History was made…on Saturday. Were you around?

A topic that is often debated in sports is what is more desirable – quality or competition.   The presence of one doesn’t guarantee another.   Take cricket.  Australia absolutely annihilating India in the World Cup 2003 was a magnificent display of high quality sport – and yet hopelessly one sided.   On the other hand, Ireland v/s Bangladesh in the 2011 World Cup was a closely contested match but more of a low scoring dogfight.

French Open 2012, which concluded last week (today, in fact!), offered an insight into that question.  Today, Novak Djokovic missed his date with history.  He could have been the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four slams at the same time but couldn’t find enough momentum in a start-stop affair.  Instead, Rafael Nadal was officially crowned the greatest clay court player of all time with his 7th French Open title, going past Bjorn Borg.  Also a significant milestone, that.  But we have got so used to Nadal winning at Roland Garros year after year that we hardly noticed.

Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova achieved a rather important milestone on Saturday.  She beat Sara Errani to bag her maiden French Open title and with that, completed her career slam.   And yet, her feat has hardly evoked much enthusiasm, save amongst the legions of ‘Masha’ fans (of which there are many, no doubt).  As one news report put it, it may take more than Maria Sharapova to save women’s tennis.

There were upsets galore in women’s tennis while only Andy Murray from the top four failed to advance to the semi finals.  No.1 played No.2 for the third time running in a Grand Slam final to make it as symmetrical as could be.  Every French Open edition from 2008 onwards has thrown up a new women’s singles winner.   There have been only two winners of the men’s edition from 2005 onwards and one of them, Federer, has only won it once.

And yet, it was the men’s draw that grabbed all the headlines, all the attention.  Far from groaning in boredom at the prospect of Nole v/s Rafa all over again, tennis lovers were licking their lips in anticipation.  This was after all, no ordinary contest.  It was the clash of the titans.

And even rain interruptions couldn’t dampen the contest as Djokovic single handedly provided more resistance than all previous competition put together that Nadal had faced in the tournament.  It is fair to say we already have our minds on the next Roland Garros edition in 2013.  Will Nadal and Djokovic lock horns yet again and will Nole finally turn the tables on the King of Clay?

Meantime, Sharapova swept aside Errani, who she was a good deal taller than as well as lighter.   World no.1 Azarenka was not in contention.  Kim Clijtsers had skipped the tournament and Serena Williams had suffered a not entirely shocking first round upset.  In short, the whole thing was not as worthwhile as could be.

Make no mistake, it’s not a knock on Sharapova.  She recovered from shoulder surgery and endured rather embarrassing problems with her serve to win her fourth major.  One has to say that she has been remarkably focused on her tennis for one who earns a substantial income from off court activities.  By itself,  the story of her comeback is inspiring, the kind of stuff that makes international sport special.

But stack her up with other members of the coveted career slam club and the reason why  reception of this achievement has been rather lukewarm becomes clear.   Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams, that’s the company she keeps.  And no, Venus Williams is not a member of the career slam club nor is Monica Seles.    Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin, Kim Clijtsers – the list of women who have won a bunch of slams but failed to complete the career slam is a long and illustrious one.   Oh…and Djokovic, for all his valiant efforts, is not in the corresponding men’s club either.

No, there’s no beating around the bush.   Sharapova is only a career slammer because the state of women’s tennis is what it is.  Surprises, upsets, volatility excite when they are caused by a packed field of top notch players.  Like men’s tennis in the 80s, when even Pat Cash won just the solitary slam and a fair few hovered around the half dozen mark.

When it is caused by the failure of the top three or four to dominate the rest of the field consistently, it doesn’t leave the audience with any one or two players to root for, any match ups to look forward for.  Only the hardcore tennis enthusiast will watch, because he/she just wants to watch some tennis and not necessarily specific players.

And even then, the men’s draw seems a lot more enticing.  As an advocate of equality in general and women’s tennis specifically, I have to say that, sadly, I don’t have a rebuttal anymore to those who ask what’s there to like about women’s tennis.

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3 Responses to “History was made…on Saturday. Were you around?”

  1. rjsays Says:

    Yup. Regardless of her improvement on clay — most especially her movement and sliding abilities — if Sharapova wins the French Open, then you know something is wrong.

  2. rothrocks Says:

    One of the most disappointing women’s RGs. Only the Stosur-Errani match really lived up to expectations.

  3. rjsays Says:

    By the way, you might want to go through my blog too:

    http://tennismusings.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/rafael-nadal-enjoying-the-suffering/

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