Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber were somewhat muted, perhaps uncharacteristically so, around the subject of their Wimbledon Final starting nearly three hours late last month. Social media was not so tactful, with many commenters suggesting it was another ‘kick in the teeth’ for the women’s game.
Most of you will be aware the reasons why the Women’s Final was delayed at Wimbledon. The long, record-equaling men’s semi-finals had pushed everyone, even the fans, to the limit. The rules dictated that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal had to play to a conclusion on Centre Court. It wouldn’t be fair to the winner if they had to face the Final on Sunday if the game was concluded on the Saturday night after the Women’s Final.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation, and nobody could have foreseen just how long both those semi-finals would be, the rescheduling did serve to shine a spotlight on the perception of the women’s game once more. The question, one supposes, the schedulers must ask themselves is: would the Men’s Final have been delayed had the roles been reversed?
Individuals matter in tennis
There aren’t enough column inches to go into all the arguments for and against the value, or lack of, placed on women’s tennis at the moment, but there is certainly some way to go in terms of addressing the balance of coverage given to women.
However, in 2016 Tom Fordyce, the BBC’s chief sportswriter, pointed out something that is often overlooked when comparing the men’s and women’s games. Fordyce argued that neither is seen as superior, even in the fans’ eyes, but it is the individual players that matter. Would anyone, for example, value a fantasy match of Roger Federer vs Bjorn Borg over, say, Serena Williams vs Steffi Graf?
It’s easy forget that we are living in a golden era of men’s tennis, with at least three of the ‘Big 4’ regarded as among the best players in history. With all due respect to the players on the women’s tour, only Serena Williams can truly claim to be an all-time great. In fact, many believe Williams to be the greatest of all time, male of female, but that’s a moot point for our purposes here.
Williams favourite for 24th Grand Slam
Looking at the latest odds for the US Open at https://www.888sport.com, it’s both remarkable and a little disappointing that a 36-year-old woman, one who just gave birth last year, is the clear 5/2 favorite to win the tournament. Again, this is not meant in any way to be disrespectful, but it highlights the gulf between Serena and the rest. Of course, Kerber (8/1), Petra Kvitova (9/1) and Simona Halep (10/1) could win, but a lack of consistency over the years has meant that is no sure thing.
The lack of a rivalry at the very top has cost women’s tennis over the last decade, even fueling those who choose to undermine Williams’ incredible achievements. Rivalries are what put people in the seats at the stadiums, make them switch on the television sets. And, perhaps with the exception of Maria Sharapova at intermittent periods, Williams and women’s tennis has lacked that.
The good news for fans of the game is that there are a number of young players coming through: Jelena Ostapenko, Madison Keys, Daria Kasatkina, Elise Mertens, Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka are all capable of creating something special. Let’s hope a number of them can give us the rivalries women’s tennis needs.