WTA Tour

Women’s tennis in the doldrums

Johannesburg - Serena Williams’ pregnancy has left the sport in a fragile state, with no clear leader ready to step up and fill the berth.

Eighteen-time Grand Slam winner Chris Evert summed it up succinctly when she recently told ESPN: “I think at the top of the game, it’s very chaotic right now. I think there’s a lot of fragility.”

This is the result of former world No 1 Serena Williams taking time away from the sport to have a baby.

Since she bowed out after winning the Australian Open when she was five weeks pregnant in January, women’s tennis has had a topsy-turvy ride, with different players winning titles and changing the top position.

Since then, world No 6 Ukrainian Elina Svitolina has won four titles, and Russian world No 17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has bagged two.

The pair are the only players who have managed multiple titles since Williams’ temporary exit.

The other winners have became one-hit wonders, failing to keep their momentum.

Three of the titles won by Svitolina are not ranked in the top-three category of international tournaments.

Out of the four, only the Italian Open is ranked as one of the five premier events on the 2017 Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour.

Pavlyuchenkova’s titles – the Morocco Open and the Monterrey Open – are ranked far below the Grand Slams.

The second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, was won by unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

The Wimbledon title was taken by Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza, which adds to her 2016 French Open win.

“I think the players who have been at the top have not lived up to their billing. I feel terrible saying that,” said Evert.

“But everyone who’s reached number one, they haven’t carried on the momentum, and they haven’t stepped up and embraced that position of leadership on and off the court.”

Angelique Kerber enjoyed an incredible 2016, winning two majors – the Australian Open and the US Open – but has struggled this year.

The German was the first to capture the top position since the 23-time Grand Slam champion left, but she has since failed to maintain her position.

“You really can’t count on any one player right now, like you could count on Serena in the past,” said Evert.

Kerber lost to Muguruza in the last-16 at Wimbledon, thus losing her world No 1 ranking.

Then Karolína Plíšková moved to the first position because second-seed Simona Halep failed to win her match against Briton Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals.

The 25-year-old became the first player from the Czech Republic to achieve this historic milestone since the computer rankings were introduced in 1975.

Plíšková is the 23rd woman overall to hold the No 1 ranking since.

She brought an end the reign of Kerber, who spent 34 nonconsecutive weeks in the position.

Before the beginning of Wimbledon, ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said: “About 40 women could win Wimbledon. The field, without a doubt, is the clear favourite.”

It is clear that a new champion will most likely emerge during next month’s US Open.

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