Serena's in the Aussie final? The WTA is in bad shape
Posted: Thursday January 25, 2007 1:14PM; Updated: Thursday January 25, 2007 1:14PM
Serena Williams is far from the physical peak she showcased five years ago, but she still has cruised into the final of the Aussie Open.
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I'm going to take some heat for saying this, but I can't be sensitive and ignore the truth: Women's tennis is in a very weak and desperate state.
Exhibit A: Serena Williams will be competing for the Australian Open championship at a significantly compromised fitness level. I don't mean to demean or belittle a courageous effort by Serena. It's a tremendous personal accomplishment to find a way to advance to a Grand Slam final without any match preparation heading into the event.
However, what is a credit to Serena personally shouldn't be the standard of excellence for the WTA Tour. That a player can dust off her rackets and make her way through a Grand Slam draw in such a compromised physical state doesn't say much for the WTA's depth at the moment.
Unfortunately, the WTA seems to be confronting a perfect storm of challenges. The combination of injuries, indifference and biological clocks going off all at the same time has created a power vacuum at the top of the game. I want to make this clear: Prioritizing family over one's career is not a display of weakness, but it certainly has depleted the talent base on the women's tour.
Lindsay Davenport chose the challenge of motherhood over the pursuit of one more Grand Slam victory, and Kim Clijsters' baby fever has prompted her to announce that, at the tender age of 23, she will retire at the end of the year to pursue her maternal instincts.
I am a huge fan of Kim's. She is a very friendly woman and an incredible tennis player and competitor. But you have to wonder, when someone is already conceding their retirement at such a young age, how passionate can they really be about their remaining days in the sport? When it comes to trying to be the best in the world at something, can you really challenge the elite when you have one foot out the door? I think not.
This is why Maria Sharapova is the best player in the world right now. It is a tremendous credit that her focus and intensity is unwavering considering how many off-court opportunities and distractions await her.
That brings us to Justine Henin-Hardenne. She's a great player with an incredible work ethic, but she's very fragile. Last year she defaulted in the Australian Open final with flu-like symptoms and in the final match of the Federation Cup with a knee injury. This year, she didn't even show up due to personal reasons. Could you imagine Sharapova walking off the court during the finals of a Grand Slam? She would have to have a limb falling off before she conceded the ultimate in her profession.
Injuries are unavoidable and the tennis season is so long and arduous that it's impossible for any athlete to stay healthy under that duress. If you check out any of the draws from the women's events last summer, there were more black lines through names on draw boards than on my fourth-grade spelling test.
It's time for WTA officials to recognize they need to shorten their season in order to protect their players. Many of the greats on the women's tour couldn't even make it Down Under. Venus Williams has a chronically injured wrist, Mary Pierce is rehabbing after knee surgery and Jennifer Capriati is trying everything to get back after major shoulder surgeries.
The WTA Tour needs to protect its biggest commodity -- its players -- or it will continue to flounder.
Outspoken ATP tennis pro Justin Gimelstob is a frequent contributor to SI.com. He is currently recovering from back surgery after his 11th year on tour.