2011 WTA: Without Venus, Serena and Justine, Women's Tennis Has Lost Its Sizzle
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The 2011 WTA tour is only five and a half months old and already few are tuning in to watch. Without Venus, Serena and Justine Henin, there is neither a front-runner nor a rivalry worthy of attention. The 2011 French Open women's final had one-third less viewers than the men's final. The 2011 Australian Open women's final was down even more viewers than the French Open women's final, per May's Nielsen ratings.
Venus and Serena Williams took the tennis world by storm when they turned up on the WTA tour—1994 for Venus and 1995 for Serena. Venus was the tallest woman on tour and approached the game with more power, which had not been seen since Martina Navratilova. Never before had the game been so physical. Venus currently holds the record for the fastest recorded serve at 125 mph. Serena hit the tour with a fierce determination, which she still attributes to her continued success. The Williams sisters put the U.S. back on the map in women's tennis.
When Justine Henin turned pro in 1999, she was the first real competition for the Williams sisters. Justine was the shortest player on the WTA tour, and the only one with a one-handed backhand. Justine not only played with power—hers was a game of strategy. Justine could read the court and her opponent and knew precisely where to place the ball. She also played every point as if it were match point. Justine was the first player that could consistently play at the Williams sisters level and win. It was a three-way rivalry worthy of a worldwide audience.
Since Justine retired last year—due to an elbow injury she received at the 2010 Wimbledon—and Venus and Serena nursing injuries from the last year, there has not been any player who has stepped up and captured the spotlight. Maria Sharapova has failed to deliver in the last two years, dropping in the rankings. Caroline Wozniacki has yet to win a Grand Slam while maintaining the No. 1 ranking. Kim Clijsters has done well since returning, however she is only playing the Grand Slams and bigger tournaments. It's hard to have a good rivalry when you aren't playing much. Kim's game has also become inconsistent due to that lack of play.
Looking at the rest of the top 10 players on the WTA tour, it is filled with drama, mental lapses and such disjointed play that it is hard to get behind any one player. If the WTA hopes to regain their viewership, some changes need to be made, and the players need to step up, toughen up and give the fans their money's worth. Tennis is about more than just showing up for a payday. It is about grit, desire, form and guts. Venus and Serena's return to tennis at Wimbledon will be just the ticket the WTA needs to get its sizzle back.
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