Photo : Mike McIntyre
With Serena Williams playing the the final match of her career in Canada on Wednesday night at the National Bank Open in Toronto, I heard many tennis fans on site discussing who might be next to carry the torch.
While we’ve seen the likes of Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty have shorter periods of dominance, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll ever see someone dominate the women’s game again like Serena Williams did for the better part of the past quarter century.
It seemed like Barty was preparing to take charge of things during the pandemic when she captured Wimbledon in 2021 and then, to the delight of Australian tennis fans, she won the Aussie Open at the start of 2022 as well. Then the tennis world was blindsided by her decision to walk away from the sport while still the reigning No. 1 player on tour. Getting to see an athlete go out on their own terms is a rare feat indeed in professional sports, but Barty felt at the age of just 25 she was ready to do so.
In the few months since Barty has left the game, it didn’t take long for someone to grab the ball and run with it. Poland’s Iga Świątek took her game to a new level earlier this year and from February in Qatar to July at Wimbledon went on a staggering 37-match win streak!
While Świątek is the latest to capture the fascination of tennis fans with her brilliant play, let’s look at a few of the younger players on the WTA Tour who are trying to make a lasting impact.
18-year-old Coco Gauff is one of the most athletic players on Tour and her side-to-side hustle on the court is a real treat to watch. She took out recent Wimbledon champ Elena Rybakina in the second round in Toronto in a tight three set match before doing the same against big-serving Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals..
Off the court Gauff had some impactful comments about Serena Williams’ retirement news that revealed just what a huge impact the legend has had on her to this stage of her career.
“That’s the reason why I play tennis. With tennis being a predominantly white sport it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody who looked like me dominating the game and it made me think I could dominate too.”
Another young American who has made great strides this year is 20-year-old Amanda Anisimova. You might remember her from the French Open in 2019 where as a teenager she made it to the semifinals. The unexpected passing of her father later that year understandably put Anisimova through a challenging time, but she’s back to playing some top level tennis and is just below her career-high ranking at No. 22 on the WTA.
In speaking with Anisimova this week for our Match Point Canada podcast, Anisimova revealed to me that:
“I think I’ve progressed a lot this year, I had a lot of quarterfinals and getting deep into tournaments so I’m really happy with my progress and it’s given me a lot of confidence. But hopefully my next goals are winning the tournaments and getting past that quarterfinal push.”
Here in Canada of course we have to mention both Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Annie Fernandez as already established emerging talents. Andreescu’s historic Canadian win at the US Open in 2019 definitely impacted the younger Fernandez, who then went on to make the finals in New York last summer. I asked Bianca what the two are capable of accomplishing in the future at the Billie Jean King Cup together.
“I have dreamt of me, Leylah and whoever else is on the team lifting up that Billie Jean King Cup because I’m sure that we can continue to do great things for the sport. She’s killing the game and to me it’s an inspiration as well just to have more Canadians out there…Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Personally, I like the “by-committee” approach in terms of competition in pro tennis and I’ve been so impressed with the depth on display on the WTA in recent years. With the four North American players mentioned above, the game is poised to see significant grown in both the US and Canada and hopefully develop into a nice tennis rivalry between the two countries as well.