Treasure Serena Williams while she’s here, but WTA will shine again without her

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For all the Wimbledon shocks, will Serena Williams’ return ultimately result in the most predictable of outcomes?

“Women’s tennis eh,” our editor Shahida told me as she readied to finish her shift, “thought it would be done in quick time and then six consecutive breaks of serve at the end.”

She was, of course, talking about Angelique Kerber’s Wimbledon quarter-final win over Daria Kastkina, for which Shahida was writing the report.

And I sympathised. As sports journalists, we’ve all been there. It doesn’t really matter the sport, either. You can just imagine thousands of cries of anguish from newsrooms around the world when Colombia equalised in the final seconds against England in the World Cup round of 16.

Yes, England still won, but the whole narrative was completely changed, rendering the on-the-whistle report they have been working on for the last hour utterly useless.

But that’s really just a footnote, an inconvenience. The fact of the matter is that unpredictability makes for brilliant sport and drama is the spectacle – and women’s tennis right now is probably the most unpredictable thing out there.

If you need proof of that, look no further than the Wimbledon quarter-finals, where you won’t find a single top-ten seed. That’s unusual, in fact it’s unprecedented, but the WTA has served up some scintillatingly unpredictable spectacles over the past year.

There is an obvious reason for that, right? For all the talk about how open the Wimbledon women’s draw is, there is an elephant in the room – a 23-time Grand Slam winning elephant in the room.

Obviously, Serena Williams’ absence has had a huge effect on the WTA Tour. How could it not? She has been utterly dominant for more years than it is strictly polite to count. When Serena plays, Serena tends to win.

At Roland Garros, she looked like she was close to rediscovering her brilliant best. At Wimbledon, she has found it.

And it’s actually quite tough to know what to feel about that. On the one hand, Serena is back, and that’s awesome. There isn’t another player comparable to her and it’s always a privilege to watch her. On the other hand, Serena is back, and she’s probably going to win – again. That’s not unpredictable, is it?

But ultimately, we fans can have our cake and eat it too. Williams is definitely back, and that’s brilliant for us. We simply must appreciate her while she’s here because there may never be another one like her.

At the same time though, it’s never felt more apparent that she’s not going to be around forever, and when she eventually is gone, the WTA Tour is primed to serve up some spectacular unpredictability once again.

Michael Graham


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