Women To Watch During the 2014 Tennis Season
WITH the Tennis Grand Slam season about to get into full swing, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the female game before they grace the red clay of Roland Garros for the French Open and the recently expanded grounds at the All England Club, which hosts Wimbledon. Tennis has transitioned from being a game of finesse to one of ferocious speed and power in contemporary times. As the men’s game reaching an apex with the margin of difference between the ‘top four’ of Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray relatively miniscule, those who seldom follow the game of tennis are in danger of overlooking the heights women’s tennis has equally reached. Often undermined as feeble females whose groans are better than their games, we’ll take a look at the current form of a selection of the players to prove these women are as good a match as the men.
With Ana Ivanovic, the beauty queen of tennis, ending her seven-game losing streak with a comprehensive straight set victory over Maria Sharapova at the Rome Masters this week, the Serbian player appears to be back at her best. Ivanovic excels at the French, reaching the pinnacle of her career there with runner up position in 2007 and finally winning in 2008 while her offensive baseline playing style will see her enter this year’s tournament with confidence to boot. Though she suffered a comprehensive hammering at the hands of the kingpin of the female game, Serena Williams, at the semi-final stage of the Rome Masters, Ivanovic is proving to be on form in the Open competitions once more, having reached Quarter final of this year’s Australian Open.
Maria Sharapova, the Russian starlet who made her name on an international level by winning the ladies singles title at Wimbledon at the humble age of 17, is probably best known for her on-court grunting. While Sharapova cites a preference for the faster-playing surfaces of hard and grass courts over clay, and likening herself to a ‘cow on ice’ owing to her inability to slide, her performances on clay throughout her professional career are not to be undermined. She has a winning rate of 81.8%, losing mainly to the mighty Serena Williams, with whom she shares a palpable rivalry. Maria’s unpredictable form, since an ongoing shoulder injury which forced her to withdraw from much of the WTA tour since 2007, only to return to the top ten in 2011, continues to haunt her. Plaguing her again last season and visibly affecting the accuracy of her serve – the catalyst for her entire game – Sharapova is in danger of becoming better known for her off-court romances and fashion credentials rather than her indisputable tennis talent. Although she crashed out of the Rome Masters this week at the hands of Ana Ivanovic, it can be argued that clay is fast becoming Sharapova’s best surface on which she has won 8 of her last 10 titles, setting her up nicely for an impressive run at the French Open, with the hope of re-claiming the title she won there in 2012.
Favouring the back-hand shot and hard-surfaced courts doesn’t stop Victoria Azarenka out-rivaling her opponents on the slower surfaces. A troubling foot injury means that Azarenka hasn’t been seen in full flight since she stepped out in Indian Wells in March, choosing to miss the warm up tournaments at Madrid and Rome which puts into question whether she’ll appear at the French Open. Currently seeded number four in the world, the Belarussian has two Australian grand-slams singles titles in her back-pocket, yet her resounding results in the French Open doubles competitions is sure to stand to her in her quest towards being crowned champion in Paris. Azarenka was among some of the biggest names who slid out of last year’s Wimbledon astonishingly early and is sure to seek revenge this year over the lesser-known players at whose hands she lost.
24-year-old Czech, Petra Kvitová is known for staying close to the bass-line, which in turn allows her to craft sharp angles and powerful left-hand shots resulting in clean winners. However, she has been somewhat disappointing since her surprising career highs of 2011. While on form in lesser tournaments, Kvitová has failed to match the magic she produced to overcome the muscle of Sharapova and Azarenka back in 2011 when she made a breakthrough from unknown, winning both the Wimbledon championships and WTA Tour singles title in any of the four majors. 2014 has been a difficult tour for Kvitová, haunted by a series of heavy losses in straight sets along with a respiratory illness that forced her to withdraw from this year’s Fed Cup tournament. Perhaps Kvitová can build on the hurt of last year’s nail-biting defeat in the Wimbledon final to current champion Marion Bartoli to reign supreme once more.
Dominating since her arrival on the WTA tour, winning a remarkable 17 grand slams, Serena Williams continues to reigns supreme as 2014’s highest ranked-player. Known to send her opponents crashing out of court in heavy straight defeats unable to control the force of her first serve nor her potent return of serve, the American’s game is just as robust as her male counterparts. Though Serena lost her chances of retaining the Venus rosewater dish at her favourite major, Wimbledon, given that she was sensationally knocked out in the third round of last year’s championships, it’s very difficult to look past her as the bookie’s favourite. The different surfaces don’t seem to faze her, proving victorious at each of the four majors on numerous occasions owing to her insatiable desire to win. Williams continues on a winning streak once again this year with strong chances of defending her title at Rome, a pretournament which will set her up nicely to defend her title at the French Open. While her sister Venus’ prowess on the singles tour has faded into the background somewhat, Serena won’t be stopped until she proves herself to be the best the women’s game has ever seen.
So if you haven’t sourced the much-coveted tickets for upcoming opens, settle yourself in front of the television and pour yourself a glass of Pimms on the rocks, enjoy a bowl of strawberries and cream, pick up a friendship bracelet from the Links of London Wimbledon Collection and enjoy the extremes these tennis aces will take you through as the tennis season takes off!
Photos c/o businessinsider.com, allsportsplayers.blogspot.com, theapricity.com, independent.com.mt, npr.org