Tennis: Deep women's tennis field needs to be hungrier: Chris Evert

Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki at Clifford Pier with the Billie Jean King Trophy after winning the WTA Finals. The top ranking changed hands seven times this year without anyone establishing real dominance.
Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki at Clifford Pier with the Billie Jean King Trophy after winning the WTA Finals. The top ranking changed hands seven times this year without anyone establishing real dominance.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

While no one stepped up in Serena's absence, Evert sees 2018 as possibly one of the best

Much has been said about the depth of women's tennis this year, which has seen the No. 1 ranking change hands seven times and four different Grand Slam champions - including two first-time winners - crowned.

But while former world No. 1 Chris Evert acknowledged that this has made for an intriguing season, the American does not think 2017 was a "banner year for women's tennis".

Evert, in town for the recently concluded BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, told The Straits Times: "It's a little disappointing that nobody's stepped it up... I thought maybe somebody would now that Serena (Williams) was out of the game.

"But the fact that matters is the last four or five years, when Serena's been in a tournament, all the pressure's been on Serena.

"The pressure hasn't been as intense on those players when Serena's been in the tournament, and now Serena's out, I just felt like everybody was nervous."

Williams, who won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in January, revealed in April that she was having a baby and would not play again this year.

In recent years, the 36-year-old's dominance has been unparalleled - she has won at least one Grand Slam title every year since 2012, including three in 2015. She also reached three Grand Slam finals last year, winning Wimbledon for the seventh time.

NOT WANTING IT BADLY ENOUGH

The pressure hasn't been as intense on those players when Serena's been in the tournament, and now Serena's out, I just felt like everybody was nervous.''

CHRIS EVERT, 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, on the fact that no woman took up Serena Williams' mantle as the dominant player during her pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave.

The American also spent 186 consecutive weeks at No. 1 from 2013 till last September, equalling Steffi Graf's Open era record for most consecutive weeks at the top.

Williams and German Angelique Kerber took turns at the top during the first half of the year. The No. 1 ranking was then passed to Czech Karolina Pliskova, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza and current holder Simona Halep.

Evert, who has 18 Grand Slam singles titles, added: "Maybe it's the field and maybe it's (the fact that) the women are so close at the top, that anyone on a hot day can beat anyone else, the depth is there but I didn't see that one hungry player emerge."

The 62-year-old, who had expected compatriot and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys or Wimbledon champion Muguruza to step in and take advantage of Williams' absence to dominate the sport, said this could be because players have more off-court demands today.

But she believes 2018 could be "one of the best years ever", especially with the return of Williams, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and former world No. 1s Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

Russian Sharapova, having completed a 15-month doping ban, returned to competition in April at the Stuttgart Grand Prix.

The next month saw Kvitova, whose dominant left hand was badly injured during a knife attack at her home in December, start her comeback at the French Open.

At the Mallorca Open in June, Azarenka played her first match as a mother after giving birth in January.

Evert believes that their return, combined with the current crop of players in the top 10, bodes well for women's tennis.

She added: "I think more people will be engaged in and excited about women's tennis, and it's not only the game - it's also the personalities of these women, the leadership roles that they take and how strong they are as women.

"If we get them back... and playing well and healthy and we have this crop, it could be a great year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Deep field needs to be hungrier'. Print Edition | Subscribe