Without Serena, Wimbledon will see a new singles champ. Who'll it be?

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While Men's singles arena is dominated by the big five, the women's has the singular Serena Williams, whose absence this year breaks the tussle for Venus Rosewater Dish wide open.

With Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and other top-ranked players out of the reckoning, in all probability, a new champion might be crowned on Saturday. | AFP

First up, I have an admission to make. This article — looking at the various contenders for the Venus Rosewater Dish come Saturday — might not have seen the light of the day under different circumstances. After all, a seven-time Wimbledon champion who gave a strong showing in 2016 is bound to be an odds-on favourite for this year’s trophy. But with Serena Williams not playing the 2017 Wimbledon (due to her pregnancy), this is a good chance to take a look at the rest of the playing field.

To give a snapshot of how dominant the Wonder Woman of tennis has been, here’s a little bit about her prowess. Serena Williams has been playing professionally since 1995, and her tennis precocity was there for everyone to see in 1997, when she beat the then World no. 7 Mary Pierce and then the World no. 4 Monica Seles in a (now defunct) WTA tour event in Chicago. Ranked number 304 in the world at the time, she was the lowest-ever-ranked player to beat two Top 10 players in the same event (it has since been bettered by Kim Clijsters in 2009). Armed with such strong performances, she marched into the top 100 of the year-end rankings of 1997. Soon enough, she won her maiden slam two years later at Flushing Meadows against Martina Hingis.

 

While there is enough to suggest “Groundhog day” in the men’s game recently, the women's game has been wide open with Serena Williams as the only constant.

By the turn of the millennium, she had cemented a top-10 place, and was regularly rubbing shoulders with the best in the business. She had also forged a successful doubles partnership with her sister Venus and won a career doubles Grand Slam by 2001. When she won the 2003 Australian Open singles title, she held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously — with the media dubbing it the “Serena Slam”. She would have her run-ins with injuries in the mid-noughties but eventually return to her dominant position by 2012. That she would repeat the “Serena Slam” once again by winning the Wimbledon in 2015 is as much a testament to her longevity as it is to gulf between her and her opponents.

Overall, she has won 23 Grand slam singles titles (with 14 doubles titles to go along with them, and an unbeaten record in grand slam doubles finals to boot), one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time singles tally. And there was the small matter of her winning the Australian Open while she was two months into her pregnancy.

The men’s grand slams have also been an old boys’ club since 2004. In the 54 grand slams since 2004, only four men have been able to wrest a grand slam from the clique of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Bracketing the last two amongst the others is a bit of a stretch, considering that they have won only three Grand slam singles championships as compared to the two-hand counts that the three other illustrious members of the big five boast. In these last 13-and-a-half years, only Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic have been able to draft an alternative headline and obligatory photo accompanying their victory. But it wasn't always like this — in the 10 years prior to 2004, 19 men had won 40 grand slam titles in the heydays of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

 

While there is enough to suggest “Groundhog day” in the men’s game recently, the women's game has been wide open with Serena Williams as the only constant. She’s been the only player (male or female) to win over 10 grand slams in two decades (2000s and 2010s). Other than her record-breaking exploits, the women’s scene has been relatively flat. Over the last 62 slams (dating back to January 2002), barring Kim Clijsters (four) Maria Sharapova (five), Venus Williams (seven), and Justine Henin (seven as well), no other female tennis player has managed to win more than two Grand slam titles. Why, in 2017 itself, of the 33 singles titles on the WTA tour so far, only four players have won more than a solitary title (with 4, 3, 2 and 2 respectively) with no single player dominating over the rest. Hence, when the 20-year-old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko won the French Open recently (her first slam), it was only exemplifying the recent trends in Women’s tennis.

With three of the big five still making the quarters, it looks very likely that a very familiar face yet again emerge as men’s singles champion. Not so with the women’s singles.

Coming into the tournament, the top 3 in women’s tennis — Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova are locked in a fierce battle for the World number one slot. Kerber barely managed to keep her head over water in the 4th round after being 2-4 down in the deciding set, and has been dumped in the quarters by the 2015 finalist Garbine Muguruza — who’s facing Magdalena Rybarikova in the semis.

 

Simona Halep has been overpowered by in-form, adopted home favourite Johanna Konta. Konta might be tipped by the bookmakers to become the first British women's Wimbledon champion since 1977, but truth be told, this is new territory for her as she had never crossed the second round hurdle previously. In her path lies former champion Venus Williams — someone with fantastic grass-court experience. And due to the number of points that Halep and Kerber are defending (from last year’s results), Pliskova has become the new World number 1 in spite of getting knocked out in the second round.

All said and done, this has been the most open Wimbledon ladies singles in several years — even after considering the recent history of women’s tennis — and it is time for someone to find their place in history. With Venus Williams being the only former champion left, in all probability, a new champion might be crowned on Saturday.

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