Let the majors begin!
Tennis made people pay attention in 2015. The potential calendar-year Grand Slam run by Serena Williams overshadowed Novak Djokovic’s stellar year. Some would say that Djokovic had an even better year than Williams – his only Grand Slam loss was the French Open final to Stan Wawrinka.
But, Djokovic doesn’t quite move the needle with casual American sports fans like Williams.
Whether it is her competitive spirit or her backstory or her dominance, Williams captured our attention in 2015. No…on second thought, she demanded it.
When Serena plays in a Grand Slam, people tune in to watch. The GS numbers for 2015 (via SportsMediaWatch.com) speak for themselves:
- Australian Open: Serena vs Maria Sharapova = 0.7 rating (+40% over ’13 and ’14 – both without Williams)
- French Open: Serena vs Lucie Safarova = 1.4 rating (vs 1.3 in ’13 – sans Williams; equal in ’14 with Williams)
- Wimbledon: Serena vs Garbiñe Muguruza = 1.7 rating (+89% over ’14 and 31% in ’13 – both without Williams)
- U.S. Open: Italy’s Flavia Pennetta vs countrywoman Roberta Vinci = 1.1 rating during its first year on cable only (-62% from ’14 and -73% from ’13 when both were on CBS – both with Williams)
For reference, the ratings for Serena’s U.S. Open quarterfinal match against her sister Venus drew a 3.7 rating. That equates to about 6 million viewers watching tennis on cable.
Serena moves the tennis ratings needle. Her presence spans not only generations but race and culture. She had an incredible year – completing her second “Serena Slam” (four consecutive GS titles) and a near calendar year Grand Slam. 2015 also marked her return to Indian Wells after a 13-year hiatus.
Heading into 2016, the question will be can she duplicate or exceed her stunning 2015 season?
Given that it’s Serena Williams, it’s hard to say no. Even at age 34, the #1 player in the world can still play at a high level. No one else on tour has the ability to raise their game to a higher level more often than Serena. The opportunity is there for an even greater 2016 with the Olympics this summer. A “Golden Slam”, which would equal Steffi Grab’s magical year of 1988, is possible.
However, she is 35. She is coming off a layoff due to injury (knee inflammation). But, injuries are nothing new for Serena. She’s played through them before and will continue to do so. In a Q&A with the U.S. Open, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou said, “Even sick or injured, she can still find a way to win and proved it in 2015.”
Recommended Reading: Christopher Clary’s 2016 Tennis Wish List
Healthy or not, all eyes will be on Serena to start 2016. Another start to the year like she had in 2015 and people will take notice. But there are other names to watch…not just for the Australian but the rest of 2016 as well. I want to watch the names who may or may not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
And, they are names that this Hispanic female sports writer is paying attention to. Let’s be real here. Tennis is a predominantly white sport. I’ve watched tennis since the days of Evert, Navratilova, Connors, Ashe and more. When there are athletes who don’t fit the stereotype of what people expect of a tennis player to be, I pay attention.
- Sloane Stephens (USA) – just won the ASB Classic, an Aussie Open prep tournament.
- Garbiñe Muguruza (Spain) – breakout 2015 season with a Wimbledon final as her GS highlight
- Madison Keys (USA) – continuously improving game; ready to take the next step.
- Heather Watson (United Kingdom) – almost slayed Serena at Wimbledon in 2015. New coach in 2016.
- Monica Puig (Puerto Rico) – 2013 rising star could be ready to crack top 50.
- Vicky Duval (USA) – Young American returns after kicking cancer’s a$$.
While none of these ladies will match Serena’s 2015, they could make some waves in 2016. Stephens has shown flashes of the Sloane Stephens of old. She has the game to match Serena – see 2013 Australian Open – and the mentality to do it. Injuries will be key, as they always are in tennis.
Will the mantle by passed in U.S. women’s tennis? Will another rise above the Williams torch?
In this Olympics year, the only thing for certain is that we have a golden year of tennis ahead. It all begins and ends with Serena.
She is the queen after all.
— SI Tennis (@SI_Tennis) December 14, 2015
Updated: Incorrectly indicated Serena’s age as 35. She is currently 34 years old. 1-18-16