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Wizards of Oz

Maybe Andy Murray will now feel a bit better about his shock first round exit to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last week, for the Frenchman (a modest 38th in the rankings and, trivia fans, second cousin to Newcastle footballer Charles N’Zogbia) defeated Rafael Nadal 6-2 6-3 6-2 this morning to reach the final of the Australian Open, denying us the resumption of the titanic Federer-Nadal rivalry.

Is it just me, or is tennis in general in pretty rude health at the moment?

If you are attracted by the ultimate battle of wills of two competitors at the very top of their games, then look no further than the men’s game, where Roger Federer and Nadal repeatedly stand toe-to-toe against each other on all surfaces, neither giving the other any quarter. Nadal has the edge on clay, Federer on the faster surfaces – although the gap between the two narrows with every passing year, as evidenced by last summer’s five-set Wimbledon final, a match as memorable as the great McEnroe-Borg finals of 1980 and ’81.

Never in living memory has the men’s game been so thoroughly dominated by two players. Between them, Federer and Nadal have won the last 11 Grand Slam singles titles – Federer leads 8-3 – dating back to the 2005 French Open, including four head-to-head battles during that time. And what sets this rivalry apart from McEnroe-Borg is the fact that both players are so strong on every surface: McEnroe always struggled on the clay of Roland Garros, while Borg was 0-4 in finals at Flushing Meadows and never passed the third round in Melbourne. And with Federer still only 26 to Nadal’s 21, there is every chance the pair can continue to dominate for the next two or three years.

Behind them, youngsters such as Murray and the Serb Novak Djokovic are waiting impatiently in the wings. The 20-year old Djokovic, who awaits Federer tomorrow, is already the world number three, having reached at least the semi-finals in each of the last four Grand Slams. When Federer finally hangs up his kit bag, Nadal will certainly not have it all his way.

The women’s game, on the other hand, can boast the kind of strength in depth it was so often accused of lacking back in the days when first Steffi Graf, then Monica Seles and the Williams sisters steam-rollered all before them. There have been eight different winners of the last 16 Grand Slam singles titles, with only world number one Justine Henin (5 wins) claiming more than two – and even she was unceremoniously dispatched by Maria Sharapova in their quarter-final earlier this week, losing a set 6-0 for the first time in nearly six years. And there is no questioning the depth of talent in a field which includes a nice mix of established and rising stars such as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Daniela Hantuchova and Marion Bartoli.

With Ivanovic facing Sharapova in Saturday’s final, the total could rise to nine different winners in the last 17 Grand Slams. Compare that to the men’s game – just four Grand Slam winners in the last 16 tournaments – or to football’s English Premier League, where only four teams (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn) have claimed the league title in the past 15 years. If you want unpredictability and a deep, competitive field, then women’s tennis is where it’s at.

Dominant champions or wide-open competition: whatever you want, the professional tennis circuit currently has it all.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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