This is a guest post by my long-time blogging friend David Fearnhead, sportswriter and author who often promotes Women’s Tennis Blog on BBC radio 🙂 He’ll discuss the reign of Serena Williams in contemporary women’s tennis and question why her earnings in endorsements are not matching up to her on-court success.
Wimbledon has only just started, but if read all the punditry and look up the latest odds, you’ll find that one name comes above all others. Even before a ball was struck at SW19, the Rosewater Dish was being polished for Serena Williams. The fact that one player should be so dominant has been seen as detrimental to the women’s game.
“All Serena has to do is turn up and she’s won.”
But that is the thing with Serena, she rarely, if ever, just turns up.
Every generation has their greats, but Serena is not just a great of her generation. In my opinion, Serena could go toe to toe with Graf and Navratilova, and win. Maybe it would be close, maybe she wouldn’t win all the time, but she’d certainly win. The fact that she is so dominant today is not a sign that tennis lacks strength in depth, but more of a sign that Serena is a special player. Maria Sharapova may outearn her off the court, but on it she’s not in the same league. Their current head-to-head is 16-2 in Williams’ favour. It’s not even close. In fact you have to go back a whole decade to find the last time Sharapova beat Williams.
Last year when Forbes published their list of highest paid female athletes, tennis dominated. Seven of the top10 were tennis players. What was interesting was the breakdown of those earnings. Sharapova earned $6 million in prize money, compared to the $8.5 million of Williams. Yet, in terms of endorsement, Sharapova outearned the best player in the world (Williams) by almost 2/1. That might not be surprising, Sharapova has always been very sponsor orientated. What was surprising is that Li Na ($15m), Caroline Wozniacki ($11m), and Victoria Azarenka ($9m) also outearned Williams in endorsements.
So what’s going on? Is tennis racist? Or is Williams just more focused on her tennis and less willing to put herself out for the demands of her sponsors. That’s a question perhaps only Williams can answer. As is the question of her form this year. After a poor Australian Open due to injury, she looked decidedly off her game when she lost in the second round to Garbiñe Muguruza at the French. That is perhaps the biggest problem for Williams. We know she can beat Sharapova, but can she beat the new talent which is emerging? They play with a special confidence that comes from inexperience. What’s more there is plenty of them. Bouchard, Giorgi, Halep… Far from despairing at the state of the women’s game the future is looking excitingly healthy.
And what about Wozniacki? The former world number one has slumped down to be a lowly 16th seed. She’s been making more headlines for her on/off/on/ then off again relationship with Rory McIIroy. Now single, she looks in the best physical shape I’ve seen her in. Perhaps now it’s time for her tennis to be making the headlines. Without the burden of the number one ranking, she is a dangerous floater in the draw.
Other dangers lurk with unseeded Kaia Kanepi, a quarterfinalist last year. In fact, the Estonian has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam on five occasions, twice at Wimbledon. Barbora Záhlavová-Strýcová hands always prove a weapon on grass, could she cause an upset?
The one thing you can be sure of is that women’s tennis at Wimbledon is rarely a dull affair. (photo: © Neal Trousdale)