THROWS WOMEN’S TEN­NIS WIDE OPEN

In­con­sis­tency of top play­ers sug­gests crown will change hands reg­u­larly

CityPress - - Sport - SIL­VER SIBIYA sil­ver.sibiya@city­press.co.za

Ser­ena Wil­liams’ an­nounce­ment last week that she will take a break from the sport this year has left the ten­nis world with many ques­tions. Some of those that ten­nis fol­low­ers must be itch­ing to find an­swers to in­clude how the ab­sence of the world’s num­ber one will af­fect the Women’s Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion (WTA), and which play­ers will most likely ben­e­fit if they grab the op­por­tu­nity.

The ten­nis su­per­star re­cently an­nounced on In­sta­gram that she is preg­nant.

Her pub­li­cist, Kelly Bush No­vak, said in a state­ment that Wil­liams plans to sit out the rest of this year’s sea­son and re­turn next year.

This should be good news for her com­peti­tors, who stand a bet­ter chance of win­ning Grand Slam ti­tles in her ab­sence.

When Jus­tine Henin shocked the ten­nis world with her first re­tire­ment in 2008, she was the top player in the sport. With­out warn­ing, she walked away from the sport she was dom­i­nat­ing.

In the few months that fol­lowed her de­par­ture, the WTA tour went through a tran­si­tion that saw five dif­fer­ent play­ers hold the top po­si­tion: Rus­sia’s Maria Shara­pova (May 1 2008); Ser­bia’s Ana Ivanović (June 9 2008) and Je­lena Janković (Au­gust 11 2008); Wil­liams (after the Aus­tralian Open win in 2009); and Di­nara Sa­fina (April 20 2009).

While Henin’s and Wil­liams’ achieve­ments are in­com­pa­ra­ble, there are some par­al­lels in their sit­u­a­tions.

With 23 Grand Slam ti­tles un­der her belt, Wil­liams is the best player in the world right now, and her dom­i­nance of the sport is there for ev­ery­one to see.

When she with­drew from the BNP Paribas Open in In­dian Wells in March, and then from the Mi­ami Open, cit­ing knee prob­lems, 14th-seeded Elena Ves­nina de­feated Svet­lana Kuznetsova (9) in the fi­nal, and Jo­hanna Konta (7) claimed the big­gest ti­tle won by a Bri­tish woman for 40 years as she de­feated Caro­line Woz­ni­acki (13).

The lack of con­sis­tency among the world’s best play­ers also sug­gests ten­nis fans may see a num­ber of dif­fer­ent play­ers rise high.

World num­ber two An­gelique Ker­ber will re­turn to the top po­si­tion, but may soon have to take on the likes of ris­ing stars such as Karolína Plíšková, Konta and Woz­ni­acki.

With for­mer num­ber one Vic­tória Azárenka – who missed last year’s tour due to preg­nancy – re­turn­ing in July, and Shara­pova – who re­turned from her 15month ban for dop­ing on Wed­nes­day at the Stuttgart Porsche Ten­nis Grand Prix in Ger­many – it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how women’s ten­nis plays out.

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