x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Next rivalry in women's tennis could be between Azarenka and Kvitova

The legendary Martina Navratilova believes if the world No 1 and No 3 stay healthy, they are good enough to top women's tour after a decade of no interesting rivalry.

Women’s tennis has not had a great rivalry for a decade. Victoria Azarenka, left, and Petra Kvitova could change that.
Women’s tennis has not had a great rivalry for a decade. Victoria Azarenka, left, and Petra Kvitova could change that.

Martina Navratilova has identified a rivalry that could define women's tennis for years to come, and the next possible collision of her candidates would be at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next week.

Navratilova, 55, believes that Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova, currently ranked Nos 1 and 3, could be the next glamour match-up in the game.

"I think we definitely have the possibility of a great rivalry between Azarenka and Kvitova," the 18-time grand slam champion said in Paris last week.

"They are very talented players. They have really intense personalities. They're very professional about how they go about it. If they stay healthy, that's the rivalry to come."

The women's game has lacked focus at the top for more than a decade, unless we consider the Williams sisters, who in the past 10 years met in eight slam finals.

However, the dynamic between Venus and Serena often seemed tentative and apologetic; it certainly lacked the edge that a final between non-siblings might have.

Arguably, the last clear rivalry in the women's game was between Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, in the 1990s. But even that was a pallid affair compared to Navratilova's epic struggles with Chris Evert in the previous decade.

Certainly, the women's game has had nothing to compare to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the sort of attention-driving match-ups that attract casual fans as well as the hard core.

Azarenka and Kvitova have laid the foundation of a rivalry; they have met six times, with the Belarusian taking the first two and the Czech the past four, including victories in the Wimbledon semi-finals last year and the WTA championship final. Both matches went three sets.

Each is a young and powerful player, and Azarenka, 22, can at times be a bit polarising; she has been known for a tantrum or two, and some find her grunting annoying.

Kvitova, 21, is not as clearly defined, but it is nothing a few more slam finals could not cure.

Navratilova pointedly left out Maria Sharapova, the world No 2, from "rivalry" consideration, saying: "I don't know if she can be fit to compete with those two because they're stronger physically."

Azarenka and Kvitova will be on opposite sides of the draw at the Aviation Club next week, and their seventh meeting, if it happens, would be in the final. They might have met in Qatar this week, but Kvitova pulled out of the Doha tournament through injury. Fans here will be hoping she keeps her Dubai appointment, perhaps giving them a chance to assess Navratilova's "next great rivalry".

poberjuerge@thenational.ae