Player moves are creating some significant talking points in the tennis world – Victoria Azarenka is returning (soon), Roger Federer is departing (for a time) and Eugenie Bouchard is detouring to ITF events.
Our panel of Vivienne Christie (Australian Tennis Magazine editor), Leigh Rogers (writer) and Joel Smith (social media expert) discuss the contrasting courses of those superstars …
How will Victoria Azarenka’s return shake up the women’s game?
Vivienne Christie: In the best possible way. Serena Williams is arguably a part-time player now, Angelique Kerber is struggling to meet expectations and Maria Sharapova’s return looms with many unknowns. The women’s game is desperate for a consistent performer – as a multiple Grand Slam champ and long-time world No.1, Vika will almost certainly deliver. Even better that her return will occur on American hard court, where the natural entertainer has won a string of titles and twice been runner-up at the US Open.
Leigh Rogers: Vika’s return is exactly what the WTA Tour needs. She’s a high-profile champion who I believe will quickly return to the top echelon of the game. It is going to be exciting to see how long it takes her – could we see another Kim Clijsters-like US Open title run? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Joel Smith: Victoria Azarenka returning to the women’s game after 12 months is a scary prospect. Having won 20 career singles titles at the age of 28 including two Australian Opens, there’s no reason why Azarenka can’t enjoy further success. With the current instability of the women’s circuit, Vika should be extremely confident she can rise up the rankings again.
Has Roger Federer made a smart move to take a break during the clay season?
VC: Like practically every move Roger Federer has made lately, it’s a masterstroke. Despite his French Open win in 2009, clay has never been Federer’s best surface – and it’s also the one that’s most physically demanding. Far better to think further ahead to the grass and hard court seasons, where the reigning Australian Open champion has a realistic hope of adding further Slams at Wimbledon or the US Open. You could argue that the fans are missing out when Federer isn’t competing – but most would also agree that with his dominance now spanning multiple tennis generations, Federer has already exceeded the most far-fetched expectations.
LR: Without doubt. There’s a lot of talk about a possible return to No.1 but Federer knows he doesn’t need to play for that. He is already a champion and winning more Grand Slams is what will enhance his legacy. Resting ahead of the grass season is smart, with his current form he is going to enter that swing as a legitimate Wimbledon contender. Why should he wear his 35-year-old body out on his least favourite surface? A Wimbledon title would mean so much more than one in Rome or Madrid.
JS: As much as I and the rest of the world love watching Roger Federer play, this is an extremely smart move for the Fed Express. Albeit successful, it’s been a chaotic month for the 35-year-old, winning both Indian Wells and Miami. The break from the clay season will allow Federer to do all that he can to prepare for his most beloved Grand Slam: Wimbledon. And let’s be honest, if there was one place that Federer so dearly wants to lift a trophy for the eighth time; it’s at the All England Club.
Eugenie Bouchard is returning to the ITF circuit for the first time in almost four years. Should we be worried?
VC: No – the exact opposite is true. The back to basics approach shows Genie is a far more committed and gritty competitor than we might have credited. Lower level tournaments are a perfect place to rebuild momentum and it’s refreshing to know that the former No.5 has the humility to work on the deficiencies that led to her current dip. The one concern at the Florida event, where Madison Brengle, Taylor Townsend and Ajla Tomljanovic are also entered, is whether an early loss could lead to a further crisis in confidence.
LR: I believe it is more encouraging than worrying. The fact that she’s recognised she needs match play, and isn’t too proud to step down to the secondary ITF circuit to get it, shows that Genie is actually taking her tennis career seriously. It is refreshing to see her not just making excuses.
JS: As it currently stands, Genie’s main wish is simply a competitive match win. Having not won since the second round of the Australian Open, returning to the ITF circuit allows Bouchard to hopefully find some self-belief to continue in a winning manner against the top players in the world. Having played competitive tennis myself for 10 years, it’s hard to find motivation to battle the best week in, week out. The feeling of winning – should Bouchard produce some ITF victories – automatically lays the foundation for a mental state of “I can beat anyone!”
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