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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Errors of the "New Era"

It's been a long time since we've seen a young star stun fans in a grand slam event. You have to go back seven years to dig up the highlights of Sharapova's teenage trounce over Serena Williams, but only back to this year's French Open to see 30-year-old Li Na take Paris by storm. For awhile we have been talking about the young guns, the next generation—the "New Era" if you will—and talking has lead to a lot of confusion. Instead of youth and courage dominating the tour, we've been content with crowning seasoned veterans. Who, then, would finally rise to the occasion? Who would step forth? Finally our questions have been answered in the left-handed Petra Kvitova, but what can we say for the rest of the young ladies in the WTA?

Petra Kvitova put on a superb display at Wimbledon, especially in her championship match against Sharapova which was near flawless. Her shots were fluid, powerful and unrelenting. The Czech refused to be pushed behind the baseline and swept Sharapova's strikes into unreachable corners as though she had been winning slams since she was ten. It was a truly extraordinary performance for a 21-year-old who had never reached a slam final before, but before reaching the championship, Kvitova had shown signs of weakness. In both her quarter and semifinal matches Kvitova went from full speed to stumbling within seconds, dropping sets in a fashion that made us scratch our heads and wonder how she could possibly pull it together. Regardless, she managed. Calming yourself and readjusting is something that makes a champion who they are. Still, Kvitova was not the young competitor we expected to see win a slam before names like Wozniacki and Azarenka...

So what is wrong with the New Era? What has kept them from winning? We've seen sparks come and go, but no one has been strong enough to sustain a lasting surge. We were excited in 2009 when Melanie Oudin reached the quarters of the US Open, but since then she has fallen back and out of the spotlight. Does she have something in store for us beyond a first round exit?

Again we were excited by the prospects of Victoria Azarenka, the howling baseliner who brought more heat than Sharapova, lacking only in the mental maturity needed to win big matches—that is, of course, until she became accident prone. What's tough about the Belarusian is that she has finally calmed down on court, making her a sweet pick for victories (lets look back at Miami and Madrid), but her body seems to have fallen a step behind. Just when you think she's healthy, she hurts something, or she reaches a slam quarterfinal and fizzles. When she made her first slam semifinal at Wimbledon I thought, "This is it. This is the breakthrough. It's straight to the championship," but then she looked dazed and confused on court against Kvitova. What will it take for her to lift a trophy at a major?

The player who leaves most people perplexed is "world number one" Caroline Wozniacki. She has reached a grand slam final before, she has been inches away from victory, she has been ranked no. 1 for a substantial amount of time...what more does she need? Yes, she has the most titles on tour this year, but I think we are all growing tired of congratulating Wozniacki on her victories in Brussels and New Haven. Currently suffering from a shoulder injury, the Dane will be taking some time off until early August. Maybe a little relaxation is what she needs so she doesn't run out of gas at Flushing Meadows.

There is always hope that the next grand slam will showcase a blast of youthful hopefuls waiting to break through. To be honest, Wimbledon turned out to be a great first triumph for the New Era. Three of the four semifinalists were 21 years old or younger and the fourth was only a few years older. Still, we want to be wow'd like we were in 2004. With players like Azarenka, Wozniacki, Lisicki, Goerges, Pavlyuchenkova and more knocking at the door, we are in for years of exciting tennis. Let's just get more of them to start believing they can win.

Because they can.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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