Consider this: Three different players won each of the year’s first three majors. None of them remain in the U.S. Open field after two days of competition.
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Kim Clijsters — the two-time defending U.S. Open champion and this year’s Australian Open winner — withdrew with a strained abdominal muscle.
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova — the subject of a USA Today feature story earlier this week and a player who casual tennis fans couldn’t pick out of a police lineup — crashed out of the tournament on opening day, losing to 48th-ranked Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru in straight sets.
And Tuesday, French Open champion and No. 6 seed Li Na was bounced from the opening round by 19-year-old Romanian Simona Halep. It was the second straight first-round U.S. Open defeat for Na in as many years.
What does it all mean? Are there no elite players in the women’s game? Are we experiencing a Romanian renaissance on the women’s tour?
No. There are several elite players who should and could dominate the game and be near-locks to reach the quarter- and semifinals at most major tournaments. The problem: none of them can stay healthy.
With the exception of Maria Sharapova — who needed three sets to advance in her first-round match — not one player with multiple Grand Slam titles to her name has played in all four majors in 2011.
The result: 21-year-old Caroline Wozniacki — who has never won a Grand Slam and has failed to advance beyond the fourth round at two of the three majors this season — for 30 consecutive weeks.
The two active players with the most Grand Slam titles to their names, Serena (13) and Venus (7) are currently ranked No. 27 and 36 in the world, respectively. And yet ask almost anyone who the favorites are to win this U.S. Open and you’ll likely hear both names — with the stipulation that they stay healthy.
Whether you’re a fan of the shrieks, the provocative outfits, the press room drama or none of the above, it’s clear the women’s game currently lacks the rivalries and the intrigue reflected on the men’s side. The U.S. Open and women’s tennis in general need their stars to stay healthy in order to promote their product and provide the drama a Nadal-Federer or Djokovic-Nadal five-setter can capture.
Perhaps we’re witnessing a changing of the guard and two or three of these young Eastern Europeans are about to take the mantle. Or perhaps you’ll continue to be able to throw a dart at the women’s rankings and have as good a chance at predicting the next Grand Slam champion as the experts.
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• Photo Gallery: 2011 U.S. Open action from Flushing Meadows