Why the ongoing absence of Serena Williams is beneficial to women's tennis

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Why the ongoing absence of Serena Williams is beneficial to women's tennis

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Rohit George

07/05/2017

While there is no denying the fact that Serena Williams has been missed ever since her Australian Open triumph this year, her absence may just bring back the competitive edge to tennis, owing to her dominance. Moreover, this might also give us our first glimpse of the post-Serena era.

In every sport, in every generation, there exists a player who exerts utter dominance over the game. In women’s tennis, Serena Williams is a prime example of this kind of supremacy over her counterparts. Over the past few years, Williams has proved that she is the undisputed queen of tennis and perhaps the greatest player of her generation, if not the greatest of all time. As far as the reasons for Serena’s success is concerned, they can be seen as ranging from the fact that she has tasted success on all three surfaces and also that she has redefined the way women’s tennis has been played, with her power hitting style and unerring service game.

In Grand Slams since 2015, the 35-year-old boasts an enviable 57-4 win-loss record. Since the beginning of 2015 and until this year’s Australian Open, Williams has won five of the last nine majors she has participated in and made it to the semi-finals on each occasion. And Serena is aware of this reputation, as speaking on Ted Talks in Vancouver she said, "Every tournament where I show up, I'm expected to win. If I don't win, it's actually bigger news.”

Now, there are two perspectives from where this phenomenon can be perceived. On one hand, it speaks volumes of the kind of player Williams is, but on the other hand, it also shows that none of Serena’s counterparts have been able to hold a candle to her abilities. Even though this is undoubtedly a testament to Williams’ calibre as a player, it does not read well for women’s tennis on the whole. For as commendable as Williams’ win-loss ratio since 2015 has been, it has also resulted in most of the competitions she has participated in being forgone conclusions.

In other words, in all the major tournaments Williams has participated in over the last two years, not only has she been a favourite to reach the business end of the events, her performances have actually vindicated that tag. Further, this was the also the case at this year’s Australian Open, when she was billed as the favourite and she did complete justice to that tag as she bagged her 23rd Grand Slam at Melbourne Park, without dropping a set, after thrashing her older sister Venus Williams in the final.

But what makes Williams’ latest Grand Slam win even more commendable is the fact that she managed to win it in the initial weeks of her pregnancy. However, since then she has taken a sabbatical from the game, for the rest of the year. While there is no denying that Williams’ inimitable presence has certainly been missed on tour since the Australian Open, her absence also presents her counterparts a chance to prove their mettle.

More importantly, as far as the game of tennis itself is concerned, the American’s absence creates a level-playing field between the rest of the competitors until her return. Moreover, this is a point that has been seconded by some of her counterparts themselves. For instance, 2016 French Open Champion, Garbine Muguruza, when asked about the consequences of Williams’ absence from this year’s tournament said, “I think it makes a difference, because if you look at the paper, Serena is always in the final. So, for sure, it makes a difference to not have her (here) for a good reason,” reported USA Today.

Further, speaking of who could win the French Open in Serena’s absence the Spaniard added, “I feel like there is 10, 15 girls that can win the trophy. So that's not normal. Before is not like that. There was always like few favourites. It's kind of weird to have a lot more. But this year is very open. I feel like a lot of people can win.”

And Muguruza’s belief was vindicated when Latvian Jeļena Ostapenko upset Romania’s Simona Halep, the No. 4 seed, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final at Roland Garros to claim her maiden Grand Slam title. The 20-year-old’s French Open triumph made her the first Latvian to win a Grand Slam, but more importantly the first unseeded player since 1933 to claim the coveted title on the red clay in Paris.

While this is an obvious testament to the talent that the likes of Ostapenko possess, it also has a lot to do with Williams’ absence from the tournament. Had the American participated in the year’s second Grand Slam, in all probability, she would have walked away with the title, or at least made it to the latter stages of the tournament, given the kind of form she was in. However, now, riding on the back of her French Open win, Ostapenko heads into the ongoing Wimbledon full of confidence that she can make it two major’s in a row.

While we’ll have to wait and see whether or not Ostapenko manages to bag the Wimbledon title, the fact that Williams’ absence has made women’s singles tennis a lot more competitive can’t be denied. Never before in the recent past has the women’s singles draw been so open and competitive. As Muguruza had stated earlier, a whole host of players are capable of winning a major title, and that had never been the case when Williams was playing. Further, we are now also witnessing the beginning of the post ‘Serena Williams-era’, wherein there are no foregone conclusions in the game and nothing can be taken for granted. Finally, while may be ushering in a new era of tennis, let's also not forget the legacy of Serena Williams. For we may never again witness the kind of dominance that she has displayed on the court.

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