Serena Williams is well on her way to becoming the greatest female tennis player of all time. What she has done thus far at the Australian Open has further cemented not only her legacy, but also the stranglehold that she has maintained over the women’s game for nearly two decades. While this has been incredible for American tennis, Serena’s dominance has quite possibly had a negative effect on the growth of the women’s game in general.
Women’s professional tennis has almost always been characterized by a wide disparity of talent. While there have certainly been figures who have taken over the game, like Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and more, few tournaments could have been written off before they began because the winner was all but decided before the first ball was struck. In recent years, Serena has obliterated that parity, and won with such remarkable frequency and consistency, that, while disheartening to her competition, has made the women’s game unfortunately uninteresting.
Take her rivalry with Maria Sharapova. Sharapova is a 5-time Major winner, owner of a career Grand Slam, and without question one of the best players of her generation. And yet, every time she takes the court with Serena, there is no contest. It is almost not worth them playing at this point. In their quarterfinal matchup, the first set was uncharacteristically tight, with Maria holding on until she was broken to lose the set 6-4. She narrowly avoided getting bageled in the second. The streak remains alive, with Serena having won her last 18 matches against Maria. She has not beaten her since the year of her maiden Slam victory at Wimbledon in 2004, and their head-to-head is now a lopsided 19-2. How is it that there could be such a colossal rift in abilities between two of the games greats?
Essentially, unless Serena has a horrific day on the court by her standards, then no other woman stands a chance. The intrigue has all but disappeared. Serena’s dismantling of Sharapova at this years’ Aussie Open came on the heels of other top seeds inexplicably bowing out to much lower ranked players. World #2 Simona Halep, #3 Garbine Muguruza, and #8 Venus Williams were just a few of the highly-ranked women upset in the early rounds of the Australian Open. While not completely unusual, it just further shows the incredible consistency of Serena in making deep runs, and usually winning, every high-profile event she enters. It appears, that even at her relatively advanced age, the gap is, if anything, widening between her and those chasing her.
First and foremost, all credit to Serena. What she has done, and continues to do on the tennis court is incredible. It is very unfortunate that her dominance is essentially making women’s tennis a much less watchable affair. Let’s not root for Serena’s form to diminish in the coming months and years, but instead, let’s hope that her challengers can find another gear, and once again bring the parity that women’s tennis craves, back to the game.