27 July, 2010

Searching For A Winner

In the late 1990s, the WTA Tour was stronger than ever, and frankly as strong as the men’s tour. Women’s tennis had survived the retirements of standard bearers Evert & Navratilova and was prospering with a roster of current and future legends.  Steffi Graf, the Grande Dame, was the indomitable champion still showing flashes of her golden youth.  Monica Seles, the wounded warrior princess, was back and, sterling credentials aside, the sentimental favorite everywhere she played.  Martina Hingis’ tactical brilliance, Lindsay Davenport’s textbook perfect ground game and the awe-inspiring power of the Williams sisters were all in ascendance ensuring the WTA Tour would continue its upward trajectory.

In that golden decade for the WTA, five women, all current or future Hall of Famers, ascended to the No. 1 ranking: Graf, Seles, 4-time major champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Hingis and Davenport.  Since, ten women have held that post including two who have never won a major.  Apparently, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Where Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have dominated the ATP tour of late, winning an unprecedented 21 of the last 24 majors; the women have been dominated only by uncertainty.

Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of our generation.

Serena Williams is the case-closed best player of our time, a 13-time major champion and frankly an exception to this conversation. One day soon though, Serena isn’t going to walk through that door.  If you’re not a major event, you might even say that day has already come.  What’s the future for the WTA when the 13 time major champion hangs up her racquet for good?

20 July, 2010

The Summer of Rafa II: The Reckoning

Rafael Nadal

I grew up a tennis fan in the ’80s and ’90s in a house without cable. In the noband (pre-internet) era, that meant generally the first image of professional tennis I’d see in a given year was from the Martian-esque red clay of Roland Garros (aka The French Open). While the fine print boxscores in the daily newspaper told a different story entirely, for this fan, the real tennis season effectively commenced at Roland Garros and ended with the US Open.

The whole truth is, the real season included, the ATP tour runs from January until Thanksgiving, from Adelaide to Zagreb on hardcourts, fast and slow, red clay, grass and indoors. The 2010 campaign only halfway in the record books, Rafael Nadal has played in Qatar, Australia, Palm Springs, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, Paris and twice in London. He spends his downtime in Mallorca (just try getting a direct flight to Manacor) and he’s expected in Toronto week after next.

The frank reality is that for all the globe-trotting, the tennis season hinges on a relatively short European jaunt stretching from mid-April to mid-July from Monte Carlo to Southwest London.