Patrick Mouratoglou

Women’s tennis is extraordinarily diverse

Patrick Mouratoglou

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I was surprised to read a comment in my Eurosport webchat the other week that claimed every player on the women's Tour has a stereotyped game.

This is something I hear very often. However, in the current top 10, there are many different styles of play and women's tennis is extraordinarily rich at the moment. It's nonsense to suggest that these players have a stereotyped game.

You may dislike and criticise women's tennis, most notably for not being able to reach the same levels as men's tennis, but one accusation that cannot be levelled at it is that it lacks variety and diversity.

Sure, women are not on the same level as the men, but that is nothing new and it will always be like that. It should also be noted much of the WTA's promotion tends to focus on the glamour of the women rather than the game itself, and that is unfortunate because women's tennis is not - and should not be - limited to that.

Women are more tense than the men. They move slower and those who are able to take the ball early and play flat hold an advantage. Service and returns of serve are fundamental in the women's game.

When a player does well and moves her opponent around from the first ball, either she wins the point straight off or she sets up a chance to win the point.

If the women's game has been stereotyped it is because that was true at one time. We have had a lot of players from Eastern Europe over the last 10 years and the top 100 has been monopolised by players from there. These women have all learnt to play in the same way: flat and fairly stereotyped. There was up to 60 per cent of players on the circuit employing that kind of tennis at one time. But that has now changed.

By analysing each of the best players in the world, I will prove there are a number of different styles in the women's game.

Starting with Victoria Azarenka, the world number one, I think her game resembles that of Rafael Nadal. Why? First, they are both intense players. They spend an enormous amount of energy on court and they both hit the ball very hard.

They are also two players who make very few direct errors. Azarenka will win less points than a Kvitova or a Serena, who are pure attackers, and she plays close to the line, rarely falling back. However, she moves forward very little too and takes balls early, at the apex of the bounce, all the time.

She wears down her opponents, to the point of exhaustion. For this reason she often inflicts one-sided scorelines on her opponents, who are quickly run ragged and completely suffocated by her.

To summarise: few errors, lots of intensity and incredible court coverage - that is Azarenka's game.

Maria Sharapova is a huge hitter from the baseline. She takes risks, she's aggressive and plays relatively flat.

Along with Serena Williams, she is the best returner in the world. However, she's not a great server. Even if her service game has improved, it's still fairly predictable.

Sharapova is dangerous when she plays on the front foot and when she can move forward. To stop her, she absolutely must be prevented from coming forward. Once she does, she is dangerous. However, when she is forced into lateral movements on court, she gets into trouble.

Agnieszka Radwanska, finally, has an extremely atypical game. She is an amazing player, who doesn't hit very hard and instead uses the speed of her opponent's ball.

Her touch is exceptional. She is often compared to Martina Hingis because she knows how to do everything by taking the ball early with that touch. She relies on the opponent's ball to change direction. And she is very intelligent and unreadable on court. She reads the game well.

She isn't necessarily very fast on short balls, but she is difficult to put out of position because she anticipates well and is able to see early how the point will be played out.

Petra Kvitova is an exciting player because of her tremendous potential.

She is a player who spent several seasons emerging and who has developed sporadically. But over the last two years, that has become more regular and her 2011 season was truly exceptional.

Kvitova is left-handed, has a very good serve and is not afraid to advance into the court. There is a sense that she wants to progress and to evolve her game. She isn't scared of taking risks and to engage her opponent in battle. She's capable of beating anyone and sometimes it's fabulous to watch.

But when it's not working for her, she has no plan B and is liable to make a succession of errors.

You never really know which Kvitova you will get on court. She is a confidence player, more so than her rivals. When her high-risk game produces mistakes, she is affected mentally and she is then prone to stringing together 10 or 15 errors.

On the flip side, when she hits two or three winning shots in a row, she is capable of getting into a positive spiral.

Kvitova is still young and she will develop. Physically, there is a lot of room for improvement, because she still lacks explosiveness and speed. But I think we'll see her for a long time at a very high level.

American Serena Williams has two main strong points. Number one: her serve, of course. It is unquestionably the best serve in the world; just look at the stats, in terms of aces and points won after the first ball.

Less talked about, but equally effective, is her second serve, which is extremely difficult to attack because it bounces so high.

Second, she returns very well. She is, generally speaking, a player who takes risks and puts pressure on her opponents. During rallies, when we think of Serena, we think of power. She's a player with such a vicious shot, she can stretch anyone at any time. Also, Serena is probably the toughest player mentally on the women's tour.

Over the years, sometimes we've seen Serena in really poor form but she has still been able to win Majors thanks to her mindset, as was the case this year at Wimbledon where she had an average first week but was able to impose herself mentally on some matches.

Now we are posing the question of whether Serena can claim the Grand Slam of winning all four major championships in a single calendar year, considering she has won the last two as well as the Olympics.

But she doesn't play on her own. Her rivals are there and Serena is not the world number one, so there a players above her to beat.

Clearly, this is a goal of hers and Serena is in a position to achieve great things yet. She can do a two-year Grand Slam, so why not a single calendar-year Grand Slam?

She's also on course to beat the record for most Grand Slam wins and, considering her age and the number of titles she already has, that is a real possibility, even if it won't be easy.

She has to be perfectly prepared for each of the next major events, including the Masters and then the Grand Slam tournaments, if she is to continue writing herself into tennis history.

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