Wimbledon 2011: Why Venus and Serena Will Boost the Ratings
A few weeks prior to Wimbledon, a lot of people were wondering if the Williams sisters would even take part at SW19, let alone be considered title contenders.
Yet when the determination is there, you can never keep a Williams sister down, and you can definitely never rule them out.
For TV audiences it may seem to be perfect timing for a section of the sport that at this moment in time lacks a dominating presence.
Yet does the women's side of the game actually need the sisters to boost its ratings, or is their venture into the tournament just an occurrence that will inspire few extra people to take up the spectacle?
It is certain that no single player is taking a stranglehold of the women's game. Many have seen Caroline Wozniacki's No. 1 ranking without a Grand Slam title as something of a joke. Whilst this is a little unfair to a player who has performed consistently well on the tour, it echoes previous years, where various others like Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic seemed to acquire the position by accident before vacating it with a "dramatic" and unexpected loss to a lower-ranked opponent.
You can't help but feel that without the injuries and outside influences that arguably affected the Williams sisters' game, only they would have dominated the No. 1 position that is always a focal point of the sport.
But now we find ourselves in a position where recent French Open champion Li Na has exited the tournament. She follows in the footsteps of Jankovic in Round 1, who now looks a faded shadow of her former self.
The draw is wide open, and what's not to say either Williams sister will make the final?
Venus, more than Serena, has forced herself to be noticed in the minds of those contemplating title contenders. Her slow start against the inspirational 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm was countered by a second- and third-set performance that showed us just why her serve was feared for so many years. Her reactions didn't seem that off either, as she battled her way to an 8-6 win in the final set.
With the fixture being heralded as an early favourite for match of the tournament, and with various screams of "come on Venus" during the tie, it is evident that the presence of a Williams sister on centre court is a powerful weapon for anyone choosing to cover the event on TV.
Whilst Venus has burst back into our minds in glorious fashion, Serena has captured the hearts of many with her unexpected return to the court. Usually a gritty player with a stern attitude and cool composure, we have already seen tears from a player who, in her own words, was on her deathbed less than 12 months ago.
Although the defending champion, few expected her to defend successfully when bearing in mind her complete lack of recent competitive action, which began when she stepped on a piece of glass, resulting in further, almost disastrous, complications.
You couldn't help but feel the hairs stand on the back of your neck when her raw emotion shone through in the aftermath of her first-round win.
With both Williams sisters into the third round, you do expect that they may get stronger as the tournament progresses. This just may be the tonic that a women's game defined in recent years by multiple winners needs to boost its ratings and catch up with the big four on the men's side.
Other players have garnered recognition, especially German Sabine Lisicki, who will look to garner a deep journey into the competition. She actually reached the quarterfinals two years ago but struggled for form and injury-free play until saving two match points against Li Na and edging the second-round tie to a rapturous response from the watching crowd.
It was her service game that saved her in a mighty echo to the heroics of Venus and Serena in recent years.
In the UK, much will be made of the promise shown by Heather Watson before an elbow injury caused her to lose control of her first-round match. Yet with Laura Robson and Elena Baltacha also featuring in second-round ties on the fifth day, there could be a greater spotlight on home talent if either progresses into week two of the tournament.
Robson features against early title favourite Maria Sharapova, which, despite the massive gap in rankings, will provide a good perspective for a tennis neutral.
Sharapova herself is looking for a second title at SW19 and is gaining a lot of support and momentum in her quest.
The likes of Marion Bartoli and Vika Azarenka also look strong and could potentially bulldoze their way to the final rounds.
Yet whilst other focal points may be evidently varied amongst the most open field of challengers for many years, it will certainly be the Williams sisters who will achieve the greater attention if they progress further.
With only one final since 2000 not featuring either sister, history expects that Venus and Serena can overcome the odds and lack of experience in the last 12 months to edge into a further Grand Slam final.
It is a shame, therefore, in hindsight that they will not feature in the doubles tournament.
When you think that Venus Williams has won five titles with a lot of these from an outsider position, then you know what she is capable of overcoming.
For the fans, this may be a welcome result whilst it is in transition to find the next world No. 1 amongst its field of many talents.
There is no denying that this transformation to a point where we have such a strong field of players competing and not just acquiring high-ranking positions owes much to the dominance at the start of the century by Venus and Serena.
You must also consider that for both players, their time at the top of the game may be coming to an end. For you to say that you witnessed the final moments of two illustrious careers through your television set can become a spectacle in itself.
It is why thinking about a Wimbledon without Venus or Serena can at times be a daunting thought. But many others will follow in their footsteps. For now, though, the spotlight is on them.
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