A changing women’s game

Published by Leigh Rogers

NOT BLACK AND WHITE: Early rounds are no longer simple in a stronger women's game according to Maria Sharapova; Getty Images
A lack of consistency at the top of the women’s game today can be easily explained according to two former top 10 players.

Four top 10 players lost in the first round of the China Open this week. More than half of the 16 seeded players lost before the third round.

The China Open, one of four WTA Premier Mandatory events on the calendar, is one of the highest-level tournaments outside the four Grand Slams. So what is going on?

According to former world No.1 Maria Sharapova it is simply a reflection of a changing, and stronger, women’s game. Currently ranked No.104, the Russian has discovered this the hard way in her comeback from a 15-month suspension.

“There’s a lot of depth in the game,” Sharapova noted after a three-set second round win at the China Open.

“By that I mean there’s maybe many years ago you’d find yourself working through the first rounds. You know you’re going to get through those first few rounds, it will be straight sets. You might be rusty, but you’ll get through it. You can’t think like that anymore. There’s too good of players playing the first, second, third, fourth rounds.”

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Andrea Petkovic agrees. The former world No.9 has slipped just outside the top 100 this season after a string of first round losses.

“I really think the quality has risen, I’ve been around for 10 years now so I’ve really seen the depth of women’s tennis change,” said the German, who reached the second round as a qualifier in Beijing.

“I feel like 10, 20 years ago you had a free pass say if you were a top 20 player for the first two, even three or four rounds, it wasn’t until you were getting to the other seeded players that it got tough. Now everyone is playing so well, it makes it more difficult to be consistent. It’s tougher for the top players to stay consistent and win Slams consistently.”

That has been reflected in the season results to date. Four players shared Grand Slam titles. Three different women won the Premier Mandatory events. That’s seven different women claiming the seven biggest tournaments played so far this season, three of which are currently ranked outside the world’s top 15.

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“This makes women’s tennis more exciting,” believes 30-year-old Petkovic.

“I’ve been enjoying women’s tennis so much in the past few years. For me personally, it’s really enjoyable to see the ‘oldies’ do so well. Seeing people like Svetlana Kuznetsova who struggled for a few years and now she’s back in the top 10 and above all, Venus Williams who is 37 and still does an amazing job and had her most consistent Grand Slam season this year. That all gives me hope.”

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