What kind of a player would it take to Revitalise the WTA?
Okay, I haven't seen any of the tennis this week yet, but I've noticed people are starting to moan about the poor quality again. It's understandable. Women's tennis has, in many people's eyes, lost something over the last 5 years certainly, with a brief revival in late 2007 when Henin started to lead confidently before burning herself out.
But going back to 2001, men's tennis was in a mess, and women's tennis was peaking. 1998-2003 were all great years for the WTA. When lightweights like Hewitt were no.1, I remember being distinctly unimpressed. Safin was a headcase who couldn't win a match as number one, as had been Moya, Kafelnikov, Ferrero. But then Roger Federer realised his potential and set a benchmark for someone like Nadal. Now we have Murray and Djokovic being consistently in the latter rounds, because they know that triumphs followed by round one losses are not good enough for them to compete.
So that's what the WTA is lacking - leadership. Serena is a generational phenomenon, but when she's clearly past her best but winning comfortably when she feels like it, that's not a good advertisement for the tour. It reflects badly of her competition. It's not a good advertisement for her as a professional either, but that's another thing. Venus is sickly, and if you can live with her into a third set of brutal hitting, you have her weakness laid open. Her trick is normally to devastate in two, which is often enough.
In a way though, this is not a criticism of Venus and Serena because although they've both underachieved relative to their abilities, they've done enough to cement their places amongst the greats, particularly Serena, and now they're doing what Steffi did in the mid 90s, when Seles was fat, and what Chris and Martina did in the mid-80s, when they were both pushing 30 and had no serious contenders - they're cleaning up before somebody else arrives.
So who might that be? Well, it's clear it won't be any of the present protagonists of the WTA.
Ivanovic has the biggest forehand since Graf, but is not a big time champion. Like Clijsters, she did not acquire a taste for blood as a child, and now it's too late. The same goes for Sveta. Safina has not the talent, but credit to her for taking her opportunities. Jankovic has a battering ram backhand, but a pathetically lazy forehand. Dementia is deserving of admiration, but my feeling is that she hasn't won a slam because she simply isn't good enough; there's always someone who has a more convincing answer. Sharapova will never reign as long as Venus and Serena are here, and she might have lost her winning edge anyway. I get the impression she's realised there's a life waiting for her outside tennis, and it's a lot more immediate than it once was. Otherwise, it won't be any of the other squealing, sulky pig women, who bash the ball mindlessly. Nor will be it one of these by-products of Hingis, who without her talent, just seem to push the ball back.
So, let's dream. What would a new phenomenon have to be?
If she had Serena's strength and athleticism of 1998-2004, that'd be great, but a tough ask. It was lucky Serena chose tennis, to be honest, because in those days she could have won 100metre olympic gold. But Serena with Steffi's focus and Martina N's love of training and challenging herself would be on 20+ slams by now.
Someone with Davenport's serve and groundstrokes, possibly the most flawless I've ever seen when she was on form, combined with great movement, would be almost invincible.
Hingis would have been an all-time great had she possessed the strength and movement of somebody like, say, Clijsters. With that sort of physical strength, she would naturally have hit harder and would have had more scope to learn to kill her shots.
A Henin a few inches taller and stronger would not have burnt herself out, and won more slams. Thinking about it, if Henin could achieve what she did, then surely a taller, stronger girl can come along and hit shots with equal ferocity and guile?
Either way, we need somebody special to rise from the ruins, and I've seen no juniors who fit that bill in a long time.
There must be some hope.