Monday, 7 September 2009

Safina and Womens tennis need to get real!

Slumped in her chair, with a look of thunder on her face, Dinara Safina the official number 1 player in the world seemed like a broken woman. Dumped out of the 2009 US Open by the world number 70 Petra Kvitova, Safina was sat in the post match press conference trying to explain why she had once again failed at a Grand Slam event.

The reasons she gave were; fatigue, a last minute court change, and a lack of consistency and tactical awareness on her part. She also bitterly complained that even though she is the Number 1 Player in the world, she had to make way for two men to play on the main Arthur Ashe court, and that the tournament had disrespected her. It was this comment that sent nickssportrant into a frenzy of teeth grinding and mock laughter. The Tournament Director's job at the US Open is to provide the fans with the matches they want, so as to give them value for money. It therefore doesn't look good for women's tennis when two merely average male players attract a greater interest than the worlds best female tennis player. I know James Blake (One of the male players) is hugely popular in his home country. He would not have moved Roger Federer from the Main court though.

Unfortunately the existence of Roger Federer on the men's side of the sport highlights the greatest problem facing the women's side. The women don't know who is number 1. In fact the last true Women's number 1 was Justine Henin and when she abruptly retired a huge void was left that no one has been able to fill. Dinara Safina is not the best player on the planet, she simply plays more tournaments than everyone else and therefore gets the most ranking points. This is why she is complaining of fatigue. In my opinion Serena Williams is the best player in the world but she only turns up for the 8 Grand Slam weeks of the year. The rest of the time, as can be seen on her website, she is promoting her own range of lip balm or writing a book or opening a school in Africa. All these things are great but she has the rest of her life to do them, why not build her tennis legacy first?

What I am getting at here is that compared to the men, the women are no where near as dedicated to the sport and this shows in its popularity. The most popular woman in the game is still Maria Sharapova but only due to her fashion appeal amongst the Desperate Housewife set.

What needs to change then? First of all women need to earn the equal prize money they now receive at the Grand Slams. There is no reason why a female athlete cannot compete for five sets like a man. If this was made standard at all the Grand Slam events it would force players like Serena Williams to play more in order to stay match fit. It would also give fans value for money and promote women's tennis more, both live, and on TV.

Even if this idea was enforced by the ATP the women still need to up their game in general. Too many players seem to hit the top of the game quickly only to disappear into obscurity even quicker. Just look at Kim Clijsters (Now back playing having retired aged 24) or Amelie Mauresmo. This years US Open has been the worst in quality on the womens side that I can remember watching. Unforced error counts are climbing into the 80's, which for a three set match is terrible.

There is though a shining light at this years US Open in the shape of young 17 year old American Melanie Oudin. She beat Maria Sharapova in the third round having already beaten the 4th seed Elena Dementieva. Hopefully other young players will come through to push the sport forward and put an end to the talent laden and yet lazy current crop of top players. Until then sit back and watch the men.

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