WTA Tour

Serena throws women's tennis wide open

Serena Williams. (Recep Sakar)
Serena Williams. (Recep Sakar)

Johannesburg - Serena Williams’ announcement last week that she will take a break from the sport this year has left the tennis world with many questions.

Some of those that tennis followers must be itching to find answers to include how the absence of the world’s number one will affect the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and which players will most likely benefit if they grab the opportunity.

The tennis superstar recently announced on Instagram that she is pregnant.

Her publicist, Kelly Bush Novak, said in a statement that Williams plans to sit out the rest of this year’s season and return next year.

Achievements incomparable

This should be good news for her competitors, who stand a better chance of winning Grand Slam titles in her absence.

When Justine Henin shocked the tennis world with her first retirement in 2008, she was the top player in the sport.

Without warning, she walked away from the sport she was dominating.

In the few months that followed her departure, the WTA tour went through a transition that saw five different players hold the top position: Russia’s Maria Sharapova (May 1 2008); Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic (June 9 2008) and Jelena Jankovic (August 11 2008); Williams (after the Australian Open win in 2009) and Dinara Safina (April 20 2009).

While Henin’s and Williams’ achievements are incomparable, there are some parallels in their situations.

With 23 Grand Slam titles under her belt, Williams is the best player in the world right now and her dominance of the sport is there for everyone to see.

Return from doping

When she withdrew from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March, and then from the Miami Open, citing knee problems, 14th-seeded Elena Vesnina defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) in the final, and Johanna Konta (7) claimed the biggest title won by a British woman for 40 years as she defeated Caroline Wozniacki (13).

The lack of consistency among the world’s best players also suggests tennis fans may see a number of different players rise high.

World number two Angelique Kerber will return to the top position, but may soon have to take on the likes of rising stars such as Karolína Plíšková, Konta and Wozniacki.

With former number one Victória Azárenka – who missed last year’s tour due to pregnancy – returning in July, and Sharapova – who returned from her 15-month ban for doping at the Stuttgart Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Germany on Wednesday – it will be interesting to see how women’s tennis plays out.

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