Are women tennis players worthy equals of today’s male tennis players? Several men’s tennis players have questioned the quality of women’s tennis and suggested that women should also be playing the best of five sets.
A number of women’s players would certainly be prepared to play best of five sets but more important concerns include such questions as, ‘Are women players as good as they once were?,’ ‘Is there any depth in women’s tennis?,’ ‘Do they provide the same entertainment value as the men?’
I would suggest that the second of these questions is particularly pertinent. The leading women’s player by some distance is Serena Williams. She is thirty three years old and definitely past her best, yet is still capable of dominating women’s tennis. This fact alone suggests that women’s tennis lacks depth. Serena Williams and Roger Federer are the same age. In the past two years Williams has won four grand slam titles while Federer has been unable to add to his tally.
The modern emphasis in women’s tennis appears to be power rather than skill and speed. Serena Williams herself is powerfully built but she is an athlete. Many of the rest are neither quick enough nor skilful enough and do not possess the athleticism that should be expected at the highest level.
A quick glance at top rankings players today shows us Kerber, Kvitova, Petkovic, Pavlyuchenko, Azarenka, Lepchenko and Barthel, all weighing in at around 70 kilograms. Looking back two or three decades there are Hingis, Evert, Goolagong, Seles, Novotna, Sanchez-Vicario, all smaller, quicker, and I would suggest, more skilful players.
In modern tennis Maria Sharapova, tall, slim and skilful, is an exception. In the eighties and nineties, Steffi Graf and Navratilova were exceptions to the smaller women but they were both fast and exceptionally athletic. No one is going to argue with size and power, provided it is allied to skill and speed.
In the men’s game the top players are fit, fast and carry no extra weight. Watching overweight women players lumbering across the base line, making little attempt to chase down steeply angled shots is not particularly entertaining or inspiring.
Because it divides the sexes, this will always be a controversial subject but I believe the women players of 2014 are very fortunate to receive the same prize money as the men, as much of the tennis produced is not of high quality.