Don’t watch women’s tennis? Then you’re missing out, says Jane Hill, who’s here with a list of who to watch at this year’s Wimbledon Championship.
One of the best matches I saw at Wimbledon last year was the then-20th seed Garbine Muguruza beating 10th seed Angelique Kerber in three sets. The first set tiebreak went to 12-10, and I was enthralled. Kerber was aggressive and rock-solid from the back of the court; Muguruza mixed up her game with big serves and volleys, and it was a joy to watch.
The match was played on an outside court on the middle Saturday and it was only on telly because it started early and we were waiting for the men’s tennis to begin on Centre Court.
Muguruza went on to reach the final, and last month beat Serena Williams to win the French Open and become world number two. Kerber, meanwhile, beat Williams in the Australian Open final this year.
And it got me thinking about how two of the world’s most promising women’s tennis players found themselves on an outside court as a sideshow to the main event – and why we don’t cherish women’s tennis like we used to back in the days of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
I think there’s a real issue – about the amount of women’s tennis on television these days, and about how it’s become regarded as somehow second rate. And when you ask people why they don’t watch women’s tennis they tend to say one of three things:
1. Oh, Serena Williams always wins.
Firstly that’s not true (see above) and secondly, she is magnificent, so shut up.
2. I don’t like all the grunting that the women players do.
Well, suck it up – the men grunt too. I was at the Nottingham Open watching the men play, and heard a wide variety of grunts and squeals. One player even made different noises depending on whether he was hitting a backhand or a forehand. And it’s a not a new thing. Borg and Connors used to grunt. Yes, really.
3. It’s all just a parade of blonde ponytailed Eastern European Ovas. There are no personalities any more.
Wrong again. With that in mind, here are a bunch of players to look out for. And there’s only one Ova among them.
We are lucky to be living at a time when Serena Williams is playing tennis. She is magnificent. She plays matches with the intensity of Mary J Blige singing No More Drama at Glasto in the rain. What’s more, she is funny, intelligent, gracious in both victory and defeat – and did all her post-match interviews at this year’s French Open in actual French.
That sound you heard as she won the French Open was the sound of all the sponsors who’d dropped Sharapova opening their chequebooks again. Muguruza is the real thing: tall, strong, with a great serve and a fantastic volley, plus an infectious smile that just makes you happy to watch her.
Poor old Kvitova has won the Wimbledon Singles title twice in the last five years, for goodness’ sake, and yet she’s still been a pointless answer on the popular daytime quiz show. What more does she need to do? She’s tall with a big left-handed serve and a game reminiscent of Martina Navratilova. She should be the best player in the world but she’s also injury-prone and full of self-doubt. Join me in shouting at the TV screen in frustration when she’s playing.
“We are lucky to be living at a time when Serena Williams is playing tennis. She is magnificent. She plays matches with the intensity of Mary J Blige singing No More Drama at Glasto in the rain.”
Konta has just beaten Kvitova at Eastbourne, and goes into Wimbledon this year as the first British woman to be seeded since Jo Durie in 1984. She’s fast, tough and highly competitive – she beat Muguruza in the US Open’s longest-ever match last year, before reaching the Australian Open semi-finals earlier this year. Her parents are Hungarian, she spent her childhood in Australia but she’s lived here since 2005 and we’re very happy to have her.
Radwanska is a bit of a throwback, reminiscent of Chris Evert or Martina Hingis in their prime – it’s all about the ball placement with her. She can play the court like a chessboard, has a languid grace – but don’t underestimate her. She is the world number three, she’s nails, and she took Serena Williams to three sets in the 2012 Wimbledon final.
Kerber’s been around for years, turning pro in 2003, although she’s still only 28. But over the past couple of years she has really found her mojo. She’s left-handed and there is no one more aggressive or more competitive from the back of the court. She has won WTA titles on all surfaces. She can beat anyone, and often does.
The poor lass has been lumbering under the weight of being ‘The Future of American Tennis’ since she won her first senior match aged 14. She’s now a mature and intelligent 21-year-old, with a new coach, and has just made it into the world’s top 10 by winning the grass court tournament at Birmingham. She’s got a lovely on-court presence and a nice sarky wit. You’ll like her.
I don’t think the world number 29 is going to win Wimbledon, but I mention her because she is great fun to watch and could cause an upset or two. She’s American, grew up playing quarterback in her family’s American football matches, and her mother was an Olympic swimmer and volleyball player. Vandeweghe has a huge backswing before she clobbers each ball and a swaggering confidence that makes me smile.
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Jane Hill is a novelist who also does standup comedy. When she’s not doing either of those, she works for the BBC on local radio projects. She lives with her partner in rural Leicestershire and once reached the Mastermind semi-finals.