Who will step forward as the NEW face of women’s tennis?

New rivalries needed to lift the profile of WTA Tour stars.

What next for the women’s game?

It was a question being asked after a curious Wimbledon final saw the unseeded Marketa Vondrousova defeat fan favourite Ons Jabeur in straight sets, with the underwhelming level of tennis on display leaving many onlookers disappointed.

Carrying so many expectations, Jabeur crumbled under the pressure of trying to win her first Wimbledon title as she delivered 31 unforced errors to hand Vondrousova the title, but this was not the match women’s tennis needed with the eyes of the world watching on.

The epic contest between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic in the men’s final 24 hours later highlighted the gulf in quality between the men’s and women’s game right now, with the lack of star names in the women’s game an ongoing issue.

Type the phrase ‘top tennis player’ into an internet search engine and the results make for startling reading, as the top 40 images that pop up before you are all male players, with the now retired Serena Williams the first women making an appearance in position 41.

Some may suggest this a glaring example of unconscious bias from media outlets, but it represents an alarming outcome for a sport that has done so much to put women on the stage as men for more than a century.

Serena and her sister Venus Williams, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert became global superstars in the sport they transcended during their remarkable careers, yet the current standards in the women’s game have slipped alarmingly with that being highlighted in graphic detail at this year’s women’s final on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

While there have been plenty of discussion over the disparity in pay cheques handed out to the top male and female players, the harsh facts suggest the women’s game currently lacks the big-name personalities required to drive the broadcasting and sponsorship deals that bolster the prize pools for the game’s biggest events.

Equal prize money is in place at the four Grand Slam events, but former British No.1 Annabel Croft suggests star names need time to develop their brand at the top of the women’s game.

“I think you always need big names and you need characters that will take the sport from the back of a newspaper to a wider audience,” Croft told All Court Tennis Club at a Game4Padel event. “There is no doubt that superstars like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have done that for a decade more, but we are heading into a different period for the women’s game now and it could be really exciting.

“The lower-level players always think they have a chance against the top players and that makes things interesting in the opening days of tournaments because we are getting upsets and new faces are emerging almost every week.

“There is a lack of fear factor in the women’s game now because everyone looks beatable, even when someone ranked No.60 goes up against a top-five player.”

World No.1 Iga Swiatek has yet to develop a media presence that would give her star-billing with the general sporting public, with Croft believing the retirement of Ashleigh Barty denied tennis fans a chance to enjoy a new rivalry.

“It could have been a real cat-and-mouse battle between Barty and Swiatek, a real clash of styles,” she added. “It might well have developed into one of the great rivalries and that’s something we have lacked in women’s tennis for quite some time.

“You would have very different skills, but both very talented and headstrong characters going up against each other. I guess we will never know who would come out on top.

“Swiatek is a great player and it has been so impressive to see how she has taken on the mantle of being world No.1, so hopefully she can be the leader of the next generation in the women’s game.”

Swiatek will head into the US Open as the favourite to claim another Grand Slam title, but nothing is guaranteed in women’s tennis.

While that uncertainty is fascinating for the sport’s aficionados, the sport needs some fresh rivalries to capture the imagination of the wider audience.


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