While this year’s Wimbledon will be remembered for the multiple upsets especially in the first week, it was the women’s draw that saw perhaps the most carnage. Victoria Azarenka literally went down on the grass forcing her withdrawal. Maria Sharapova exited soon after citing, in her words, “dangerous” court conditions. And then perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the early departure of defending champion Serena Williams to the big hitting of Germany’s Sabine Lisicki.
A massive opportunity awaits those still left in the draw in large part because of the absence of the dominant women in the WTA over the last two years. We have grown accustomed to seeing either Azarenka, Sharapova or Williams be the one to raise the trophy at almost every event they enter. This consistency is in sharp contrast to how the tour was not so long ago with seemingly a different face in the winner’s circle at the majors. Some fans enjoyed the variety, but many others bemoaned the lack of a real definitive No. 1 player, especially when Caroline Wozniacki held the ranking for so long without winning a Grand Slam.
Since the start of 2012, either Azarenka, Sharapova or Williams has won one of the majors. They have also been the winner at multiple WTA Premier events over the last few seasons. While Azarenka and Sharapova continue to struggle themselves to beat Williams, their own battles between each other of late have become fascinating contests often held late in the semis or finals of events. It is this day in, day out consistency that may not be a true rivalry between the three, but at least continues to sustain attention at every tournament they contend for.
It feels odd to suggest that this is a “must-win” moment for former Grand Slam champions like Li Na and Petra Kvitova and former Wimbledon finalists Agnieszka Radwanska and Marion Bartoli. Though all are capable of going the distance, they are in some ways like their ATP counterparts who have had to toil under the burden of being in the same era as the “Big Four”. Radwanska certainly could be considered part of a WTA “Big Four”, but she still struggles to defeat the likes of Azarenka, Sharapova and Williams on any sort of consistent basis. A Wimbledon title for her now would be a huge achievement, but how more difficult would it be for her if she had to face any one of that troublesome trio in this second week?
While this “wild” Wimbledon feels more like a rare occurrence than any sort of indicator of a shift in power within the WTA, don’t be surprised if something similar happens again. The modern game with its focus on big baseline hitting combined with the majority of events taking place on clay or hard courts doesn’t lend much time to getting adapted to the brief grass court interlude. Perhaps the extra week that will be built into the season by 2015 between the French Open and Wimbledon will help. But with players continuing to groove their games for over three months to prepare for the grinding rallies of Paris, adjusting in a flash to the quicker pace of grass will likely continue to be more of a challenge that even years of experience can’t always help with.
As long as Azarenka, Sharapova and Williams stay healthy, there’s little indication yet that anyone outside of the top three is prepared to break up the vice-like grip they have over the rest of the tour. Though the surprises of the last few days have made for a more entertaining fortnight, tournament organizers, media and many fans will probably be the first to tell you that they don’t want to go back to the roller coaster days of a few years ago.
Seeing a new face hold up the Wimbledon trophy is always refreshing. But that excitement will never take the place of the WTA’s current “Big Three” who will continue to propel and engage interest in the WTA long after the buzz of this year’s unpredictable Wimbledon dies down.