Women's tennis

I've been following the WTA Championship in Doha this week, as I've been home from work due to a cold. While watching the matches I've contemplated the state of the women's tennis tour. I can't shake the feeling that the level of play could be a lot higher.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching women's tennis and I'm very much impressed by many of the top players. But there are a couple of factors that indicate that there is room for quite a bit of improvement.

First of all, consider the come-backs of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. I find it remarkable how well they could compete with the other women after having been away from professional tennis play. Henin reached the final in Australian Open, her 2nd tournament after her comeback. Clijsters won the US Open in her 3rd tournament after comeback. Those are of course remarkable feats, and shows just how good these two players are. But I also think it says something about the competition. In a more competitive tour, like say the men's tennis tours, such dramatic comebacks would be impossible. Reaching the absolute top again in such a short time shouldn't be possible.

Another indication that the level of play is not what it could be is to consider the current world no. 1. I should start by saying that I really like Caroline Wozniacki and have followed her for a few years. But still, I'm not sure she belongs as the world no. 1. I think is says a lot about the tour when the highest ranked player almost completely lacks offensive weapons. Wozniacki's strength is in her defensive play, the fact that she somehow always manages to return the ball. However, tennis is a very aggressive and offensive sport and I think there is plenty of room to improve the offensive play to the level where a player with a game like Wozniacki wouldn't be able to keep up with the pace. Or at least not be the highest ranked player.

Speaking of player ranked as no. 1, there's been a few, including the present one, which haven't won a single Grand Slam. Before Wozniacki, both Safina and Jankovic topped the ranking without having clinched any of the four greatest titles. Maybe I'm being silly here. After all, these players won their ranking points fair and square in other tournaments and collected more points than any other. But I can't help feeling rather unsatisfied by players ranked as no. 1 without a Grand Slam victory. One reason might be that the women's Grand Slam doesn't stand out the same way it does for men. On the men's side the matches are played best of five, which makes these tournaments uniquely tough. For the women, the Grand Slams are certainly something special but they are still played using the same format. I'm not sure whether that counts in favor for the top ranked players without Grand Slam trophies at home, or not. But I still think Grand Slams and the highest rank go hand in hand.

There's no doubt that women's tennis have improved quite a bit over the last decades. In recent years we've seen for instance the Williams sisters developing the game and pushing it to new levels. I hope to see more players stepping and pushing themselves to the point where they set new standards for the game. One example from another sport that comes to mind is Annika Sörenstam, who transformed women's golf.

Lately I've been quite impressed with the way Samantha Stosur is playing. I really enjoy her game when she can keep it together and the strong serve and forehand she has feel like the future of tennis. I sure hope she can improve the other parts of her game to become a more complete player and also become stronger mentally. Then I think she could really push the limits of women's tennis.

I want to end with a thought that is plenty politically incorrect. I've just read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a fabulous book talking about successful people and the many reasons for their success. A central theme in the book is that some people get a special advantage from an early point in life. This advantage accumulates over the years to make them superior to their peers. One particularly interesting example from the book is hockey players in the NHL which turns out to be much more likely to be born in the first quarter of the year than any other quarter. It's a very interesting story which I will not retell here, I recommend the book instead.

When watching the top players on the WTA tour I can't help noticing that many of them are quite beautiful. Uncommonly so. How come that such a large fraction of female players have such good looks? Well, following the logic from Outliers, I would suggest that there is quite a bit of sexism among tennis trainers. It would seem like the prettier girls get the better training. This gives them an early advantage that will make them more likely to become top stars. Of course, this is just speculation on my part. But if it's true, it would be possible to improve the level of women's tennis by focusing solely on tennis talent and ignore the looks when it comes to training girls.

Aside from these rather inappropriate musings I'm really looking forward to seeing the WTA tour improve and reach new levels of play.