Over the past two years, the majority of the talk in the tennis world has surrounded the dominance of men’s tennis’ big three (now four) composed by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and its most recent inductee in Andy Murray. The dominance of those four giants of the sport has been exhausted in every media outlet in the planet, and it still does not do it justice.
For the past year-and-a-half, another big three has been in its creation process, and it's time it is given its due as a dominant force in women’s tennis. This big three is composed of the top three women in the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rankings: World No. 1 Serena Williams, World No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and World No. 3 Maria Sharapova.
The beginning of the formation of this new big three can be traced back to the 2012 Australian Open, in which Azarenka raised her first career major title. Not only was it the Belarusian’s first Grand Slam trophy, but she also took over the No. 1 ranking the Monday after it ended, stealing the top spot from Caroline Wozniacki, who had held it throughout the previous 67 weeks.
Since the 2012 Australian Open, five more major tournaments, as well as the Olympic Games and that year’s WTA Tour Championships, have been contested. All seven trophies have been raised by either Williams, Azarenka or Sharapova. Sharapova took home the 2012 French Open, as well as the silver medal in the Olympics and the runner-up trophy in the WTA Tour Championships. Azarenka, on the other hand, repeated in 2013 as champion in Australia and took the bronze in the Olympic Games.
Williams, meanwhile, has been the most dominant of the trio by far, obliterating most of her competition, which includes both Sharapova and Azarenka. Williams took home the 2012 Wimbledon Championships, the gold medal in the Olympic Games, the WTA Tour Championships and the 2013 French Open, defeating Sharapova in each final. She also vanquished Azarenka in a memorable final at the 2012 U.S. Open.
This new big three also has a compelling side to it, as each member has faced its fair share of adversity in recent years. Azarenka is about to turn 24 in a month, and while she had been knocking on the doors of success for a while now, it did take her until early 2012 to finally break through and win a major.
In Sharapova’s case, it all comes down to the injuries she has suffered throughout her career. She first suffered a major shoulder injury, in 2007, which caused her to fall out of the top five for a while. In 2009, she had surgery for it, and since then, she has worked hard to return to the form she enjoyed in the early stages of her career. Her crowning achievement thus far is arguably her victory at the 2012 French Open, which allowed her to complete the career Grand Slam.
In Williams’ case, it has been a combination of injury, illness and the ever-present battle against time. In March 2011, Williams announced that she had previously suffered from a hematoma and a pulmonary embolism. That announcement marked the beginning of a long journey towards recovery that, upon her return to success, would forever cement her status as one of the all-time greats.
Williams’ return to the top has not been easy, and it has been filled with ups and downs, which include a surprising defeat to Sam Stosur in the 2011 U.S. Open final after a dominant run through the tournament and an upset loss at the hands of French native Virginie Razzano in the first round of the 2012 French Open.
That first round defeat to Razzano has become a turning point for Williams. Since then, she has turned it up several notches and severely outclassed her competition, boasting a 76-3 record ever since. She has only recorded losses to Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open, to fellow American Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and to Azarenka in the final of the Qatar Total Open. As of right now, she has a comfortable hold over the World No. 1 ranking, is the definitive favorite to repeat at Wimbledon and has a 31-match win streak in singles play.
The most curious aspect of this big three, however, is both the parity and lack thereof within it. Matches between Azarenka and Sharapova are usually a toss-up, and who will win comes down to who shows up in a better state on that day, as exemplified by the 7-6 head-to-head in Azarenka’s favor.
That all changes, however, when either athlete face Serena. It seems as if no matter the circumstances, Williams always gets the better of the two of them. Williams enjoys a 14-2 advantage over Sharapova and a 12-2 lead over Azarenka.
Over the next few months, it will be fun to see the different dynamics within the big three, with Azarenka as the rising champion and Williams and Sharapova as the proven veterans. It will also be interesting to see how and if this big three develops, or even if it holds in the always volatile and changing world of women’s tennis.
At the same time, however, if there is a trio in women's tennis that can continue this kind of dominance, it is that of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.