Serena's future remains fuzzy
Will she take on goal of getting to No. 1 again?
Serena Williams must make a high-level commitment to tennis if she is to have a chance at again rising to the top of the women's game, writes Tracy Austin of NBCSports.com
By Tracy Austin
Updated: 7:37 p.m. ET Dec. 21, 2005
There are a lot of intriguing questions to be answered in women's tennis in 2006, and at the top of the list is whether Serena Williams has the desire and drive to reclaim the top ranking in the world.
Serena's path not yet chosen
I still feel that if Serena makes a decision that she wants to again be No. 1 in the world, and she can make the commitment to achieve such a lofty status, she has the talent to rise to the top.
I haven't seen signs Serena is willing to make that sort of commitment. I saw her at the season-ending Tour Championships, and it was clear she'll need to improve her fitness level if she is to make a serious run at No. 1 in 2006.
Serena can't take a month off between tournaments. It's just too tough of a game now. Her 2005 season was interrupted by injuries (knee and ankle), limiting her to a mere 10 tournaments, with her lone title coming in Melbourne.
And in my opinion, Serena didn't go into the 2005 Australian Open completely prepared. And yet she was still good enough to beat three of the top four seeds in succession and reclaim the title she won two years ago.
She needs to go hard at training if 2006 is going to hold more for her than 2005 did. And only she can make the decision over whether she still has it in her to dedicate herself to tennis to the degree it takes to rise to the status of being the top player in the world.
Hingis take on a huge challenge
Martina Hingis, a five-time Grand Slam winner, announced last November that she planned a return to the professional circuit in 2006. Her attempt at a comeback begins at a WTA tournament in Australia on New Year’s Day.
Since there is more potential downside to upside in her comeback, I think it's a courageous move by Hingis to return to professional tennis. But after an absence of over three years, she faces some steep challenges if she's to get back to being a top player.
The biggest obstacle for Hingis to overcome will be her lack of match play. Suffering from chronic inflammation of both heels as well as foot and ankle injuries, and perhaps a waning of her competitive desire, Hingis retired in October of 2002.
She was 14 when she turned pro, and only 22 when she quit after winning 40 singles titles and five Grand Slams. Hingis made a brief one-match comeback last February, losing in the first round of the Volvo Women’s Open in Thailand.
Women's tennis has really changed since Hingis last played professionally. Specifically, the serves are much more powerful and are much bigger weapons.
If you look at the top women on tour today, most of them have very strong serves. Hingis' serve was never big, and I have to wonder if she will be hurt by not having a big serve to win points on, and also whether her second serve will be attackable.
Another key will be how the pace of her groundstrokes hold up against today's big and powerful hitters.
Capriati has designs on a return
Former world No. 1 Jennifer Capriati did not play a match on tour in 2005 because of shoulder surgery. But from what I've heard, she really wants to come back to the WTA Tour.
Capriati went to Key Biscayne and was training there, and she's undergone physical therapy. I would love to see her return because I think she is a very exciting player to watch with her style of play.
Lindsay Davenport has not committed to play past March. In 2005, Davenport managed to finish atop the WTA rankings for a second straight year and the fourth time in her tremendous career.
I think it's a smart thing for her not to commit too far ahead. She's done everything she needs to in tennis, but at the same time I would think it's pretty tough to retire when you are still in the hunt for Grand Slams and the No. 1 ranking in the world.
After winning the U.S. Open last September, Kim Clijsters said she would play just two more years on the WTA Tour. It's interesting that she gave such a definite deadline to walk away from the game.
Two years out you have no idea of what you will be dealing with. It wasn't a smart move on her part to make such an announcement since the media's questioning of her over it will get tiresome. Everywhere she goes she is going to be asked about that two-year deadline.
I think it was really silly for her to put that out there, and I'm interested to see if she alters that position sometime in 2006.
Vaidisova bears watching
I'm very impressed with Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic. I think she is ready to burst on the scene in 2006, and have a breakout season.
She showed signs of being on the rise in 2005 as she made it to the fourth round of the U.S. Open, and the third round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. The 16-year-old had a singles record of 48-15.
And now that she has some experience under her belt, she has more confidence. And she has gotten stronger so 2006 could be a telling season for her on the WTA Tour.
The upcoming year is the kind of year where Vaidisova's play could say a lot about whether she is going to someday get to the No. 1 ranking in the world, or if she is going to be a good player, but one who doesn't make it into the top 10.