Dubai Duty Free Tennis: Women's game has evolved, for the better

Women's tennis has moved on from the Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova eras

by

Leslie Wilson Jr

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Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka takes a selfie with fan after her win in Dubai on Wednesday. — Photo by Shihab
Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka takes a selfie with fan after her win in Dubai on Wednesday. — Photo by Shihab

Published: Wed 22 Feb 2023, 10:11 PM

The Jumeirah Creek Hotel was a hive of activity as a battalion of female players, shouldering bulging tennis bags, filled the lobby. The receptionists were scrambling at their desks to attend to them as quickly as they could. Which was pretty impressive.

You could tell something big was going on as the attentive hotel staff were kept busy answering queries and requests. One by one the player's accommodation was sorted out and they made a beeline to the glassed elevators to head to their respective rooms, their abode for the next seven days.


The bustle ended almost as soon as it began. Or so it seemed.

Soon it would be showtime and Dubai’s marquee tennis championships would come to life on a bright Sunday afternoon.


But little did the players, 17 of whom were ranked in the Top 20 of the world, realize what they were in for and that it would be an extremely testing week on the newly resurfaced DecoTurf courts at the historic Dubai Tennis Stadium.

By the second round, four of the Top 10 players were eliminated among them world No five Caroline Garcia, No 6. Maria Sakkari , No 7 Daria Kasatkina and No 11 Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Not surprising, because nothing can be taken for granted in today’s talent-ridden women’s tour, where on a good day, or bad day in some cases, anything could happen.

If any of them had been around to listen to newly-crowned Australian Open Champion Aryna Sabalenka sound out a warning during a pre-tournament round table with the media, they would have not been surprised.

The Belarusian, who acknowledged that she had worked extra hard to gain the rewards of a maiden Grand Slam victory, summed up the state of the talent-rich women’s game.

“The draw is really strong here,” she pointed out. “Each opponent is really tough. I think tennis has improved a lot. If the No. 1 is playing against No. 30, it doesn't say anything. Anyone can beat anyone today.

“If you look far in the draw, then you lose the first match because you're already thinking about your semifinal match or whatever.”

If you look at tennis in the 80s and 90s and how it has developed through the two decades in terms of player commitment, fitness levels, technology and modernized playing surfaces, you would have to agree with Sabalenka, who on Wednesday came from behind to end Jeļena Ostapenko’s hopes of becoming the fourth back-to-back winner here after Justine Henin, Venus Williams and Elina Svitolina.

Women’s tennis has moved on from the Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova eras.

It has entered an all-new realm where ethics, mindsets and goals have radically changed. The transition has been machine-like and while the established players of the new era have continually changed it has only served to add depth to the division.

Arguably finesse has given way to power and durability, which is by no means in short supply with even three-set matches lasting over three hours as we saw during the first three days of the tournament where records were being challenged for the longest matches of the year.

Liudmila Samsonova and Paula Badosa plugged on for 3 hours and 22 minutes before the winner emerged.

Players have become more adaptable to the variety of surfaces that they play on around the world, opting for serve and volley when necessary and relying on a powerful baseline game on other occasions.

While the slower-paced Dubai DecoTurf does not encourage a quick trip to the net for volley specialists, it has in a way aided in bridging the gap between the players in the upper echelon and those seeking opportunities.

Points are no longer won too quickly with neither player willing to relent.

Play on artificial surfaces is more long-paced and in a way, beneficial to players who fancy their chances of scoring an upset.

Do these courts help slow the game even as tennis balls become softer which allows players more time to make last-minute adjustments?

In today’s women’s game all aspects of the sport matter. You still have to be superior to your opponent to win a match but the progression of the game has widened and added depth to tennis.

Which is actually not a bad thing.


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