Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon victory may indicate a changing of the guard in men’s tennis, but in the women’s game, the old guard is still in picture
Serena Williams is not finished, but Roger Federer might be.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal seem ready to offer tennis fans a new rivalry, but women’s tennis is still looking for the player or players to carry its appeal to wide audiences.
There might be signs of life for American men’s tennis with 19-year-old Ryan Harrison winning his first main-draw match, but, for now, the women’s side is dependent on whether Serena and Venus Williams are fully engaged and healthy. That’s some of what we’ve learned from Wimbledon.
On the day after the season’s third major championship ended, men’s winner Djokovic officially became ranked No. 1 in the world and said, “Times are changing. It’s good for the sport to have some new faces.”
Times are changing on the women’s side as well.
There was a new face to the women’s championship in Petra Kvitova, a 21-year-old left-hander from the Czech Republic.
Although it is another 21-year-old, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who is ranked No. 1 in the world and was seeded No. 1 at Wimbledon, she left on the same day as both Williams sisters, in the fourth round, cementing the sense that Wozniacki is a fine ball striker and plays excellent defensive tennis but may not ever win one of the majors.
Rankings don’t matter much to Serena Williams, who was dominating the game until she injured her foot after winning Wimbledon last July. It’s a good thing they don’t matter to her, because on Monday she officially became the 175th-ranked player in the world.
But the way Williams played at Wimbledon, always attacking, gave a sense that she will be a major contender as soon as the U.S. Open next month.
When it was suggested that her losing early might be a good message for women’s tennis, that, after all, what would it say about a sport if one of its stars was able to take off for a year and win in the first major back, Williams said, “Yeah, I’m super happy that I lost. Go, women’s tennis.”
Williams perked up only when she looked ahead to the summer hard-court season and presumably to the U.S. Open, where she hasn’t won a title since 2008.
“I haven’t played on the hard court in what feels like years,” Williams said. “It’s clearly my favorite surface. I really look forward to it, so I’m looking forward to playing out there. It’s going to be cool.”
What gave Williams the most cause for optimism was that she said she was missing more shots long than short. It indicated to Williams that her strength and ball-striking ability were good. What she needs now is fine-tuning.
“I felt like I missed a tremendous amount of shots out, which is better than into the net,” she said. “That’s a start. Sooner or later the timing will come back and the ball will go in.”
Even though they are close in age — Federer turns 30 next month; Serena is 29 — Williams seems more likely to win another major title or two before her career ends.
Six-time champion Federer was unemotional after losing in the quarterfinals for the second straight year at the tournament where he has won the most. Federer was beaten by younger, stronger Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and, more tellingly, lost a two-set lead for the first time ever at a major championship.
The Federer-Nadal rivalry, which has been marked by both the quality of the tennis and the sportsmanship of the two men, seems to be nearing its end.
But there’s the sense that there will be many more big matches between Djokovic and Nadal. Djokovic first inserted himself into the Federer-Nadal tennis dictatorship last year at the U.S. Open, when he saved two match points against Federer in a semifinal victory before losing to Nadal in the final.
This year Djokovic is 48-1 in matches and has won two of the three majors played, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Nadal won the French Open. Federer hasn’t won one of the big four events since the 2010 Australian Open.
The shifting of the men’s tennis landscape is complete. The women’s? Maybe not quite yet.
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