For the first time since the 1979 Australian Open, we are going into the second week of a Grand Slam tournament without a former major champion in the field. With Muguruza, Kuznetsova, Stosur and Venus Williams all bidding adieu to the French Open on day eight, the women’s draw is now without a player who knows what it takes to win one of the majors.
The contrast with the situation in the men’s draw at Roland Garros could not be starker.
Rafael Nadal, already boasting 14 majors (nine in Paris), is the presumptive champion, with Novak Djokovic (and his 12 Slam titles) his likely semifinal opponent. On the other side of the draw Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka (three majors apiece) seem destined to be part of Sunday’s title match. In short, it is likely to be a familiar cast of characters competing for Roland Garros silverware.
Critics of the WTA will use this contrast to lament the lack of consistency in women’s tennis. They will point out that without the ‘star’ power of Serena, Venus or Maria in the draw there is little to inspire the fans in week two of Roland Garros. They may even suggest that a women’s final without one of the game’s ‘big’ names demeans a major final.
Rubbish. Instead of bemoaning this unpredictability, we should be celebrating it.
Of course, we all want our heroes to succeed. As much as the tennis world willed Roger Federer to an 18th major in Melbourne, they will be hoping that Rafa Nadal captures a tenth title in Roland Garros. But at some point new stars have to emerge. And while ardent fans of men’s tennis will look to the #NextGen as future ambassadors in their sport, players like Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios are yet to make a meaningful impact on the Grand Slam stage – the only one that matters in the mainstream sporting consciousness.
This week, though, women’s tennis has a very real chance of doing just that; of introducing a new and exciting name to not just the tennis community, but to the entire sporting world.
And the remaining contenders are not ‘flash in the pan’ stars.
Players like Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Kristina Mladenovic and Simona Halep are legitimate champions. Halep and Pliskova, at 25 the oldest of the four, are both former Slam finalists who have secured ‘big’ titles on the WTA this year. Svitolina has won four WTA titles this season, more than any of her counterparts in the men’s game. Meanwhile Mladenovic, who is fast becoming the darling of the Roland Garros (and social media) crowd, won her maiden title early this year and has since competed in three ‘big’ WTA finals.
Then, of course, there is resurgent ‘veteran’ Caroline Wozniacki (who is still only 26 years-old). The Dane, who spent 67 weeks as world No.1 and has competed in two Slam finals, would dearly love a major title to ‘legitimise’ her place at the top of the tree in the eyes of many of her doubters.
In short, the women’s draw may be unpredictable, but it is packed with players more than worthy of lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in Saturday’s final.
Sport is meant to be unpredictable – that is why we watch it. Of course, it needs star power to attract interest and sell tickets. But while some stars burst on to the scene others take time to develop.
During this second week of Roland Garros there’s every chance that we are witnessing the start of a brave new era for women’s tennis. An era of unpredictability, but also profound opportunity. An era where youth triumphs over experience. And an era in which we might finally be witnessing a changing of the WTA guard.
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