Let’s start things off with a question.
Do you cheer for the favourite the second she steps onto the court or do you prefer parity, which can complicate things when it comes to predicting the outcomes of matches and tournaments?
It’s a question that’s also relevant in men’s tennis, as well as in individual and team sports.
Some fans are in it for the dynasties and superstars vying for G.O.A.T. status. Others see the beauty in a competition whose culmination leaves room for a few surprises.
There’s no right or wrong answer.
Organizers of events like the NBO will always want the top seeds to go as far as possible so the tournament stays the proverbial course. But they also don’t hate it when less familiar names write their own Cinderella stories.
That’s exactly what happened in 2021 when Camila Giorgi took the title in Montréal.
A good mix of both makes for a successful competition.
THE ALL-CINDERELLA SLAM FINAL
Two of the most extraordinary Cinderella stories in tennis were spun concurrently at the 2021 US Open, as our very own Leylah Fernandez, 19 years old, and Emma Raducanu, 18 years old, fought their way into the final after coming into the Slam ranked No.73 and No.150, respectively.
Were they favourites? Nope.
Were they the Cinderella stories? Definitely.
Getting as far as a Grand Slam final is a life-changing achievement. So imagine the impact of winning one.
You know how it goes: the only thing more difficult than getting to the top is staying there. That’s a lesson Leylah and Emma, like many before them, have learned. It’s been a trend this past decade, and it doesn’t seem to be turning around just yet.
I had fun going back 10 years and 40 Slams to take a look at the finalists, the winners, the players who qualified and those who never went back. The data are very revealing.
MANY CALLED, MANY CHOSEN
Believe it or not, 36 women have competed in at least one Slam final since January 2013. Owing to the pandemic, there were only three majors in 2020, so I included the 2023 AO to make it an even 40 tournaments.
That’s 36 players in 80 final berths in the past decade.
And that’s double the total of 19 in the men’s game. But we all know why that is. Take the Big Three, add Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka who competed in six and four finals, respectively, and you end up with 5 men who take up 55 of 80 final berths. Not exactly equal footing.
But back to the WTA.
On March 26, I watched Bianca Andreescu eject Sofia Kenin from the second round of the Miami Open (6-4, 6-4).
Two Grand Slam champions back on the court. Two winners who, unlike Swiatek (3), Barty (3) and Osaka (4), haven’t been able to secure another major.
But Bianca and Sofia aren’t the only ones with a single Slam since 2013. Excluding Aryna Sabalenka (AO 2023), there’s Raducanu, Rybakina, Krejcikova, Stephens, Ostapenko, Pennetta, Wozniacki and Bartoli.
In 2019, Bianca Andreescu rose as high as World No.4 thanks to a phenomenal season and her US Open triumph.
Then, a knee injury at the WTA Finals sent her into a spiral of physical and mental challenges she’s spent the past three years working through.
From No.5, she fell to No.121 in April 2022. But since then, she’s been constantly moving closer to the Top 30—a group that’s much more representative of her level and potential aspirations and which she’ll likely enter after Miami. If she takes the title, she could even make the Top 20.
As for Sofia Kenin of the US, she fell off the radar in a similar way after two major finals at the age of 22.
She underwent an appendectomy in 2021 and then had to skip the Tokyo Olympics and US Open due to COVID-19. In 2022, she injured her ankle in Indian Wells and took five months off before undertaking a slow ascent in the rankings.
Her comeback truly materialized at the ITF W80 and WTA 125 tournaments she signed up for late last season.
Eleven months after reaching World No.4 in August 2021, she plummeted to No.426.
Even so, she could leave Miami with an entry into the Top 150.
Every player’s story is different, since countless factors dictate whether a champion will repeat or not.
One thing’s for sure: without taking anything away from Navratilova, Evert, Graf or Williams, parity is now the name of the game in the WTA.
And the only ones guaranteed to win every time are the fans.