Women’s tennis often falls into the shadow of the men’s game. Just look at Andy Murray’s press conference yesterday after his loss to Sam Querrey.
When asked by a reporter what he thought of his opponent becoming the first American player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 2009, Murray had to correct the question: “Male player, right?”
The journalist had overlooked the Williams sisters, who between them have reached 23 semi-finals (and claimed 14 majors) in the same period. The pair have been at the top of the game for more than 15 years, yet women’s tennis is rarely front page news – even when Serena is making history.
Of course, their supremacy has come in an era dominated by titanic male players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray himself, producing some of the greatest rivalries the game has ever seen.
Meanwhile, the women’s game has seen challengers race up the rankings only to fade back into obscurity. The Williams sisters’ dominance means that only three of the current top ten female players have a Grand Slam title to their name.
The result is a lack of personalities to draw in the crowds and earn the column inches. Until this year, the ladies’ game only had three big ticket names: Venus and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Venus plays in today’s semi-finals; Serena announced her pregnancy in April, just weeks after claiming the Australian Open title while carrying her first child. Meanwhile, Sharapova’s reputation – and career – has been rocked by a drugs scandal which saw her banned from the game for 15 months after testing positive for meldonium in January 2016.
Without the likes of Sharapova and Serena to put bums on seats, women’s tennis might have floundered – but instead of hurting the sport, the absence of two of its biggest stars has finally given airtime to the group of players challenging their crown.
Back in June, unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko stormed to her first Grand Slam title, seeing off Simona Halep in three thrilling sets. A new star was born.
Fast-forward to July and Wimbledon fans have witnessed a parade of gripping women’s matches. Names who have been kicking around for a few years have pulled off stunning and – crucially – entertaining victories, with Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber all involved in three-set epics.
But the story of the tournament has got to be sixth seed Johanna Konta. On home turf, the British number one has showcased her steely resolve to make the Wimbledon semi-finals, becoming the first British woman to do so since Virginia Wade (who went on to win the title in 1977).
Today she faces a formidable opponent in Venus Williams and the match promises to be a tournament highlight. The pair are second on Centre Court, after Garbine Muguruza takes on unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova, and Konta now carries the hopes of the nation on her shoulders after an injured Murray crashed out yesterday.
Not that the pressure should take hold of her. The 26-year-old’s biggest strength is her mental game and there was barely a whiff of nerves as she dug deep to march past Halep into the final four. Expect more of her trademark grit and determination out on court against Venus later today.
Many are tipping Konta for the title, but regardless of the outcome, it’s been a thrilling – and important – few months for women’s tennis. Sure, the column inches might have been shorter had a Brit not made it to the Wimbledon semi-finals but – in a tournament where the exits of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray left an underwhelming men’s draw – it is women’s tennis that is finally getting people talking.