As recently as July 2015, women's tennis was Serena Williams. It was at that point the American held all four Grand Slams at the one time, completing the set by seeing off Garbine Muguruza in that summer’s Wimbledon final. Since then, however, the women’s game has become a little more unpredictable. Volatile, even.
There has been a first ever all-Italian final in the Open era between two gross outsiders in their 30s (Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci at the 2015 US Open) and a teenage triumph for a Latvian ranked 47th at the time of her first Grand Slam win (Jeļena Ostapenko at the 2017 French Open). Since Williams’ calendar Grand Slam, there have been 10 different champions from 15 majors.
Indeed, women’s tennis has struggled for an established order in recent times, but Wimbledon this year could mark a watershed moment as the next generation of the sport starts to form. There have been signs in recent months that a new crop is ready to make themselves permanent fixtures at the top of the women’s game.
The rise of Naomi Osaka has been most remarkable, with the 21-year-old winning the US Open and the Australian Open in the past year. The Florida-born Japanese player already looks to be the complete package, powerful with her well-developed serve and aggressive in her groundstrokes. She could dominate for a decade.
Osaka might have company in becoming a fixture at the top of the women’s game, though. In fact, she was knocked from the top of the WTA rankings by Ashleigh Barty just last week, with the Australian stringing together a run of form which has seen her win her first Grand Slam at Roland Garros and finish with the trophy at Birmingham in preparation for Wimbledon.
Barty’s story is even more remarkable than Osaka’s. Just four years ago, the Queenslander was without a ranking. At 18, she actually retired from the sport to instead pursue a career in cricket. Now, she is ranked as the best player in the women’s game. An assertive and creative force standing at just 166cm, making her one of the shorter players on the WTA tour, Barty has become one of the most compelling sights in the sport.
It’s feasible that these two platers could establish a duopoly at the top of the women’s game with this summer’s Wimbledon an opportunity for them to further entrench their fledgling rivalry. A final meeting between Barty and Osaka might well be the dream climax to the championships, at least from a narrative perspective. That match would provide the best story.
Of course, there will be other challengers. Karolina Pliskova, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens cannot be discounted, while Williams will always be considered among the frontrunners. Muguruza will also fancy her chances with Johana Konta the home hope.
But the 2019 Wimbledon championships have the potential to be more than just another Grand Slam, but a defining moment that could signpost the future of the women’s game. Barty and Osaka represent the future of the sport, but there is still room for others to join them at the top. Whether it’s a duopoly or something wider, this summer’s Wimbledon feels like a crossroads for women’s tennis.