and move on towards the third set where champion Serena came out. Azarenka looked lost and hopeless and showed us once again why it takes more than a serve, a forehand and a backhand to beat the best.

Further on in January we would see another contender for Best Match of the Year. This was the final between Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams in Dubai. From the start of the match until its ultimate conclusion, both ladies showed that when Big Babe Tennis is on, there is just nothing quite like it. Forehands, backhands, thumping serves, and even more, beautiful skills at the net. It was a match for the ages. Venus won that match, defending her trophy from the year before.

All in all January proved to be a fantastic month for women’s tennis. We had the return of marquee players like Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters. The resurgence of the ever present Williams Sisters. The improvement of players like Zvonreva, the Tour was shaping up to be a wonderful place to visit and sit and relax and enjoy good tennis.

Matches of the Month:

Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin
Kim Clijsters vs. Justine Henin
Aravane Rezai vs. Serena Williams
Victoria Azarenka vs. Serena Williams

Up Next… February

Future of the WTA



This blog is predominantly about women’s tennis. It is usually about the lack of respect shown to women’s tennis by the media in terms of how women’s tennis is covered. However, today, I am going to talk about the diversity of women’s tennis.

A few weeks ago the WTA took time out to celebrate the commencement of the WTA. Players from all over the world paid their respect to the 9 women who sacrificed their careers and their future in establishing the Women’s Tennis Association by signing a contract for $1.00 and starting what would become one of the most successful and viable franchises in sports history.

Since that time, we have seen the growth of women’s tennis on a par with most sports that are more focused on men. Why then does the growth of women’s tennis is not tied to the performance of the athletes but rather tied to how they look. Even worse, why is that it is only a certain demographic of women’s tennis is represented by advertisers.

We are constantly being told that Hispanics and African Americans are the biggest growing markets in North America. We are told that Asia is the fastest growing region for the sport of tennis. Yet, when we look at the players who are getting the multi-million dollar contract, there is hardly a Na Li or a Serena Williams out there raking in the big bucks.

Even worse, a look at the top 100 rankings of women’s tennis and the paucity of minorities who are embracing this sport leaves people like me, who are a minority, and who were drawn to the sport by two of the biggest stars to ever play the game, Venus and Serena, feeling quite disconsolate.

I listen and I watch lots of women’s tennis. The feedback I get from commentators is that tennis needs people like Ivanovic, Wozniacki, Sharapova, Clijsters, Azarenka and the list goes on and on, not because they are great players, but because of their looks and personality and what they bring to women’s tennis. In the same breath, the strength of character, the will to fight, the competitiveness and drive of a Serena Williams, the longevity of a Venus Williams, the artistry of a Justine Henin are laid by the wayside.

These veterans of the Tour may not have the looks that the Ivanovic’s and Wozniacki’s of the tennis world, but they are 3 of the most accomplished players in this generation of tennis players.

What really galls me more than anything else is that the 9 women who were recently celebrated for having the initiative and drive to buck the system are not what we would call celebrated beauties. In their own way they are beautiful women, but would Madison Avenue consider them women who could sell phones or tennis clothes, handbags, shoes etc. I don’t think so.

Sania Mirza is one of the few women of ethnic origin who has garnered a great deal of sponsorships based on her looks. If you have never seen Sania Mirza, here is a picture of her.

This is a call for minority women from all over the world to go out there and let your face be seen. Let your racquets start doing the talking. Give us the next Serena and Venus Williams. Let us see the next Na Li. The next Sania Mirza.

Injuries, Injuries and More Injuries

It is that time of the year when the injury roll gets called in women’s tennis. Already we have seen numerous withdrawals and the list of those players who have called it a season is a virtual list of who’s who in women’s tennis.

Since Wimbledon, we have multi-slam champions like Justine Henin and Serena Williams nary hitting a ball in competition. Justine due to hurting her elbow in her match against Clijsters and Serena after cutting her foot on glass in a restaurant, which required her to have surgery.

Since the USO Clijsters has not played a tournament, tweeting a picture of her foot showing that she had had work done to remove a mole. Safina, Kuznetsova, Sharapova and Venus Williams have all called it a season for various reasons. Safina due to her back, Kuznetsova cited an undisclosed illness, Sharapova to rehab her shoulder and Venus because of her knee.

Serena was slated to play Linz but has had to withdraw as a scan of her foot determined that her injured foot had not fully healed.

The news of so many withdrawals of marquee players at this time of the year has been met with some amount of commisserations for some and raised eyebrows for one withdrawal. The only player whose absence drew howls of protest or was met with sceptcism was that of Serena.

Now a case could be made that people love to see Serena play or it could be that she is the face of women’s tennis, contrary to what others have been saying for years. However, this post is about the injury situation that seems to befall the women’s tour at this time of the year.

For most of this year Serena has been on the benched list more than she has been on court. She has only played 6 tournaments this year and even those tournaments that she played she came in with some form of bandage on various parts of her body.

The tennis season is long and gruelling and it is up to the players to maintain a schedule that is compatible with what they can physically manage. However, there is also this issue of the Roadmap which compels players to play premier tournaments in order to either maintain a ranking or indeed to partake in a year end bonus. At the end of the day a player needs to determine whether it is worth it to play tournaments while injured in order to get a bonus at the end of the year which may just end of up playing doctor’s bills in any event.

I have no idea what the solution is to the chronic injury situation that now besets the Tour. Many of the players who are now on injured list and who have shut down for the season are players who have played a pretty limited schedule this year or who have been knocked out of tournaments at the early stage. Players like Safina need to think long and hard as to whether it is the right thing for her to be playing tournaments with her back being the way it is. Perhaps a sabbatical to allow her injury to heal may be the best thing for her to do.

One issue that keeps coming up amongst fans is the issue of the equipment that is being used by most of the players.

I will be doing some research on this during the off season and scouring the internet to see whether I can find any relevant articles to support a theory that I have had and which has been posited by John McEnroe regarding the string and racquets now being used on the pro tour.

Until then I can only hope that the players who are now on the injured list take the necessary time to heal the various aches and pains in their bodies and come back stronger in 2011.

ESPNW and Women’s Tennis in General

So ESPN has decided that they will be starting a new version of ESPN. This version will be dedicated to women’s sports and all of a sudden advocates of equality etc are up in arms and have taken over twitter.

Jessica Wakeman, of women’s pop culture blog The Frisky, is quoted as saying that “If they were truly inclusive of women, they would try to integrate women into their programming, rather than secluding them off in a ‘pink ghetto.’”

Now I must be missing the point or something but what is wrong about women having their own. Is that not a sign of our independence and a step forward in the great race for equality. I grew up in a culture and environment where the man was king and there was no doubt about who was the head of the household. Even though things have changed, and the reality is that women have most of the responsibility in relation to being head of households etc men are still considered king of the hill.

For years I have been advocating that the women of the WTA and indeed the WTA itself should seriously think about establishing its own network to broadcast women’s tennis. Whenever a Masters Series event is being aired, you get coverage on Tennis Channel and ESPNI from the first ball is played until the finals. In some cases you even get doubles coverage. In terms of coverage for the women, you will be lucky if you get coverage from the quarter finals onwards.

In terms of cost cutting, many of the premier events for the women are now being combined with the men’s events. In these situations women’s tennis gets short shrift. A case in point is this year at Indian Wells and Miami. Both events are premier/mandatories for the women and MS 1000 for the men. I saw every ball that was struck in the men’s events but marquee names such as Henin, Sharapova and Clijsters who played these events, especially Indian Wells, their matches were never aired.

It gets even worse. During this year’s US Open Series, we saw matches from early on in Washington and lesser events, yet established big draw events featuring the big marquee names in women’s tennis, we only saw matches from the quarters on. This was not only for tv but for live streaming as well. It took bloggers on the ground to provide us with updates via twitter and their blogs as to what was happening on the ground.

If ESPN, the world leader in sports marketing can establish a channel dedicated to women’s tennis, and it proves profitable, as I think it will, then perhaps they will then get the message that women’s sports is a very valuable commodity.

Women cannot be considered equal until and unless they can show that they can perform with men on an equal footing. That means that while it is all well and good for people to shout equality from the rooftops if a channel that is dedicated to women’s sports fail, then that would give credence that we are not all equal.

The proof of any pudding is in the eating. I saw bring on the women’s sports channel. Feature every kind of women’s sports. Offer it at a reasonable price to women and let us see where advertisers put their money.