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Women's tennis lacks an ace

Last updated on: July 01, 2008 18:52 IST

With Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova part of the top trio, women's tennis hasn't 'looked' so good.

But since Justine Henin's departure the field is without a clear leader.

The week after the Belgian announced her shock retirement, three-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova saw the coveted world No 1 position drop in her lap. Sharapova, who had been in the top position before, could not hold it for long this time either.

- Wimbledon 2008: Complete Coverage

Only a month into her reign, Ivanovic swatted off everyone who came in her way at Roland Garros and was crowned the French Open champion and world No 1.

Her fellow-Serb Jelena Jankovic, courtesy her semi-final appearance at the Slam, where she lost a tight match to Ivanovic, finished second in the rankings race.

Even as the musical chairs at the top continues, all the contenders vying for the hot seat found themselves heading home early from Wimbledon.

For the first time in the history of the Championships, none of the top four women's seeds will feature in the quarter-finals. While the game's most saleable stars -- Sharapova and Ivanovic -- were dumped in the first week itself, Jankovic and Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova survived the early storm only to be shown the door by the fourth round.

In complete contrast to the men's game, where Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have monopolised not only the rankings but a share of Grand Slam titles in the last five years, their female counterparts, apart from Henin, have struggled to string together consistent performances.

Maria SharapovaAgreed, the tennis landscape is full of mines and you never know when you step onto one. But the collective capitulation of the top four at Wimbledon leaves a lot to be desired.

Ivanovic reasoned she did not come into the grass-court Slam with proper preparation; Sharapova said she had an off day, while Jankovic put down her loss to bad scheduling and making her play in the far away Court No.18, which she said was almost in the "parking lot."

The disappointment is palpable, but the excuses don't hold water.

Not since the total domination of Steffi Graf (22 singles Grand Slams) has the women's game had a bankable star. Martina Hingis's reign was too brief and the Williams sisters too distracted.

Though Venus and Serena are still 'alive' in the competition and inching closer to another family final, they haven't escaped the bug of inconsistency either. Untouchable on their day, the powerful sisters, have in turn looked inspired or disinterested.

Maybe, in an idealistic world, the glamour quotient Ivanovic and Sharapova bring to the game could have been ignored and the losses not made to look worse than they were. But we are far from it.

Sharapova's tuxedo and pants was the talk of the town in the first week. It even inspired her opponent, Russia's Alla Kudryavtseva, to hunt her down in straight sets.

The grunts and fist pumps and fashion parades are all welcome as long as they bring quality tennis and the errors are kept under check.

The matches, especially in the lower echelons, are often decided on who makes the more number of errors.

And what seemed like a bastion of men's tennis, the women's game also now seems to lack imagination and is infiltrated with robotic power-hitters.

Women's tennis has had the glamour since the Chris Evert days, Sharapova and Ivanovic have added a few billion bucks and bling to it! But what the game needs is a front-runner, like a Graf or a Federer, to raise the bar so high that others are left with no option but to strive for it.

Deepti Patwardhan