Tennis loves its narratives. It also loves storylines. There are the tried and true versions. Comeback from illness, injury, race to be No.1., race to win a Grand Slam for the first time. Youngest/oldest to ever do something extraordinary since aeons before we had television. It is how sport sells itself and it is how tennis in particular sells its product.
This year, on the WTA side the storyline has been the Race to No.1. Since the start of the clay season with Serena announcing her pregnancy, the story has been about the No. 1 ranking. I think tennis needs to start talking about players coming back when all is done and dusted.
I know most people will say well what about Kvitova? Well what about Kvitova? She suffered a terrible injury and the narrative about her return has been about her overcoming the attack to return to tennis. A very good storyline, in and of itself, but let us talk about some players that most folks have never heard of and who have had some horrific injuries in the past.
One of these is Petra Martic, a favourite of mine in years gone by. Martic suffered back injury after back injury. Today, for the first time in a long while, Martic made her way to the third round of Wimbledon with a straight set victory over Denisa Allertova. It was a very good win against a very good player with lots of upward momentum. I for one am glad to see Petra doing so well.
On the flip side, most folks will be talking about Magdalina Rybarikova, the Slovak who today on Centre Court played truly exceptional tennis to take out the No. 3 seed and firm favourite to not only win the title but also to ascend to the WTA Penthouse, Karolina Pliskova. Rybarikova showed us why she was considered one of the Slovak Republic’s best chances to win big titles a long time ago. Her game filled with slices, and big hitting had Pliskova flustered. Her net game, which has always been an untouchable part of her game was on show today for the Centre Court crowd. There were points that had the fans in the stands oohing and aahing in amazement as she pulled off tough volleys against an opponent who first came to the attention of tennis fans via her doubles play with her twin sister.
Another player who I have always loved watch play and who has suffered from injuries is Zarina Diyas. Today she struggled in her match but in the end came out on top against a very game Arina Rodionova.
There is also Lesia Tsurenko. I don’t think I have ever seen Tsurenko and some part of her body is not wearing tape. It is as if she is patched up together by her team prior to taking the court. A hard worker Tsurenko is also beset by injuries. Shoulder, back, legs, thighs, stomach. Frankly every part of her body has worn tape at some point or another. Today she struggled in the heat but came out the winner. Finally, and not to be outdone there is Sorana Cirstea. Mostly known as Ana Ivanovic’s best friend, Cirstea was the Romanian who many thought would either be a Slam champion or be ranked in the top 10. Unfortunately for her injuries and a lack of mental belief got in the way. In addition, an experiment with muscles torpedoed her career, but it is great to see her back and playing tennis again. Sorana you have been missed.
From the women above Rybarikova, Tsurenko, Martic and Diyas will be a quarterfinalist at this year’s Wimbledon tournament. This is one of the reasons why I absolutely love this sport. It takes a certain amount of belief in an athlete to believe that they can return to active competition after suffering in some cases career ending injuries.
I write this in the hope that folks out there who read this blog and who are fans of women’s tennis will take heart in Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ horrific knee injury today during her match against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea. It would seem as if Ms. Mattek-Sands’ knee has been displaced. If that is the case, then there is no doubt that she is going to require extensive surgery and rehab in order to return to playing tennis. I pray that she will indeed recover and return to the sport that she loves and which loves her.
I have found that doing recaps during Wimbledon is a complete non-starter especially on the women’s side. The matches are flying so fast and furious and there have been so many wonderful outcomes that it is hard to catch one’s breath let alone write about matches. Suffice it to say that today, Magdalena Rybarikova took to Centre Court and played one of the most beautiful matches I have ever witnessed against the No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova. It was throwback grass court tennis, mixed with a lot of power and flair. Both women had the Centre Court crowd on its feet during numerous points and the standing ovation after the match said it all.
All of this outpouring brings me to a very sore topic. The lack of WTA TV during Tour events. The women have been doing their part in generating maximum interest in their sport. At the Majors we have had storyline after storyline that has piqued the interests of fans who only tune in during the Majors. If fans and drive bys are inspired by someone like Jelena Ostapenko winning the French Open hitting winner after winner or perhaps seeing someone new (at least new to them) like Rybarikova playing such amazing tennis, surely these folks will want to see these players again and again. The WTA really needs to sort itself out. If not, Steve Simon will have to go.