But Alison Riske, a 5-foot-9, 24-year old with a powerful serve and laser-like ground strokes, is now a tournament champion. One of the reasons that’s so nice to see is that she did it on her own, or as much on her own as can be expected these days. As she said after the match, "It's a huge accomplishment for me to win my first WTA title. And I was here by myself, which made it even more special, just to know that I was able to do it by myself.”
She was there by herself. Does that kind of thing even happen in tennis anymore?
Tennis once was known as a sport with a healthy population of lone wolves — players who did things their own way, at their own pace, often making it up as they went along. Now, anyone who can afford it has a traveling coach, a physio, perhaps even a separate fitness trainer and hitting partner. And that’s just the nucleus of an entourage that is often enhanced by a fleet of family members.
Tennis is still called a sport of individuals, but it is less so all the time. It is also a sport that has, since the advent of Open tennis, featured an enormous drive to standardization. There is a constantly shrinking number of ways to skin any given cat. The two-handed backhand was probably the last significant step in the evolution of what appears to be a finished game. When it comes to playing style, there are few holdouts from the conventional wisdom.
How different is it from what tennis used to be? This is an era in which the harder you hit the ball the greater the chance that it will fall inside the lines (thanks, polyester!).
Different enough for you?
Riske’s win is refreshing because it strikes a blow for a vestigial lone-wolfishness. She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., which has never been mistaken for a hotbed of tennis. More significantly, she stayed put there. She led her Peters Township High School tennis team to the 2006 Pennsylvania State championship. She also won the state singles title. A nice achievement for sure, but other 16-year-olds were playing for a lot of money in front of enormous crowds in capitals in Asia, or Europe.