October 30, 2010 -- What if the women's tour had pizzazz? A locked up four-on-top quartet of players that enthralled the tennis world, the way the four big shots atop the men's tour captivate fans now and have for close to four years?
Remember the rivalry between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert? The battles between Monica Seles and Steffi Graf? That's what it would be like. Consistently flashy, vital, high-level tennis.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have played 21 times. Although their head-to-head is a lopsided 14-7, diehard tennis fans and fair-weather fans alike are drawn to their matches the way audiences have consistently devoured games between The Boston Red Sox and The New York Yankees.
People want to see if Federer, currently touted as the greatest player of all time (GOAT), can quiet those who withhold their undivided devotion until he defeats Nadal again... perhaps at The French Open or Wimbledon. Only then will the title be cast in stone, at least for now, until and perhaps, the Spaniard overtakes Federer's record of 16 major titles.
Expectations of exceptionally thrilling tennis surround their rivalry like no other on either the men's or women's tour, except that of, perhaps, Venus and Serena Williams. But when the sisters have confronted each other, the odd and uncomfortable sense of their familial relationship works its way inside our consciousness, thus disturbing the all-out entertainment value. People can't seem to watch them compete without an undercurrent of thoughts that could go something like... it must be so hard for them; they're sisters; what would we feel like out there?
Serena Williams and Venus Williams could have been the two finest examples of potential powerhouses in perpetuity for the WTA Tour and women's tennis in general. However, their lack of dedication and desire to play full schedules has robbed the sport, and fans, of the possibility of a dynamic, spirited and solid ranking chart weighed heavily at the tippy top. The last six years could've looked differently had these two women committed themselves to tennis.
The four semifinalists today in Doha are a fine example of a set of women that could change the tone and tenor of the women's game, if they could manage to stay on top. Wozniacki is #1, Zvonareva is #2, Clijsters is #4, and Stosur is #7 in the world, as the season ends.
Of those four only Clijsters is married. She told the Guardian she plans to stop playing tennis right after the Olympics in London, and try for a second child. And, indeed, a caveat of women's tennis is the child question. Elena Dementieva told the press yesterday that if she were a man she'd continue to play. But she knows she also wants a family and can't deny the aging process plus the tug from her boyfriend Maxim Afinogenov.
In some ways it's still a man's world.
Of the elite eight on hand here Caroline Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva, Samantha Stosur and Victoria Azarenka are four probable locks for what could be a quartet of rivalries.
Wozniacki is 20. She defeated Vera Zvonareva today in the second semifinal 75 60, in a semifinal rematch from the U. S. Open. The Dane demonstrated the mental toughness of a champion, steadying herself in the first to extinguish one set point from the Russian. Wozniacki then used her momentum to roll in the second set.
Same thing with the Clijsters and Stosur semifinal. Stosur held set point in the first, but Kim reversed the tide, got to a tiebreak, and won the last five points of it. She road her wave of momentum in the second, just like Wozniacki. Clijsters swung out, breaking Stosur in the first game. The pressure to get back in the match messed with Stosur's head and, eventually, her hands. The unforced errors piled up like snow in a blizzard.
Kim Clijsters was the most intuitive woman on court today. In the second set her intuition played a key role. She sensed the tone and tempo of a point with the refinement of an athletic artist. At moments she didn't think. When a shot whizzed toward her, she naturally caught it early, thereby changing the rhythm of the rally and undermining Stosur's keenest skills to keep the ball in play.
Wozniacki, in the second, harnessed her annoyance of the roller coaster ride of the first set. You get the feeling that she likes things to go her way all the time, from the moment the first ball is struck until she smiles at her Dad Coach after she's won the last point.
So in the second she did that. Her face reflected an aggressive mindset, that of a champion. She took risks, coming forward more and ending points sooner.
Wozniacki has the heart and mind of a champion. She is young and skilled. Her intuition improves each match she plays. Her athleticism, which measures up to that of Clijster's, will ease her struggles to intuitively know how to handle situations that might have baffled her in the past. She will win a major. She could defeat Clijsters tomorrow in the final, which would be a sweet reversal of her loss to Kim in the 2009 U. S. Open.
In years to come look to Wozniacki, Stosur, Zvonareva, Victoria Azarenka, Shahar Peer, and perhaps Ana Ivanovic, for their collective competitive edges and desires to rise in the rankings and perhaps transform the women's game into something more than a punching bag and comparative tool that makes men's tennis seem a million worthy.
Imagine a combined tournament, like Indian Wells or Miami or any of the four majors, where the press scrambles to cover women's matches, not men's. Where the seats for the women's matches are filled up with cheering fans of both genders, and the men's match fans are spotty.
It could happen. That would be a world of women's tennis with pizzazz.