Serena Williams will keep her No1 ranking, irrespective of what happens in Saturday’s Wimbledon final, but when the American vacates that spot one day, Lindsay Davenport believes Garbine Muguruza will be the player replacing her.
Davenport, a former world No1 and three-time grand slam champion, believes the Spaniard has the best chance of eclipsing Serena, but that she must step up her consistency year round.
“It would be surprising if it wasn’t Muguruza, she’s amazing,” Davenport said when asked who she thought would be the next world No1 post-Serena.
“The questions are in her head, she put those aside in Paris and really concentrated and played well those two weeks.
“In my opinion, she’s way too good in her 52-week calendar to have something like seven or eight tournaments where she doesn’t get past the second round, something’s not totally right there.
“She’s so much better than so many players, I really feel like if she got the discipline down, she should be winning almost weekly or winning lots of matches.
“She’s been the most impressive one to me.”
Muguruza, who won the French Open last month before suffering a surprise second round exit to Jana Cepelova in the Wimbledon second round last week, has some bizarre statistics that stand out in her career activity.
She has won just three titles – one of which is a grand slam – and has actually captured more doubles trophies (five) than singles.
Muguruza has lost in the first or second round in six tournaments this year but her run at Roland Garros helped her secure the No2 spot in the rankings coming into Wimbledon.
The 22-year-old was one of four players who, mathematically, had a chance of unseating Serena this fortnight but she was one of the first to drop out of contention due to her early exit to Cepelova.
Angelique Kerber would have had a shot at the No1 ranking had Serena not reached the final, but the American can hold on to it now for at least a few more weeks.
“It is significant to me. I really wanted to keep it. That makes me happy,” Serena said about keeping her No1 ranking.
“No one wants to give it up when they have it. Obviously I have a lot of tough competition. But at the same time, I am going to have to work really hard, be really determined, especially with this summer coming up, to kind of hold on to it.”
Serena is spending her 300th week at world No1 which is the second-most in WTA history, after Steffi Graf’s record 377.
As many golfers have been pulling out of the Rio Olympics in the past few days, citing the Zika virus as the reason behind their decision, tennis players remain committed to the quadrennial Games.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the mosquito-borne virus has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies and Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis – in adults.
Golfers Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, winner Vijay Singh, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have all withdrawn from the Olympics out of fears of getting infected by the virus.
The WHO has said that men can pass on the virus to their female partners which would put them at risk in their future pregnancies. It remains unclear how much time the virus can remain in one’s system but reports on the matter range from saying it can be from eight weeks up to two years.
Most tennis players have surprisingly done little to no research on the matter and have said they plan on going to Rio this August for the Olympics.
What is it with golfers? I've interviewed Rio-bound rowers, canoeists, boxers, tennis players & swimmers. Not a single one mentioned Zika.— James Toney (@jtoneysbeat) June 22, 2016
“I have never reconsidered my decision. I know I will play. I will try everything I possibly can to be there,” Roger Federer told reporters at Wimbledon when asked about the Olympics and the implications of the Zika virus.
“I’ll put mosquito spray on my body, I’ll do that. I’ll take the precautions I have to. That’s it really.”
While the Swiss is aware of some of the dangers of the virus, he has not read much on the subject himself, and is relying on the Swiss Olympic Committee to do that for him.
“Swiss Olympic is giving me all the necessary information that I need to know going in. They’ll tell me what I need to do once I get there,” added the 2008 Olympic doubles gold medallist.
“They’ll give me the products I need to use. I trust them, that they guide me in the right direction. No, I have not been reading every article because otherwise I’d go crazy. I read some of it because it’s important to be informed.”
Andy Murray, who won gold in singles at the London Olympics four years ago, is following a similar approach to Federer’s.
The world No. 2, who has recently started a family with his wife Kim and has a four-month old daughter Sophia, has consulted with British Tennis doctors and plans on flying to Rio.
“I spoke to my doctor a bit and some of the guys on my team spoke to the doctor of British Tennis, who has been working there for, I don’t know, 35, 40 years. He seems to think that it’s pretty safe and that we should be okay,” explained Murray.
“I think probably when I’m done here, I’ll have another chat with him, you know, make sure. But, yeah, my plan is still to play.”
World No. 1 Serena Williams said she was “concerned but prepared” saying the United States Tennis Association and the US Olympic Committee have equipped her with lots of information.
No players have noted the fact that they are mostly getting their information from entities who have it in their best interest to send their best stars to the Games to maximise on their medal opportunities.
World No. 2 Garbine Muguruza has faith that the organisers of the Olympics will not allow the Games to go ahead if there are any serious health risks, disregarding the fact that massive amounts of money have been invested and a decision like that is very unlikely to happen no matter what.
“I’m not really looking and I don’t really know what is Zika virus,” confessed the Spaniard.
“But if they’re making Olympic Games there, I mean, it has to be, I don’t know, some security. I don’t think they’re going to make Olympic Games, and we don’t care, doesn’t matter if we get that there. I think there will not be a problem.”
American Coco Vandeweghe, who has made the US tennis team as the doubles partner of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, seemed highly critical of athletes who have opted out of the Olympics.
“I honestly haven’t done any research. I see a bunch of people pulling out of the event claiming that’s the reason. I haven’t done any research, so I don’t have any idea about it,” said Vandewege.
If athletes in basketball, tennis and golf don't want in Olympics, that's OK. Would also be OK to kick those sports out of Olympics.— David Woods (@DavidWoods007) June 24, 2016
“I think to be playing at the Olympics, I think some people take for granted when they say no to it. It’s not a given right to play for your country. It’s a privilege to play for your country. I think that should be a lot of people’s priorities and I think that’s forgotten, that people take for granted when they USA or whatever country next to their name.
“It’s a huge deal and for me I don’t think something like that – I honestly don’t know anything about it – would prevent me from going.”
World No. 5 Simona Halep is the only top player to cast some doubt over her participation, the Romanian saying she would pull out if it’s not safe.
“I have to research this virus because it’s not easy (to get all the information),” Halep told Reuters.
“I’ve asked many doctors and I have to speak to doctors again after this tournament. I’ve heard that even if you are not pregnant at the moment and you get the virus, when you get pregnant it (the virus) will activate. I’m very worried.
“I am planning to go (to Rio) but I have to make sure it is safe there and I am safe there. When I play tennis, my health is the most important thing.
“It’s a real dilemma when it’s about your health, so I cannot say anything now for sure (whether I will pull out or not). After this tournament I have to decide (whether I will go).”
Canadian world No. 7 Milos Raonic believes the lack of concrete information about the virus is the main cause for concern.
“I’ve heard different numbers (the time the virus remains in a patient’s body). From what I read, all the government agencies, nobody is putting definitive information on it because there isn’t enough information at this point. So nobody has put out concrete things. Some people say it stays in your system for two months, some people say two years. I think probably the biggest fear is not knowing,” said the 25-year-old Raonic.
With the summer packed for the tennis pros, who had Roland Garros and now Wimbledon to think about, many like Tomas Berdych, Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova have not focused on the Olympics at all but might be in for a surprise once they start finding out more about Zika.
Kuznetsova knows nothing about it and feels reports online may be exaggerated.
“You know how press does things. Like in Paris people were telling me ‘don’t go out on the streets, it’s like rivers everywhere’ and I’m like ‘what are you talking about? I was just at the Champs Elysees’. So you never know, if you’re afraid of everything it would be bad, but then of course there are some limits,” said the Russian.
It’s no secret that women’s tennis gets less air time than the men’s on television in the Gulf region.
And while you can easily catch an ATP first round in Halle or Queen’s, finding a Serena Williams opener at a WTA tournament live on TV here is often a fool’s errand.
The reason is that the current deal between the WTA and beIN Sports – the main rights-holder in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – only mandates that the network air the matches from the quarter-finals onwards of Premier-level tournaments.
That means a maximum of seven women’s matches are broadcast on beIN from one tournament.
So if a big star loses in an early round, or you want to follow a lesser-known female player who is unlikely to make it to the latter stages of a WTA event, you wouldn’t expect to find it on TV.
But that is going to change come next season as the WTA have signed a five-year multi-territory deal with beIN Sports that will allow the network to have access to four times as many matches as it does right now.
The agreement gives beIN broadcast rights for all WTA tournaments, including 21 Premier events, the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, and 28 International-level tournaments in over 30 territories worldwide including Spain, the USA, Australia and the MENA region.
It comes after another big move in the world of tennis from beIN, who have secured the rights for Wimbledon this year, after outbidding previous holders, Abu Dhabi Sports.
“Now we’ve stepped up our game, and our mandate is that every main draw singles match is produced across every tournament and we’ve increased our number of minimum World Feed matches across every tournament,” WTA Media managing director John Learing (right) told Sport360.
“So someone like beIN will be able to access almost four times as many matches as they currently are able to.”
According to Learing, the beIN agreement will allow the WTA to reach more diverse demographics and potentially increase the fan-base in key markets such as the United States and France.
The deal ties in with the start of the WTA’s new partnership with leading digital sports content and media group, Perform, creating WTA Media – the tour’s dedicated media arm.
The live media rights and production deal is worth $525m over 10 years (from 2017 to 2026), the largest in the history of women’s sports.
The WTA have aggregated the majority of its international broadcast rights under one umbrella, and will be producing for television every singles match at every tournament.
“It’s new for tennis,” said WTA CEO Steve Simon. “The WTA had the foresight to pool all of its international rights. The domestic rights are still controlled by the local tournaments.
“But the international rights are now in one pool and we sold them together so that we could go on in and now commit to producing each and every match as well as deliver it to a partner such as beIN. So we are the only one that’s done that so far in tennis and I think it’s terrific and good for everybody.
“It’s obviously a lot of product and I think the one thing that makes tennis a little bit unique is that we have live, new product, seven days a week for 43 weeks out of the year, so that’s great value as well.”
Besides the increased access to produced matches, broadcasters now get the added benefit of localisation.
If Oman’s Fatma Al Nabhani or Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur are playing a first round in Doha on an outside court that is usually not televised, under the new deal, Qatar’s beIN can choose to broadcast their matches in order to cater for its viewers in the Gulf region.
“It’s also the beauty of the broadcasters that we are partnering with now in 2017 and beyond, they also have incredibly progressive OTT (over-the-top) platform footprints and so those matches that might not be available on television, will be available across their digital and their OTT service,” added Learing.
“So most broadcasters, and beIN of course are leading this, are committing not just the linear play but the digital play as well.”
The WTA started the process of selling their new bundle of rights to different markets around eight months ago and according to Learing’s estimates, they’ve got 70 per cent of the world covered at the moment.
“We’re currently in 177 territories or countries with our broadcast plan and the goal is to meet or beat that by January 2017. We’ll be darn close to beating that,” says Learing.
The investment put into producing all these matches is obviously a huge commitment but Learing believes it is already paying off.
Simon says the beIN deal is “one of the largest deals that we’ve done” while Learing explains how the new set-up is meant to be beneficial for everyone.
“It is paying off,” says Learing. “We’re trying to put as much money back into the tournaments’ pocket as possible so we’re giving each tournament across the WTA a couple of options.
“One option is that WTA Media, a production company we’re in the process of creating right now, will come on-site and produce all of your matches at no cost to the tournament.
“However we also know that many tournaments have long-term existing relationships with their host broadcasters, so we don’t ever want to get in the way of that.
“So if a tournament wants to continue that arrangement, WTA Media will contribute a set price towards the production of every single one of those matches.
“It is a much larger investment in production no matter which way, or which decision you choose, but WTA is making the financial commitment to make it work for as many as possible without them spending one more cent on production. And so far we’ve found our tournaments to be incredibly receptive.
“We had well over half of our tournaments accept our offer to become their host broadcaster, and for those who aren’t able to or want to continue with their current host, they’re very receptive to our contribution.”