Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Sultan's WTA Charisma List

Following on from my ATP charisma list, now here are my WTA choices. I would argue that the current crop of players has as many, if not more characters than any previous era:

Victoria Azarenka

Darth Vika is as feisty, headstrong and abrasive as they come. This means she's not everyone's cup of tea, including me. She has an arrogant swagger and a way of rubbing opponents up the wrong way, with her wailing, celebrating and occasional gamesmanship (loves an MTO, does Vika). And she's not averse to blatant tanking in front of a huge crowd, as shown at the tour finals last year. A couple of years ago, she'd regularly argue with umpires and the crowd and was rude to ball kids, but seems to be trying to tone it down and ingratiate herself with the fans more now. Only problem is, you can tell she's been told to do this and doesn't always seem sincere. She's very young and still maturing though.

Li Na

Anyone who watched her run to the French Open title and Australian Open final in 2011, cannot have failed to be charmed by her post-match interviews. A genuinely funny and interesting character, with an on-court temper that's always bubbling near the surface.

Ana Ivanovic

Quite simply a delight. If you ever feel down, I urge you to flick on a clip of Ana on YouTube and wait for the smile that could melt any heart. No one shows as much happiness on court as an in-form Ivanovic and unlike many other players, is as polite as possible to everyone; from ball kids to opponents. She has a wide variety of fist-pumps and loves an "ADJE!!", which I feel really helps endear her to the crowd. Also can talk the hind legs off a donkey and off-court, her enthusiasm for the sport just shines through.

Jelena Jankovic

She can be moody, miserable, bad tempered, rude and brash but that's because she never hides her emotions and I love her for it. On the flip-side, she can laugh at her own mistakes and when things are going well, she loves to play to the crowd and offer up big gestures and smiles. You can tell she loves the game.

Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova

This Czech girl is completely mental. Guaranteed histrionics in every single match, win or lose. This mostly involves berating herself but no one is safe from an outburst, including her coach, who I've seen given the most vicious looking evils I've ever seen! Loves a good racquet smash/throw and despite the fact she plays with a permanent frown, you just have to laugh at the way she just never stops chuntering. She's extremely talented and has more natural flair than most players ranked far higher but her inability to conquer her own mental weakness has held her back from a much better career. Makes me laugh every single time!

Marion Bartoli

The phrase 'mad as a box of frogs' was made for Bartoli (not just cos she's French!). Her bizarre routines she goes through, both with the mechanical-looking serve and the constant, wild jumping, shadow-swinging, fist-clenching and jerking on return of serve, mark her out as a must watch. Never stops moving at any time! Hilarious to observe and when you add in all the strange interaction with her father, the mad Doctor Walter, with his crazy training contraptions, you have a genuine fruit-loop.

Francesca Schiavone

The little Italian lives for the crowd. She never really bothers much in the smaller tournaments and I'm sure it's partly because she needs a big stage to perform her best. Franny understands that tennis is entertainment and her game is suited to bringing out the best in a crowd - proper old-school slices, volleys, mixed spins and drop-shots. Add in a comically outlandish grunt, cheeky smile and a stare that could kill your average umpire and she epitomises the phrase 'heart on sleeve'. And no one milks applause better than her!

Andrea Petkovic

One of the few all-round entertainers in tennis. Gives great interviews, can be funny, hugely intelligent, amusing celebrations, feisty on court and also a bubbly, lively girl off it. The life and soul of the German Fed Cup team. Greatly missed with her time out with injury this year.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands

Nicknamed 'The Lady Ga-Ga of Tennis' for her often outrageous on-court outfits, Mattek-Sands is a true character off-court too. Famed for her knee-high socks and American football style, facial war-paint, she is clearly an eccentric which is rare on the tour. From jackets made of tennis balls, to diagonally sliced skirts to cowboy hats, the feisty American adds plenty of colour to the WTA.


There are certain players who do their bit and are great with the fans and say all the right things. Federer, Nadal, Clijsters, Sharapova and Serena Williams all come into that category but they are all a bit too polished and almost robotic. You never get a real sense that they are a great character. Great champions, yes, great speakers, yes, great in front of a camera, yes but great personalities? I don't feel that. I'm not hanging on their every word, waiting to see what they will come up with next. You could guess Sharapova's post match interview answers before she's even finished and she exudes a certain cold aloofness. Federer tries his best to throw in a bit of humour but it all feels pre-written, and probably by someone else. Nadal isn't known as 'Nadull' by some people, for no reason. Clijsters is charming but gives absolutely nothing on-court - completely stoic. And Serena, I just always feel as though she's putting on a fake, sugary-sweet voice for her fans - the tennis equivalent of the office receptionist.

These guys understand the importance of giving to the fans but I don't feel they would give half as much if a) they weren't obligated to give so many post match interviews and b) they didn't have product lines like 'Sugarpova' to sell. I can guarantee you Nadal would be off on his fishing boat faster than you could shout 'Rafa, a quick word please!'. But I guess he does enough of his entertaining through his tennis, as do all those I've mentioned. After all, they aren't paid to be comedians or actors.

Does any other sport really have these characters? Certainly not in football, where half the players can't string a sentence together and the likes of Drogba and Cole cannot even spare 2 minutes for an interview, even after winning the Champions League for the first time. Both ran away before they could even finish emitting their tired cliches to ITV and that's something you see all the time with footballers. At least with tennis, they all try to engage the fans off-court - even Andy Murray (reluctantly) does these days. Compared to other sports, I think tennis doesn't do too badly at all in the charisma stakes.

Jarmila Gajdosova:

2 comments:

  1. I think, as an individual sport, tennis is hard to compare to a team sport like football because the players enjoy a much larger share of the spotlight and are given a better stage to do so. In football you do still have some great characters, the two portugeezers Ronaldo and Mourinho come to mind, both of whom are never short of an arrogant comment or two. It seems to me as well that and increasing number of football players are increasingly using 'silky skills', 'tricks' etc when they aren't overly necessary, Maradonna turn's unmarked in the middle of the park, rabona crosses for no reason etc etc. I do however agree that tennis seems to benefit from a great selection of characters.

    As with your ATP list, I would like to suggest an addition to this list. Sloane Stephens, when she first came on the scene she seemed quite shy and quiet but recently she's been giving some of the most genuine and funny interviews on the tour. Also she has the most infectious (if somewhat creepy) smile I've seen in a long time. Hard to believe she's still only 19 although I'm not sure she has what it takes to reach the very top, I think the WTA is far more entertaining with her in it.

    Final comment, I really like Gajdosova, I'm not overly emotional but I did feel a little sad when she got thumped 6-0 6-0 by Bartoli just after divorcing Sam Groth. It would be nice to see her go up in the rankings next year.

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  2. Creepy AND infectious - is that possible?! I've never seen her interviewed but have heard she is very different off-court to her on-court persona.

    I can't stand Gajdosova, she does my head in! I remember that game cos she actually won the first 3 points and looked as though she was gonna have a stormer. She lost the next 5 points, lost the game, lost the set and lost the match without winning a single game! I had layed Bartoli so was not best pleased.........

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