Grunting seems to be a hot topic in women’s tennis these days, but if there’s a word that describes women’s tennis better than ‘loud’, surely it’s ‘international’. It seems like players come from a wider range of countries than ever.
It’s no exception at this year’s Wimbledon, where the end of the first week means that only 16 of 128 women remain in the ladies’ singles draw. If you’ve been following women’s tennis, you probably guessed—correctly—that many of the remaining women are from the United States, Russia or Serbia—or have been asked about them. Their responses are often varied, ranging from the mildly amusing to the seriously informative and the absolutely zany.
The Russians aren’t coming—in the world of women’s tennis, they’re already here. Half of the women in the top 10 are Russian.
Serena Williams, World No. 2, isn’t likely intimidated though. For one thing she has more Grand Slam titles than all of them combined in a sport where that number is often used to quantify tennis greatness. Serena isn’t lonely either since she’s joined in the top 10 by her older sister Venus, who’s World No. 3. One thing Serena is, by her own admission, is confused.
“Everyone is from Russia,” she said. “Sometimes I think I’m from Russia too… All these new ‘ova’s—I don’t really recognize anyone.”
While you can’t always count on Serena to be gracious in a post-match interview, you can generally count on her to be newsworthy. Naturally journalists prodded her for more.
“So are you saying you came to Compton when you were seven years old from Russia?” one journalist asked.
Serena happily obliged: “I think I am, and I think my name must be ‘Williamsova’.”
When told about Serena’s statements, No. 4-ranked Elena Dementieva chuckled before giving her take on why the Russian army has invaded the top of women’s tennis: “We have a very tough competition, and that’s what makes us work hard and improve our game. I think it’s always good to have lots of girls practicing all together trying to be the best one. It always helps with the motivation.”
While it’s not surprising that four of the remaining 16 women in the singles draw are Russian, it’s shocking that three of them are American. People expect two—not more, not less. Few expect an American woman whose last name isn’t ‘Williams’ to make it to the second week of a Grand Slam.
Definitely not a 17-year-old who’s ranked No. 124 and who had to make her way through a qualifying tournament just to get to Wimbledon. Her name is Melanie Oudin, and she beat former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the third round. The big win made it to the MSN home page. (The headline was suitably dramatic—‘Stunner: Former No. 1 upset by teen at Wimbledon’.)
Tennis watchers aren’t the only ones who focus on the Williams sisters. Just ask Oudin. Recounting memories of watching her first Wimbledon on TV, she said, “When I started playing tennis, I saw Venus and Serena Williams playing here, and I was like, ‘Mom, I really, really want to play there one day.’”
Venus, for her part, called Oudin’s victory “super good news” and described Oudin as “super nice” and “very well-adjusted.”
That, however, isn’t why the French apparently tried to claim Oudin as one of their own.
“There’s a group of French journalists behind the Americans,” said one journalist. “They’re claiming you today. You have more a French name than American name.”
Oudin cleared things up: “My last name is French. But I’m totally American, for sure.”
The woman Oudin beat is from Serbia. Where women’s tennis is concerned, Serbia has probably gotten more attention than any other country the past few years. There are two reasons for this, and their names are Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.
Just about every article that goes into their background mentions that Ivanovic grew up playing tennis in an abandoned swimming pool during the time of the NATO bombings in the 1990s. (Why should this article be the exception?)
At Wimbledon last year they were the top two seeds. Recently both women have seen a decline in their rankings (and their confidence). Ivanovic, who beat Australian Sam Stosur to get to get to the fourth round, is ranked No. 12, and Jankovic, who lost to Oudin in the third round, is ranked No. 6.
Still there’s no denying their talent. Many believe—or at least hope—their rankings will improve and they’ll win more Grand Slams.
Either way they’ve put Serbia on the tennis map. Jankovic was asked why Serbia’s seeing its athletes succeed in various sports.
“I think we’re quite talented,” Jankovic said, laughing. Ever the entertainer, she continued, “I don’t know how to explain it. But we have… the talent in us. We have that… hunger. We are big fighters. We want to be the best that we can. We don’t really accept… second places.”
What about China? Seeing as how it’s the most populous nation in the world, shouldn’t it get some mention? Fret not—No. 14-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat two Chinese players in a row, has China covered.
After a competitive third-round victory over China’s Na Li, Radwanska said, “She’s very good player, so I didn’t expect it’s gonna be easy.” Using a broader brush to sketch out the rest of the explanation, she added, “Against Chinese is always very difficult.”
At Wimbledon, it was apparently easier this year than last. This year none of the Chinese women made it past the third round. Last year Jie Zheng surprised many—and perhaps herself most of all—by making it all the way to the semifinals (beating top-ranked Ivanovic along the way).