In thinking more about this my take is . .no. The OP is incorrect. Players today are on average faster than they used to be.
upon reflection, I concur. The AVERAGE player today is a much better athlete, faster and stronger. However, perhaps a refinement of the question is in order.
Why is, or, IS, speed less important to the success of the TOP players today, compared to ten-twleve years ago? I think 97-03 was the cresting of a wave of very fast players. Before them, the percentage of superfast players wasn't as high, and afterward, not so much either. I think, speed-wise, today's top ten would compare favorably to 1991-1996.
For those denying that today's girls are not as athletic, just look at the big 4 in 2002-2003.
No one even comes close to them.
I suggest you're not looking far enough back in history, or in enough depth. Any one year give a false picture. The top five at the of 2002 was the fastest in WTA history, hands down.
Serena, Venus, Capriati, Clijsters, Henin
That's a track team.
Before we go on, however, who exactly do you mean 'the big 4 in 2002-2003'?
YE02 - Serena, Venus, Capriati, Clijsters
YE03 - Henin*, Clijsters, Serena, Mauresmo
(Ranking data from http://tennis.quickfound.net/history...9-present.html
As for 'no one coming close', Venus and Serena are still on the tour, though ten years (of injuries) older, but they can both summon up 'close', now and then. So let's put them aside.
Let's call Davenport vs Sharapova a wash.
On sheer speed of foot, I'd take Wozniacki over everybody else from that era. No power, but wheels, wheels, wheels.
Peak Azarenka vs Peak Capriati would be a very even match.
Was Henin a better ATHLETE than Radwanska? Not to my eye. She was a much better PLAYER, mentally and physically, but not a better athlete. maybe the better comparison, athletically, is Sara Errani.
Mauresmo vs Stosur?
The real outlier is Clijsters. A big strong fast ..... retriever!?!?!?