Until Federer’s Swede-mashing experience at the hands of Robin Soderling, the biggest talking point at this year’s French Open had been Venus Williams’s “barely there” underwear. The number two seed in the women’s draw (or should that be drawers?) launched her campaign in a provocative combination of flesh-coloured knickers and a saucy black lace number with red straps.
It all looked more appropriate for a romp in the boudoir than a canter round the courts of Roland Garros. Libidinous journalists had a field day. Sadly, Russia’s Nadia Petrova ended the (lingerie) party with an efficient 6-4, 6-3 demolition of Venus in the fourth round, before losing to fellow Russian Elena Dementieva in the quarters.
How ironic that Venus’s undergarments should briefly divert attention from the fact that so much of modern women’s tennis is, quite frankly, pants. To put it even more bluntly, the spectacle of boring baseline attrition served up by many modern players is just a load of Bollettieri. World-renowned coach Nick Bollettieri has worked with many of the greats, including Boris Becker, Monica Seles, Andre Agassi, and the Williams sisters. But for me, his name now conjures up images of statuesque blondes like Nicole Vaidisova (now retired) swatting balls aimlessly down the middle of the court and waiting for the next mega-bucks endorsement to roll in.
Don’t get me wrong — the Williams sisters and their uncanny ability to make winning into a fashion statement have been a very good thing for the game over the past decade. With 19 Grand Slam singles titles between them, they’ve made Wimbledon their own and seen off most of their major rivals. But they’ve set the bar so high that the rest of the tour often looks about as convincing as one of Dementieva’s serves.
The success of Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, and Jurgen Melzer at Roland Garros this year shows there is still genuine depth in men’s tennis. They won’t beat Nadal and Federer every day, but they have the weapons – and the desire — to cause an upset. By contrast, a women’s final between Italy’s Francesca Schiavone and Aussie Samantha Stosur once again highlights the fragility of the women’s game. Look no further than the semi-finals: Dementieva retired hurt after losing the first set to Schiavone, while Jankovic looked totally out of her depth as she was thrashed 6-1, 6-2 by a super-charged Stosur.