The 2021 Australian Open needed to be rescheduled. There was a lengthy quarantine. There were injuries. Fans came, went, returned. But, most of all, there was tennis.
With the year’s first major coming to a close, several compelling story lines have begun to form for the WTA and ATP.
Of course, the biggest one, affecting both tours, will be the continued presence of COVID. Tests, quarantines, vaccines—those are just three factors guaranteed to create exceptional uncertainty all year long.
Life and sports amid a pandemic is particularly complicated for tennis, the world’s most globetrotting professional sport. Will there be quarantines upon arrival at other events? How do the players feel about traveling in and out of various countries? With event scheduling uncertain, how do players best organize training blocks? What kind of adjustments are the tournaments making, be it with compensation, sponsor engagement, spectators? These tricky questions create an unprecedented climate of doubt, dread and stress. It will be fascinating to see how that continues to shake out in the tennis world.
Let’s zoom and examine the WTA. Here are three current story lines of note:
1. More Styles Than Ever
Keen to watch a versatile volleyer? Celebrate Ash Barty and Karolina Muchova. Have a craving for fiery intensity and tactical acumen? Sofia Kenin. Grit and grind? Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina. Appreciate baseliner power and precision? Naomi Osaka, Garbine Muguruza, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Aryna Sabalenka. A fusion of power and touch? Iga Swiatek and Bianca Andreescu. And let’s not forget the one-of-a-kind Hsieh Su-wei. This is a remarkable time in women’s tennis, a smorgasbord of appealing styles. Bon Appetit.
2. Serve ‘Em Up
Sustained excellence is the macro legacy Serena Williams continues to bring to the game. On a more technical basis, she also serves better than any woman in the sport’s history—a delivery that for a long time greatly separated Williams from the vast majority of her peers. But now, likely inspired by Williams’ example, the WTA features several terrific servers, including Osaka, Swiatek, Andreescu, Kvitova, Sabalenka and Jennifer Brady. Memo to coaches of aspiring players: Bring a football to those practice sessions.
3. The Timelines They Are A-Changing
No question, it remains impressive when teenagers like Bianca Andreescu and Iga Swiatek win majors at such a young age. But as the rewards in tennis have become greater, the developmental timeline has altered. Players at many ranking levels and ages can now afford to avail themselves of a vast range of resources‚coaches, fitness trainers, psychologists, nutritionists. Having gained much from all this expertise, players have blossomed at various stages. Brady’s run to her first Grand Slam final came at the age of 25. Halep was 26 when she won her first major. Azarenka reinvented herself at 31. Hsieh made it to the quarters of a Slam for the first time at 35. Serena reached the semis at 39. Venus is still competing at 40. Hare-like precocity has given way to tortoise-like longevity.