2009 Fed Cup Semis: The WTA Gets Taller

Tall players dominated on day one of Fed Cup. Is that what the future looks like?

I wanted to watch David Ferrer take out Fernando Gonzalez is a third set tiebreaker in Barcelona, but it’s on delay and I’m going to an over 50’s party this afternoon (you don’t think they’d have parties for older people at night do you?) so let’s take a look at Fed Cup.

BNP Paribas Open Day 7

I don’t pay much attention to Fed Cup, particularly U.S. Fed Cup team because U.S. players don’t pay much attention. True to form, both U.S. singles players are Fed Cup rookies. Bethanie Mattek-Sands is one of my favorite WTA players but not so much for her game as much as her personality.

There’s the fashion thing with the low cut bustier, plaid cowboy hat and knee-hi socks, but she’s also the sauciest player on tour – she’ll say anything and that’s rare. Today her fashion is toned down with a plain white top and tennis skort except for the red, white and blue color scheme.

Bethanie and her opponent, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, express the difference between U.S. and Eastern European tennis. Bethanie is 5′ 6″ (1.68 m) and Kvitova is 6′ (1.83 m). Kvitova isn’t a great mover – she has those slumped shoulders tall women sometimes have as if to pretend that they really aren’t as tall as they are – but, as you can imagine, she hammers the ball and today’s match is on a fast indoor surface.

It’s not like the U.S. never had such players. I’ve just pretty much described Lindsay Davenport complete with slumped shoulders and Venus Williams without them, but Venus is an exception and Eastern Europe has size in spades. No one in the top ten is shorter than 5’ 7” (1.7 m) and seven of them are over 5’ 10” (1.79 m) and except for Venus and her sister Serena, they’re all from Eastern Europe.

I’m tempted to say that women’s tennis has turned into what the men’s tour might look like if Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, and Sam Querrey were in the top ten and Querrey is a good comparison for Kvitova because, though Kvitova is foot-heavy as is Querrey, she managed to get to the fourth round of the French Open last year and Querrey is not terrible on clay either.

But I think a player like Kvitova will have more success than Karlovic and Isner if not Querrey because her strength will be more valuable than that of a tall guy on the men’s tour. Rafa the Terminator can move as well as anyone but is also as strong, whereas on the women’s tour you get one or the other – strength or movement. Jelena Jankovic is 5’ 9 ½” (1.77 m) – that’s probably an exaggeration – and she’s all movement.

The new number one as of this week is Dinara Safina and that’s a bit of an issue because she’s one of four women who reached number one without winning a slam. Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo are two of those players and, of course, they did go on to earn the number one by winning a slam. I’m pretty sure Safina will get her slam but the fourth woman in that foursome is Jankovic and I’m not so sure about her.

It seems to me that the women’s game is undergoing a transition that isn’t yet complete yet. It’s as if the quintessential WTA player of the next few years hasn’t turned up. If Querrey and Kvitova are indicative of the future, maybe the size of the average WTA player is taking a big jump and we’re just waiting for a few of those players to develop and start winning slams along with the number one ranking.

Except for a dry spot in the second set where she lost her serve, Kvitova just looked too strong for Mattek. She closed out the second set tiebreaker at 7-2 to win the match 6-3, 7-6(2), and put the Czech Republic up 1-0.

Alexa Glatch is 6’ (1.83 m) and she’s only 19 years old. And she’s from the U.S. She beat Iveta Benesova 6-1, 6-2, in the second match and that’s pretty shocking because Benesova is ranked number 29 and Glatch only 114. On the other hand, Benesova has lost to Kvitova twice this year already so maybe those tall players are starting to take over.

I’m looking forward to that Glatch-Kvitova match tomorrow because that’s what tennis will look like pretty soon: a few six foot and overs going at with a kind of uber power game. I have to say that I’m not exactly looking forward to it – I’d rather watch someone who mixes power and speed any day, but if it gives us a bona fide number one now and then and a few players who can consistently perform well at slams, I’ll take it.