Cox: Unpredictable Women’s Game a Kaleidoscope of Talent

Thursday, Aug 8

My goodness women’s tennis sure is crazy these days.

Crazy as in unpredictable. The opposite of the men’s game. More parity than ever. More winners than ever. Every tournament a total guessing game as to which player will emerge on top.

Look at this year’s Rogers Cup. Of the 16 women remaining in the draw in Toronto, eight have won tournaments in 2019. Two have won Grand Slam events. Four have been No. 1 at some point in their careers.

Out of all that you want to pick a winner on Sunday? Good luck. In six tournaments since Wimbledon, six different women have picked up the winner’s cheque.

It’s the tennis kaleidoscope that has emerged as the great Serena Williams winds down her fabulous career, a world filled with an extraordinary amount of uncertainty as to which player will win week-to-week, and even who is No. 1 on the world.

By winning her match at the Aviva Centre on Wednesday over Tatjana Maria of Germany, Japan’s Naomi Osaka reclaimed that top ranking from Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, a ranking Osaka took from Simona Halep earlier this year only to lose it to Barty. Barty held the top rung for only eight weeks.

Here’s the best part. Osaka may not be No. 1 next week. By then, it’s possible Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic may have overtaken her, becoming No. 1 in the world for the second time in her career.

Seriously, women’s tennis is like Scottish weather these days. If you don’t like the situation, wait a few hours and it may all change.

The result is a wild and enormously entertaining women’s game, with more possibilities on a weekly basis, certainly, than the men’s game, which is dominated by the Big Three. So far in 2019, there have been 39 WTA tournaments, and there have been 30 winners.

That’s remarkable.

Seven women – Barty, Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, Sonia Kenin, Elise Bertens, Dayana Yastremska and Jill Teichmann – have won more than one event, and none of those have won more than three.

That means there have been 23 other winners, none of which is a Williams sister, which is kind of remarkable in and of itself. Osaka, No. 1 at least for now, held that ranking after winning the 2018 U.S. Open and ’19 Australian Open, and found carrying the target on her back didn’t feel so comfortable.
Her season hasn’t been filled with triumphs – she hasn’t won another tournament – but the 21-year-old believes she’s better equipped now to deal with the expectations of a higher ranking.

“I think I was just way too hard on myself, which is due to the fact I’m a perfectionist,” Osaka said after her match, which ended after she won the first set and Maria retired. “I could hit 100 balls right, and then the one ball I hit wrong is the thing I think about the entire time.

“I’m just learning how to not be that way and how to just kind of chill on myself.”

Plishkova also won on Wednesday, a tough three-setter of Alison Riske of the United States. She’s won three tournaments in 2019, and will definitely move to No. 1 if she can win this Rogers Cup competition.

Halep, the Wimbledon champion, survived a challenge from another American, Jennifer Brady, to advance and maintain her chances of defending her ’18 Rogers Cup title.

“You never know coming to a tournament,” said Halep. “The level is too high and everyone is playing great.”

So you’ve got that group of Osaka, Pliskova, Halep and Barty battling each other for the top ranking, and you’ve got Serena Williams hovering like a massive cloud over all of them, still possibly a contender for the best female player on the planet right now even if that’s not what her ranking says.

Williams hasn’t won a tournament in 2019 or since she gave birth to her first child, but she looked impressive in banishing Mertens in two sets on Wednesday night after established stars like her sister Venus, Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stephens and Barty were eliminated earlier. Caroline Wozniacki, another former world No. 1, went on court after Williams-Mertens and lost.

Even in victory, Williams said she felt “sluggish” and not at her best.
“I actually had more time to prepare for the Rogers Cup than I did for Wimbledon,” Williams said after her win. “Now that I’m injury free, I’m just enjoying being able to train.”

From a Canadian point-of-view, seeing the pinball game that is the women’s rankings, it’s not hard to imagine Bianca Andreescu could certainly factor in there somewhere in a very significant way if she can stay healthy for a prolonged period. Andreescu beat countrywoman Eugenie Bouchard on Tuesday night in a three-setter then had to dig even deeper in another three set contest against Daria Kasatkina on Wednesday afternoon to move into the third round.

Kasatkina looked like she had a fading Andreescu in a full nelson in the third set, and was serving for the match. But Andreescu found another reserve of energy, broke the hold and went on to win the match.

The young Canadian will take on Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, the fifth ranked player in the world and a two-time tournament winner in 2019, next.

“She’s a very good player. I don’t expect anything easy,” said Andreescu.
Things could get very interesting now. Williams and Osaka could meet in a quarter-final. Andreescu could end up standing in Pliskova’s path. Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champ, looks to be finding her game again. Nobody’s talking about Yastremska, but she’s won two tournaments this year and has looked great in Toronto so far.

So we’ll see what happens over the next four days. Predictions? No thanks. It could be anyone of the remaining 16. Just impossible to handicap women’s tennis these days.

And isn’t it fun?

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