Williams sisters’ resurgence is good news, bad omen

The good news for U.S. tennis fans is that the top two women tennis players in the world are compatriots No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 2 Venus Williams. They are the top seeds at the French Open, which begins Sunday.

The bad news for U.S. tennis fans is that the sisters, who are pushing 30 and have played sparingly over the last few years, are the top two women tennis players in the world. Unfortunately, their recent resurgence might say more about the quality of play on the women’s tour in general and signal the continuance of a decade-long absence of young U.S. pros on the rise.

During my years as a tennis beat reporter, Billie Jean King often reminded us that dominance in tennis on the pro tours tended to move in cycles, from country-to-country. “We’ll be right back up there soon,” King used to promise. But because there seems to be little, if any, talent in our tennis reservoir, it is unlikely that the U.S. will remain a part of the cycle of successful countries producing great tennis champions.

Here’s why.

Other countries have become better at steering a larger number of their gifted young athletes into tennis. Other countries are building better training academies, providing better day-to-day competition for their juniors. And other countries are hosting more tour events, which allow their young players to watch and mimic the world’s best at work. Tennis, which never was considered a major sport in this country, has become even less significant in the last 10 years. In women’s tennis, only the Williams sisters have given U.S Tennis Association (USTA) supporters something to cheer about at Grand Slam events.

Their continued presence at or near the top, despite their ages (Venus will be 30 in July, Serena will be 29 in September) and history of injuries, leave no doubt that they are the best women pros of this generation. Venus, who turned pro in 1994, has won 43 titles, including seven majors – five Wimbledons and 2 U.S. Opens. Reigning Australian Open champion Serena has won 36 titles, including 12 majors – five Australian Opens, one French Open, three Wimbledons and three U.S. Opens.

Though they only occasionally have played women’s doubles at tour events, the sisters have been unstoppable as a doubles team in Grand Slam competition. Indeed, as a tandem, they have won gold medals in doubles at two Olympic Games (2000 and 2008) and are unbeaten (11-0) in Grand Slam doubles competition, notching four Australian Open titles, one French Open, four Wimbledons and two U.S. Opens.
I wrote a similar story about the decline of the nation as a tennis power as an advance to the Australian Open, and I’ll probably write another to advance Wimbledon. Perhaps at some point, someone will take note and take the action needed to change the downward spiral.

The good news is that the U.S. Open continues to be one of the nation’s premiere sporting events. The bad news is that it is sure to lose its lustre if no young American players come along to fill the void, once the Williams sisters move on.

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