Simon Reed

Women’s game desperately seeking a champion

Simon Reed

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One fact sums up everything you need to know about women's tennis at the moment: Serena
Williams hasn't played a tournament in almost a year, and has barely even hit a
ball in practice during that time, yet she is still a close second favourite to
win Wimbledon.

The
resurgent Maria Sharapova is the bookies' pick for glory at SW19,
and probably rightly so after a display at the French Open that was great for
the tournament - and women's tennis  - even
if she did fall short in the end. But her favourite status is anything but
clear-cut.

We haven't
really seen many young players breaking through in the women's game for a
while, and at Roland Garros we saw a final contested by the 29-year-old Li Na
and the 30-year-old Francesca Schiavone.

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Czech Republic's Patra Kvitova stretches to returns the ball to China's Li Na during their fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament, at
When you
take all that into account the women's game seems wide open for any number of the
young players to come through at a Grand Slam, much more so than in the men's
game.

For my money
Petra Kvitova is the most exciting of the young talents who could take the next
step, and after her run to the semi-final last year I wouldn't bat an eyelid if
she won at Wimbledon. And though Victoria Azarenka is probably feeling deflated
after the way she fell short against Li at Roland Garros, she's another
player I could easily see collecting a number of major titles.

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Belgium's Kim Clijsters reacts as she plays The Netherlands' Aranxta Rus in their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament, at the Rol
For all
that, the single most important question in women's tennis right now is this:
where is Kim Clijsters mentally?

It's
difficult to fathom what happened to her at the French Open. I'd heard that she
went to Roland Garros feeling eager, happy, positive... but the way she went
out of the tournament suggested that she almost wasn't prepared to put in the
necessary work like she once was.

In fairness
it might just have been a bad day at the office on an admittedly very windy
day, and the likeable Belgian is still the winner of two the last three Grand
Slams.

But is the
initial euphoria of her stunningly successful comeback into the game waning?
Does she still have the excitement? Because while she's still the winner of two
of the last three Grand Slam titles, it looked to me in Paris as if that magic
might be wearing off.

Kim has always
been a very rounded character who sees her life in terms of far more than just
tennis.

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If this
French Open proved anything, it's that Caroline Wozniacki clearly doesn't have
a big enough game to win a Grand Slam. She's a fantastic, consistent player,
but she doesn't have the ability to raise her game when the others are raising
theirs in the very biggest tournaments.

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Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki reacts during a press conference after losing to Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova in a third round match of the French Open
It was
fascinating to hear her father's comments effectively saying that he recognises
what needs doing to give Caroline a bigger game. The truth is, though, that
what needs doing simply can't be done this season. We're not going to see her
start hitting bombs at Wimbledon.

But until
she has that extra punch, she looks destined to fall short on the biggest
stages. A defensive player almost always loses to an offensive player who is
truly firing on all cylinders; and at a Grand Slam, an essentially defensive
player like Wozniacki is always going to run into one of those players who has managed
to peak exactly at the right time. Until she can right that, she looks destined
to go on falling, and at Wimbledon it's hard to see her going past the
semi-finals.

I'm not
saying her level drops at Grand Slams. It doesn't, but neither does it go up. She's
a great girl, a lovely character, she's been fantastic for the women's game and
I'd love to see her win a sackload of Grand Slams.

But with
her game as it is right now, the only way she'll land one of the game's biggest
titles is if everything else at the tournament falls into place around her.

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