We Need More Exciting Tennis

This teaser on the front page of the New York Times tells the story of the current state of women’s tennis:

The winner of the French Open was a woman who gave up the sport a few years ago and is currently ranked #8. The runner-up was a woman ranked #38. Aside from Barty, none of the top twenty seeds even made it to the semifinals.

Serena Williams is 37 and still recovering from childbirth. She’s not playing at the heights she used to and is obviously nearing the end of her career. But no one seems to want to take her place. Here are the winners of the women’s slam titles since 2017:

  • Serena Williams
  • Jeļena Ostapenko
  • Garbiñe Muguruza
  • Sloane Stephens
  • Caroline Wozniacki
  • Simona Halep
  • Angelique Kerber
  • Naomi Osaka
  • Naomi Osaka
  • Ashleigh Barty

Naomi Osaka has won twice, and that’s it. She lost in this year’s French Open in the third round. No other woman has won multiple majors since 2017, and even if you go back to 2013 you’ll find only two more aside from Williams (Kerber and Muguruza). It’s not clear if nobody has the talent, or if nobody has the will, but either way there’s nobody who seems like even a remote candidate for future induction into the Hall of Fame.

In a way, I suppose this isn’t surprising. In tennis generally, but especially on the women’s side, everyone plays the exact same game: a big, baseline, power game. There are still a few serve-and-volleyers among the men, but not the women. Nor does anyone play the angles or try to win on consistency or cunning. They just pound the ball from the backcourt, and it’s hard to put together a string of victories when you’re playing the same game as all your competitors. Williams did it by being a better pure athlete than anyone else, but people like that don’t come along very often.

I know that not everyone agrees about this, but it feels to me as if women’s tennis has become sort of gray and monotonous. There’s no clash of styles and no one who seems able to win more than a major or two. It’s kind of dull these days.

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