State of The Women's Game - As Venus Exits
August 18, 2009 -- Martina Navratilova believes that comparing the men's
and women's games isn't necessary.
"When Chris [Evert] and I were dominating people [said], oh, yeah, it's
always Chris and Martina in the finals," Navratilova said. "It's like we
always knew who's going to be there. Whereas with men, they had so much
depth; you never knew who was going to win."
Fast-forward to today's tennis scene and the tables have turned. "Now you
have Nadal and Federer winning everything for five years," Navratilova
continued. "And the women have been going back and forth, with different
Navratilova's point -- "You can't have it both ways. I find this double
standard really annoying." From the tennis legend's perspective there is
the men's game, and there is the women's game. Why compare?
Without a comparison Navratilova assumption that women's tennis is in
great shape makes sense. The intrigue and anticipation of match outcomes
draws spectators and brings out the best in players' competitive natures.
Couple that with her belief that the game is impossible to master, and the
mix is complete.
"Billie Jean King said she's never seen the ball come over the net the
same way twice," Navratilova said. "I'm still learning and I'm enjoying
watching the women and the men battle it out."
Stacey Allaster, the newly appointed Chairman and CEO of the WTA, agreed
with Martina Navratilova -- the women's game is in good shape. However, she
spoke prominently today at the all-media press conference about the
combined tournaments in Cincinnati and Canada that are scheduled to debut
"The [tennis] business really thrives when men and women are combined,"
Allaster said. "It's a winning situation for Tennis Canada, too. You guys
[the media] are going to virtually combine the events in the same week."
Having, let's say, the men at the Uniprix Stadium in Montreal and the
women at the Rexall Centre in Toronto does sound as if women's tennis is
doing well. However, another perspective could easily say that the
combination of tours is a telltale sign that women's tennis isn't faring
well, even if ticket sails are up at recent WTA events.
Last week during the semifinal match of the Western Southern Financial
Group Open in Cincinnati, the stands were almost empty as Dinara Safina
flattened Flavia Pennetta in a lopsided win of 6/2 6/0. The match was rife
with errors and breaks of serve. It was bad tennis. The fans were quiet,
obviously hot from high temperatures and perhaps stunned at the weakness
of the tennis they witnessed.
During the same time frame, the men at Rogers Cup Montreal rocked the
fans. Stands were full. People were on their feet, cheering as if it was a
Davis Cup tie. And temperatures were just as hot and steamy as ones in
The visual contrast between the two tournaments was jaw dropping.
"Certainly empty seats is not what we want to be showcasing," Allaster
said. "Cincinnati had a record ticket sales last week last. One of the
challenges that we have in tennis is that we've sold all of our lower bowl
seats to the corporate. So that is an issue that we have that some of our
prime television seats are sitting empty sometimes because the corporates
are either there and they're in the suites or it's daytime and they're not
But selling more tickets doesn't necessarily mean people sit in those
seats. They weren't in Cincinnati. And if the corporations have the lower
seats locked up and the suites full of friends and family, then maybe they
should donate tickets to and fill the seats with people less fortunate.
With the return of Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova, the women's game
adds again to its intrigue. Both are Grand Slam champions; and, Clijsters
won the Rogers Cup in 2005. Both are hungry to make an impression and get
in top shape for the U. S. Open.
"I think it's wonderful to have Kim back," Monica Seles said last night
before her exhibition match. "I think it's great always when you have past
Grand Slam champions come back to the game She's still very young, and I
think we're all rooting for her to make some great results."
Sharapova took one more positive step on her climb up the rankings last
night as she began her comeback campaign at Rogers Cup. She defeated Nadia
Petrova 63 64. It was Sharapova's third victory over Petrova this year.
Since her shoulder surgery and rehabilitation, Maria has struggled to
groove the most important stroke of the game -- her serve. Tonight, though,
she served 69% on first serves. Said another way -- she won close to seven
out of ten points when her first serve went in.
But if the women's game is in such great shape, then the WTA and Venus
Williams have a lot of explaining to do because the 29-year-old Williams
stunned fans today in her first match of Roger's Cup, losing to qualifier
Kateryna Bondarenko 16 74 64. She is the highest seeded player -- #3 -- to
crash out of the tournament.
She played in Toronto last when she was seventeen years old -- in 1997.
However, she has never won a match here either, having played tournaments
in 1995, 1997, and 2009.
Williams played a fierce first set, but as Bondarenko continued to keep
balls in play Williams's shots started to spray. Bondarenko successfully
closed the match when served at 5/4.
Asked when she thought she had lost the match, Venus said, "When we shook
hands at the net."
Ana Ivanovic's comeback from a sloppy first set today demonstrated the
tenacious nature of this French Open champion in her difficult match today
against qualifier Magdalena Rybarkova of Slovakia. But Ivanovic is far
from being the player of two years ago when she briefly was the number one
player in the world.
"I just was trying to play a little to safe, I think," Ivanovic said.
"She's a good player, and she was playing really aggressive and dominant."
She chased her ball toss, looking like Elena Dementieva who struggled for
years to put the ball in the right spot. Ivanovic's forehand -- her best
shot -- missed its mark. Her volleys hit the net. And her drop shots were
wide or short, which she had to use often since Rybarkova tried to catch
the Serbian off guard as she waited on the baseline for a deeply returned
However, one shot set Ivanovic on a smoother road when she cracked a
crosscourt forehand for a winner, evening the set at 2-games all in the
"Yeah, I think that was an important point, you know, to get the break
back," Ivanovic said. "Since that moment, I kind of got my momentum back,
and I started playing a lot better. That was exactly the kind of game I
should have played from the start."
Her momentum gathered speed, as she broke in the eighth game and went on
to win the second set.
She continued to improve every aspect of her game, in the final set,
breaking twice early. She solidified her confidence while the young
qualifier slowly unwound. It was her turn to double fault away games.
One of the strongest improvements in Ivanovic's match today was the number
of points she returned on second serves. She steadily pressed, going from
33% in the first set, to 71% in the second, and an impressive 83% in the
With the wind at her back Ivanovic hit an ace on her second serve in the
last game of the match. She had proved to herself that what she and her
coaches had practiced added to her game, once she put them in motion.
Ivanovic won the match 26 63 62. Her next opponent is another qualifier
Lucie Safarova. She advanced today, defeating Kaia Kanepi 64 76 (3).
Canada's last hope for a singles title at this Rogers Cup was dashed late
this afternoon when Alisa Kleybanova defeated Alekansdra Wozniak 64 64. It
was a topsy-turvy first set, complete with five breaks of serve. However
in the second, Kleybanova hit her targets with force, which pressured
"I tried everything," Wozniak said. "She controlled the match. It wasn't
my best today, but it was good to play at home."
Kim Clijsters drew fans in for the first evening match. Her opponent was
another qualifier Elena Baltacha of Great Britain. Clijsters whizzed
through the first set, using one break to her advantage. She was up
another break in the second set, too, but today qualifiers have had good
luck -- too bad for Kim.
Baltacha evened things with deep, penetrating groundstrokes and big
returns. It was Clijsters match to win or lose.
The returning Belgium used her serve to dig out from deficits. And, her
footwork hit high speeds as she rand down drop shots. With persistence and
a strong desire to win her opening match at Rogers Cup, Clijsters edged
ahead in the ninth game just in time to serve for the match. She won the
last game at love for a 63 64 victory.