Return Game

Tennis was once a big part of my life, in the form of the rollercoaster ride of the WTA Tour. In this modern era of sports consumerism, this meant hours upon hours of following TV coverage, chasing down reliable online streams, and immersing myself in the community as hosted across various forums and social media platforms. I read about tennis, I wrote about tennis, I thought about tennis – all the time. I obsessed over tennis. And I knew about tennis.

My passion for the game burned brightly, and for a while I thought it had burned out. The changing landscape of my personal life pulled me away from the game – and newfound busy-ness and priorities meant I seldom had time to miss it. I didn’t lose my association with tennis completely – the easily accessible updates of the social media age kept me informed, and you can hardly miss the Grand Slams. I kept well abreast of the major stories and narratives, as any general sports fan would. I watched Serena Williams tick off slams on her way to the record-equalling 22. Flavia Pennetta won the US Open – and then retired. Monica Puig stunned the Olympics. Last I remember, Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep were ready to take over the sport – and yet it’s Garbine Muguruza who became a first time major winner. Maria Sharapova was caught doping, and suspended for 15 months. Victoria Azarenka had a baby. Ana Ivanovic called time on her career. Petra Kvitova was attacked by a burglar – robbing her of what looks like a significant part of her career. A lot has happened.

A lot has happened, and I know a lot of it – but I don’t know about tennis like I used to. I know the big title winners and the rankings of the top players, but I couldn’t really tell you how they got there. I’m conscious of the shifting landscape of the game, but the state of the field, what to expect coming into the 2017 season? I can’t really claim to have a clue.

I want to know about tennis again. I want to know about how Karolina Pliskova plays, what is it that has propelled her to be a top 5 player. I want to be familiar with the ins and outs, ups and downs, week in and week out grind of the tour. I want to be able to have opinions based on more than just my resting knowledge and watching the second week of slams.

As a Brit, I want to know more about Johanna Konta – whose meteoric rise to the top 10 of the WTA has taken more than just the ill-informed by surprise. British tennis is in a privileged place right now, and I want to enjoy that.

A lot has changed. There are some constants – it can’t really be claimed that anyone other than Serena William (ranked number 2 behind the transformed Kerber) rules the sport still, on her day. But her days are fewer in number than they use to be, and the gap between her and the field, which once seemed so insurmountable, is ever-narrowing. Serena, at the age of 35, was plagued last season by fitness trouble, and more vulnerable to challengers old and new. It was Kerber who finished the year on top, by winning two majors and securing the year end Number 1 ranking. Serena lost this week to Madison Brengle in her return to the tour in Auckland, and question marks remain over her form going into the Australian Open, starting Monday.

The waning strength of Serena’s hold over the game, and the continuing emergence of the next generation combine to create a field rife with opportunity. Absences of players such as Sharapova, Kvitova, and Azarenka, through various means, compound this. The stalling trajectory of Radwanska and Halep leads to less certainty over who will take advantage. Change is afoot.

I want to know about it all. I want to experience it all. I want to immerse myself in tennis again. 2017 looms before me, and the rest of the tennis world – and I can’t wait to dive in.

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