It's been an oddball of a WTA season. The first 18 tournaments of the year bore the names of 18 different champions for the first time ever in the history of the women's tour. Former world no. 1, Arantxa (for those still wondering, it's A-RA-N-CHA) Sanchez Vicario, 47, finds this an exciting time for a follower of the sport. The four-time Grand Slam champion belonged to a haloed era of pitched rivalries and unquestioned loyalties.
"It's (WTA tour) very different, open and interesting now," Sanchez Vicario tells ESPN, "It's not about a few players dominating the scene. There are a lot of young players rising through the ranks and challenging the favorites. You just can't pick a name for a tournament winner anymore." The average age of the WTA champion over the course of the 18-tournament run was also at its lowest since 2006, at 23. In late April, Petra Kvitova snapped that wacky streak at the Porsche Grand Prix for her second title of the season.
In 1989, just 17 and anything but a favorite, Sanchez Vicario took down the reigning tennis great Steffi Graf for a French Open title. Ambivalent fans were unknown back then. You couldn't just grab a beer, laze in the stands and say you cared little for who won. You had to pick a side. The absence of pitched battles today, Sanchez Vicario says, isn't quite the worst.
"Each generation is different. We can't compare one with the other. I played against three different generations from Navratilova to Steffi to the Williams sisters. Steffi I would have to say was my toughest opponent. I'm happy to have battled with the best and been the best. But even this is fun. I think people love it because they don't know what's going to happen. The number of Grand Slams you win and the number of weeks you're a No. 1 player, I think that's what people remember you by."
Leading up to French Open, a Slam she loved and won four times through her career, Sanchez Vicario isn't throwing fellow Spaniard Rafa Nadal under any shade of doubt. He's in a bit of an unfamiliar spot after a string of disappointing results - three straight semifinal eliminations on clay, and struggling to explain his slump. Sanchez Vicario is certain it's only transitory. "Rafa is the obvious favourite," she says, "It's natural for people to think that he will win clay court tournaments ahead of Roland Garros as well. But this is a Slam he's won 11 times. Of course there are others like Djokovic (Novak) and Federer (Roger) and newer ones like Thiem (Dominic) and Tsitsipas (Stefanos) too in the running."
In the women's half, it's a harder pick. She gives world no. 2 Simona Halep a slight edge in a largely-open field. "You know it could be Halep...then we have Kiki (Bertens), who's very good on clay and Sloane Stephens too. Let's see how it shapes up."
In Bengaluru as brand ambassador for the TCS 10K run on Sunday, Sanchez Vicario isn't associated with tennis in a big way today. She did have a brief coaching stint with former world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki but life now revolves around her two kids. "It keeps me so busy...just looking after them, being with them. I don't have the time to coach anymore," she says, "I'd leave the door open for the future. Right now I'm just a mum watching tennis with my kids."