2007 WOMEN’S WORLD TOUR REVIEW

By doing that Rachael and Natalie Grinham achieved something which was importantly symbolic, a piece of sisterly history, a first in a major Women’s World Tour event, and rare in any sport.
 
The only other sisters to have achieved anything like it are Venus and Serena Williams, the American tennis players. Although Di and Ros Rowe, British twins, were World Table Tennis Champions together they never faced each other in a major final; neither did Manuela, Katerina and Magdalena Maleeva, the Rumanian siblings, high quality tennis players though they were.    
 
And when Maude and Lilian Watson contested the first Wimbledon final, back in 1884, there were only 13 entries. Other sisters have contested finals in niche sports, but almost certainly none in professional sports.
 
This is not mere eye-catching trivia. In an era when efforts are being made to unlock the potential of women, the Toowomba twosome is a story to which millions can relate.
 
Certainly Natalie seemed to think so. “Both of us in the final is more of a dream than one of us winning it,” she said. “It was almost perfect. It would have been if I’d have won it.”
 
For all the spirit with which Rachael carved out a 9-4 10-8 9-2 win, her world title was less significant than what the sisters achieved together. The Grinhams produced characteristically fluid movement, typically creative lob-and-drop skills, and a spirit in which competition co-existed with exemplary togetherness.
 
This might sound twee, but it is extremely tough. Recall Christine Truman, the Wimbledon finalist, whose defeat of her elder sister Isabel in a final generated such trauma that the loser never played again.
 
The Grinhams showed the world they have priorities which are strong-mindedly correct. “We are pleased for the other when she does well, and each of us still wants to win,” Rachael said. It was the bravely positive psychology of two decent people thrown into a none-too-easy childhood.
 
In fact Rachael was particularly desperate to win. Only just recovered from a dip in form, and aged 30, her future had been looking uncertain. By winning the World Open, shortly after regaining the British Open, she may have prolonged her career.
 
She later said she aimed to supersede Nicol David for a third time, by regaining the number one ranking. This though didn’t happen in 2007.
 
That’s because David recovered to win the Qatar Classic, beating Natalie Grainger in the final, and then the Hong Kong Open, overcoming Natalie Grinham. It meant that despite her two big disappointments she won eight of the eleven tournaments which she contested throughout the year.
 
However, that didn’t prevent more pressure being applied to the Malaysian. “She’ll have to pick herself up again next year in the quest to be regarded as one of the all-time greats,” according to one Kuala Lumpur website, which seems to be more or less the prevailing view there.
 
Grainger pronounced herself “pretty disappointed” not to have gone all the way in Madrid but made a breakthrough against the top three by beating the younger Grinham to reach the Qatar semi-finals.
 
David got some atonement for the World Open by beating Rachael 9-7 0-9 2-9 9-5 9-1 in the other semi. She fought well which underlined that, for all of Rachael’s 2007 revival, the World No.1 has endured some unusual bad luck. 
 
At the British Open, where Rachael brilliantly came back from match point down, David was bothered by a congested schedule which resulted in delayed late night matches.
 
And at the World Open she was confronted by a two-tier, oven-and-fridge tournament, where she lost in excellent conditions for the kitchen, Shelley that is. Two rounds were played in such boiling hot club conditions that, as Natalie Grinham said: “Had the whole tournament been played there, Shelley Kitchen might have been World Champion.”
 
Instead it shifted to outdoors at night, perfect conditions for a drop-shot shoot-out. That gave Shelley little hope against the lone Grainger, Natalie that is. It was a multiple sudden death, the American possessing the quick-fire bullets to win by an amazing 9-2 9-1 9-0.
 
David’s only other defeat in the year happened at the Seoul City Open in April when she received a cake with fifty candles for her 50th successive win and where once again there were hidden pressures.
 
This inaugural $50,000 tournament was a sequel to the 2014 Asian Games won by South Korea, and it found itself with a perfect-fit promotion - the first Asian woman World No.1 with a landmark unbeaten streak.
 
A 100-metre autograph queue preceded her final with Natalie Grinham, but unfortunately win number fifty-two proved mentally, and perhaps physically, beyond the much-hyped Asian hero who lost it 9-4 9-49-0. “I was thinking too much,” David commented.
 
The younger Grinham had already showed her continuing improvement by winning the year’s opener, the Marsh Apawamis Open at Rye, New York, where she received a Breitling watch from organiser Peter Briggs after losing her own.
 
She reached an all-time high of World No.2 the following week with the tenth title of her career at the Harrow Greenwich Open, beating Grainger 11-7, 11-5, 11-7.
 
In March though there was nice compensation for the UK-born, South Africa raised player, who celebrated becoming a US citizen by winning the Tournament of Champions invitation event and climbing to number six in the Women’s World Rankings, her highest position for more than a year.
 
That month David won the title which was a must, the CIMB Kuala Lumpur Open, though it required the longest match of her career, one hundred and two minutes to overcome Natalie Grinham 6-11 11-3 11-6 7-11 11-6.
 
David repeated the win in the Kuwait final in April, when her 92-minute 11-6 11-8 2-11 11-1 victory over Grinham was the longest four-game Women’s World Tour match on record. The stats hint at what fine movers they both are, but don’t tell of the flowing, let-free, uplifting rallies their matches produced.
 
Nor do David’s falterings in the two majors reflect her situation. Despite technical faults, despite the pressure, despite the disappointments, David’s tenure of the top spot extended to seventeen months, and she did enough to suggest that only something very special will interrupt her supremacy in 2008.

By Richard Eaton
It might help for the world to be more aware of two slightly-built sisters from a small, unusual-sounding Australian interior town who contested the World Open final before Madrid’s royal palace on a cool October evening.