A Grand New Era for Women's Tennis
by Paul J. Gibbs, 8 May 2012
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For those of us old enough to remember, the 1980's were the days of complete domination in women's tennis. From 1982 to 1986, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova won a whopping 18 out of 19 major titles. Only Hana Mandlikova intruded on Chris and Martina's perfect record.
The 1990's brought the Monica Seles and Steffi Graf show. From 1991 to 1993, they won all 12 Grand Slam titles. In 1995 and 1996, the same duo won 7 out of a possible 8. Martina Hingis appeared on the scene in 1997, winning 5 majors between then and 1999. The Williams sisters emerged next. Between them, Venus and Serena won a staggering 19 major titles through 2010.
Then the buck stopped. In 2010, the mature 29-year-old Italian, Francesca Schiavone, won her first major at the French Open. In 2011, 4 different women won the major titles. Kim Clijsters won the Australian at the age of 27. Li Na won the French at 29. Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon at 21. Samantha Stosur won the US Open at 27. In 2012, Victoria Azarenka won the Australian at 22. That makes each of the last four major titles won by first-time champions, all of them in their twenties, and two of them in their late twenties.
Let's compare this to the men's game. Since May of 2005, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic have won 27 out of the possible 28 Grand Slam titles (Juan Martin del Potro snuck in and won the 2009 US Open). As Stephen Tignor points out in his recent article in Tennis Magazine, after Djokovic won Wimbledon last summer, "he became the first man not named Federer or Nadal to be ranked No. 1 since Andy Roddick at the start of 2004."
Tennis analysts, critics, and fans alike point to the aforementioned men's statistics to claim the arrival of a "Golden Era" for men's tennis. They make the argument that men's tennis has risen to a new level of excellence with the utter domination of these three men. The Tennis Channel, in fact, just crowned Federer the best player in the history of tennis, male or female, a distinction with which I do not beg to differ.
A quick trip down memory lane, however, may adjust the critics' thinking. In previous decades, tennis experts mercilessly harpooned women's tennis for its predictability and, well, domination. Steffi Graf would win tournaments dropping no sets and very few games, all of which came in late rounds. Matches prior to the semifinals rarely made one hour in length. All of this made the women's game rather boring. I watched plenty of tennis back then, and I can personally attest to this. I watch a lot of tennis these days as well, and I can confirm the boring nature of the game today - the men's game - for the very same reason. I know who will win the major titles before the tournament even begins. Do I really have to state my prediction for who will win the men's French Open? Djokovic will win, but if not him then either Federer or Nadal. My prediction on who will win the women's French Open? I honestly have no idea.
I would like to raise the possibility that women's tennis has risen to new heights, and that men's tennis has seen better days. I do not intend to disparage the likes of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic; I enjoy watching these three masters play as much as anyone. However, men's tennis absolutely, unarguably lacks depth. Even long time fourth ranked player Andy Murray cannot win a major title, and it looks like he never will.