US Open: Women’s tennis needs a great final

By Online Editorial

Serena Williams us open

A classic showdown on Saturday is just what the struggling women’s game needs at the moment, says Guy McCrea.

In a tournament that has been full of upsets, just four contenders are left standing – all with their eyes on the prize.

Defending champion Serena Williams is currently trading on Betfair at around 1.41 to end wildcard Kim Clijsters’ fairytale return to New York’s hard courts and stay on course for what would be her 12th Grand Slam singles crown.

In the other semi-final, ninth seed Caroline Wozniacki is highly fancied (1.28) to beat fellow teenager Yanina Wickmayer – as both look to reach the first Grand Slam showpiece of their young careers.

But while the tennis public remembers great champions, they also value an entertaining final. Think of last year’s Wimbledon men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – certain to be an all-time classic that fans worldwide will continue to reminisce about for years to come.

That calibre of final is something that has been lacking in women’s tennis for a number of years now. Indeed, the vast majority of recent finals at the majors have been one-sided disappointments.

The last great women’s showpiece was arguably Venus Williams’ final set Wimbledon triumph over Lindsay Davenport back in 2005. It was a real rarity not just for the high quality of play but also for its length.

That clash is the only one of the last 16 major women’s finals to have required a deciding set.

Contrast this with men’s singles finals in the same period. The Federer-Nadal classics loom large in the memory – a testament to their dominance of the Grand Slam events. But this year’s Wimbledon showpiece between Federer and Andy Roddick is another final which the women’s game has been unable to match in recent years. Only four of the last 16 men’s finals have ended in just three sets.

But the need for a classic women’s final goes beyond just providing tennis fans with food for thought. It is also crucial to the future of the women’s game.

The WTA Tour’s monster $88 million title sponsorship deal with telecommunications giant Sony Ericsson ends next season and most analysts acknowledge that it will be tough for the WTA to attract either a good renewal or a new sponsor in the current global economic climate.

Buoyed by the Sony Ericsson deal as well as lucrative agreements in the Middle East and Asia, women’s tennis appears to be in rude financial health. Equal prize money is in place at all four Grand Slam events, and the total prize fund on the WTA Tour this season stands at a record $77 million – a $10 million increase on last year’s figure.

But there are already signs that things may be about to change for the worse. Sony Ericsson has renewed its endorsement of the prestigious Miami Open – but only for one more year.

In addition, the Los Angeles Women’s Tennis Championships – another Premier level stop on the WTA Tour with a 39-year history – will not be around next season. It had been supported by Herbalife – a nutrition and weight management company. A replacement event is now planned to take place in San Diego, but a title sponsor is yet to be announced.

Women’s tennis is not just competing with other global sports, but also to some extent with the ATP World Tour for a shrinking pool of potential sponsors. The men’s and women’s tours have officially cordial relations – but after the failed attempt by Larry Scott (until recently the WTA Chief Executive) to combine the two tours, they remain in competition for backers to some degree.

Without doubt, men’s tennis is currently in a much more attractive state – led by a legitimate dominant player at the top in Federer, with a powerful trio just behind in Andy Murray, Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Yes, women’s tennis does have big personalities such as Maria Sharapova and the Williams’ sisters – who are all listed in Forbes Magazine’s top five earning female athletes in the world. But these marquee names number few in comparison with the men. In addition, the damaging perception also persists that Dinara Safina is not a worthy women’s world number one, as she is still to win a Grand Slam singles title.

How those in charge of women’s tennis would love a return to the situation in place just a decade ago, when a new crop of youngsters headlined by the Williams sisters, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova helped to generate a tremendous variety of interest from fans and sponsors alike.

They might not get that wish any time soon – but a long-overdue classic on Saturday night would still be more than welcome.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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