Maria Sharapova giggled and jumped in the snow with her Russian compatriots. Forty-one year old Kimoko Date Krumm upset Polona Hercog, ranked 42 spots above her and born 21 years after her. Serena Williams destroyed a racket. Christina McHale served a bagel. Julia Goerges nearly upset Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova, but fell just short and broke down in tears on court. The upstart and adorable British team, led by new coach Judy Murray, stormed (and tweeted) their way through their competition. Francesca Schiavone (over)-dramatically won a match.
It was a predictably unpredictable Fed Cup weekend, what many would describe as “typical” WTA, and I loved every single minute of it.
It’s been a tumultuous few years for the most popular female sports league in the world. In 2007 the tour seemed invincible when Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam to offer the women equal pay. However, an unfortunate series of events have left the tour in flux ever since. In 2008 World #1 Justine Henin abrubtly retired, leaving a vacuum at the top of the game. With various injuries crippling The Williams Sisters and Sharapova, a group of talented young girls were thrust into the spotlight at the top of the game a bit prematurely. The “Slamless Number One” saga overshadowed everything else, only rivaled in media coverage by the incessant shrieking debate (which often reaked of sexism). Some of the best female athletes on the planet were constantly declared out of shape and mentally weak by the experts of the game, many of whom were former WTA stars themselves. To make matters worst, all of this turmoil transpired simultaneously with the “Golden Era” of the ATP. The more Federer, Nadal, and recently Djokovic dominated the Slams the more it seemed to diminish whatever “product” the WTA tried to produce.
As a WTA fan it’s been a sad few years. Wait- no, I actually don’t mean that at all. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure, but it’s been a blast.
I love parity, I love unpredictability, I love my sports to come with a side of “WTF is going on here?”. I love the fact that every Grand Slam you could pick fifteen women who have a legitimate shot to hold the trophy at the end of two weeks. I love the fact that Schiavone, Li Na, and Samantha Stosur are now Grand Slam Champions. I love that Vera Zvonareva, despite a history of meltdowns that would have made her eligible for the Real Housewives of Russia, made two Grand Slam Finals and climbed to number 2 in the world. I love that Kim Clijsters retired, had a baby, then came back to the tour and won three more Grand Slams- 3 times more than she had pre-motherhood. I love that Sharapova has fought her back from what many feared would be a career-ending shoulder injury and now, at 24, seems poised to be a factor for years to come. I love that Serena went from hospital bed to U.S. Open Final in less than six months. I love that Andrea Petkovic dances in victory. I love that the outspoken Agnieszka Radwanska seems to only win when she’s taped up like a mummy. I love Petra Kvitova’s forehand, Victoria Azarenka’s backhand, Marion Bartoli’s insane serve, and yes- even Caroline Wozniacki’s moonball. (Sometimes).
I love that the best days are yet to come. Champions and superstars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are sill hungry and fighting for titles. Azarenka and Kvitova, twenty-two and twenty-one respectively, seem unfazed by the pressure of expectations. Clijsters is with us for the rest of the year (and I still not-so-secretly hope for more) and will be extra motivated to win her first French Open and/or Wimbledon trophy. Venus Williams might not ever win another Slam again, but it won’t be without trying like a true Champion to deal with her Sjogren’s Syndrome and find a way to compete on the top level again. Wozniacki will (surely) be determined to regain her spot at the top of the rankings and earn that elusive Slam. Li, Schiavone, and Stosur will all be eager to get rid of the “One Slam Wonder” label. And then of course there’s Svetlana Kuznetsova. Any given Slam.
I don’t think that dominance is the only way to measure success. I don’t think that unpredictability is always a sign of weakness. If you disagree with the prior statements then that’s fine, but I do think that these female athletes deserve heaps more respect than they get on a regular basis.
Yes, I unabashedly love the WTA, flaws and all.