If 100 people were asked to name the best female tennis player of recent years, I doubt many would name someone other than Serena Williams. The 35-year-old America is arguably the face of modern women’s tennis – and with good reason!
Her current haul of 39 Grand Slam titles – 23 singles, 14 women’s doubles and 2 mixed doubles – puts her third overall in the all-time list for women’s tennis and her 319 weeks as World number 1 in the WTA rankings over the course of her career puts her third on the list of women during the Open era. She is only 1 title away from equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam tournament singles titles – and you wouldn’t bet against her beating it! You have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a year where Serena failed to win a Grand Slam singles title and even further (2006) to find the last year she did not feature in a Grand Slam singles final!
However, Serena will not be winning any more titles this year as she announced in April that she would miss the remainder of the season as she begins the next greatest adventure in her life: motherhood.
I’m sure that many people will be worried that losing Serena for the best part of a year will be a big hindrance to women’s tennis. However, while I agree she will be missed, I think this could actually be great for the sport. This is nothing against Serena, but I feel that this could actually open up the competition and make it more exciting.
If we look at the last 10 Grand Slams Serena has competed in, she has 6 titles, 2 losses in the final and 2 losses in the semis. Over these same 10 tournaments, we had 9 different finalists (including Serena). In just the 2 Grand Slam finals since her break began, we have had 4 different Grand Slam finalists: Jelena Ostapenko and Simona Halep in the French Open and Garbine Muguruza and Venus Williams (Serena’s sister) at Wimbledon. Halep (2) is the only one of these finalists to be ranked in the top WTA World Rankings, despite Muguruza and Ostapenko having both won Grand Slams in the last 2 years. Muguruza’s opponent in her Wimbledon semi-final, Magdalena Rybarikova is currently down at number 87 in the WTA rankings. Clearly, there is strength in depth in the women’s game.
As great as this depth is, to have someone as dominant as Serena has been in recent years means that many casual fans may see the result as a foregone conclusion and decide not to pay so much attention. However with Serena out, this is the chance for other competitors to stake their place at the top of their rankings and in the later rounds of tournament. Suddenly the question goes from ‘How much will Serena win by?” to “Who will win?” and this can only be good for the sport. Girls will see that there are multiple playing styles all capable of earning a victory, so may result in more girls getting into the sport who would not have the power to emulate Serena’s style.
Age catches up with everyone eventually, so while the sport may be missing its superstar right now, this is the chance to create a number of new household names to propel women’t tennis forwards over the next decade.