Tag Archives: WTA

Sharapova should restart at the bottom

Today’s Daily Telegraph features an interview with a female tennis player who served a ban for a positive drug test and made her comeback at the indoor clay event in Stuttgart. No it’s not the one you’re thinking of (I’ll get to her later…).

The player I’m talking about is Barbora Strycova the World number 20 from the Czech Republic. Strycova is a member of the successful Czech Fed Cup team who have won the Fed Cup in five of the last six years. Not as famous as her compatriots Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova she was still an important part of the team and in the last two years she played in the final decisive doubles rubber which clinched the title for the Czechs. 

But she wasn’t always as highly regarded. In 2012 she tested positive for the banned stimulant sibultramine as a result of consuming a dubious weight-loss supplement called Acai Berry Thin. On April 22 2013 she made her comeback in the first qualifying round of Stuttgart (I’ve emphasised​ qualifying quite deliberately) losing to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. After Stuttgart she played in a humble $25,000 ITF tournament in Wiesbaden Germany which is the lowest level of the women’s professional game. She lost in her first match. She had to qualify for all the Grand Slams – two of them successfully – and play more ITF tournaments. She was given no favours which having served a drug ban she should not have been. But to her credit she grafted and at the end of 2013 she had got back into the World’s top 100.

Four years later, on April 26 2017 another female tennis player will make her comeback from a drugs ban – a fifteen month drugs ban. This is of course Maria Sharapova. Sharapova like Strycova will make her comeback in Stuttgart. But that is where the similarity ends. First of all the tournament starts on April 24 but Sharapova’s ban ends on the 26th. But shamefully Sharapova will be allowed to play in Stuttgart despite this and she will be given the right to start on the 26th – a Wednesday – while players like Strycova who will be playing for the Czech Republic in the USA the week before – have to start on Monday or Tuesday. 

Even worse Sharapova has been given a wildcard straight into the first round of Stuttgart. And not only Stuttgart. She has also been given wildcards into the first round of the Madrid Open and the Rome Masters. Remember Strycova had to start in the qualifying of Stuttgart and play humble ITF events. Why shouldn’t​ Sharapova?  After all she failed a drug test too and her ban was longer than Strycova’s. 

I should stress I’m not blaming the tournaments in question as Sharapova is a draw and the tournaments are out for their own interests. I am blaming the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). This gutless spineless excuse for a governing body should make sure all players are treated equally. If Strycova had to start in the qualifying round of big tournaments and in humble ITF events so should Sharapova. So should anyone who fails a drug test. Now if a player is a victim of a stabbing (like poor Petra Kvitova was before Christmas) or if a player falls pregnant and has a child (as Victoria Azarenka did last year) they are fully entitled to wildcards and having their ranking protected. But a player who failed a drugs test should not be given preferential treatment either to clean players or to other players who failed drug tests. 

Hopefully the Grand Slams behave differently. Sharapova will definitely either have to qualify for the French Open or rely on a wild card. She might have to do likewise for Wimbledon if she has not accumulated around 600 ranking points by May 22. The French Open and Wimbledon must NOT reward a player who failed a drug test. Sharapova is entitled to attempt a comeback. But the French Open and Wimbledon must do what the WTA did not have the guts to do. They must not give her a wildcard. Sharapova and all other drug test failures should be told they must restart at the bottom. Just like Barbora Strycova had to…

Time to end the tennis fashion show

To say that the last fortnight has been unpredictable is an understatement. The UK voted for Brexit and Prime Minister David Cameron subsequently resigned. He will be succeeded by either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom meaning that the UK will have its second woman Prime Minister. While at Euro 2016 England were humiliated by Iceland causing manager Roy Hodgson to resign while in contrast Wales had an amazing run to the Semi Finals and it took the genius of Cristiano Ronaldo to end their dream.

But it is nice to know that even in this crazy fortnight some things never change. Serena Williams reached yet another Wimbledon Final crushing her Russian opponent Elena Vesnina 6-2 6-0 in 48 minutes the shortest Grand Slam semi final this century. Predictably this mismatch caused the UK press to criticise the fact that women players get equal pay to men players at Wimbledon. Even BBC Sport’s Twitter account got in on the act tweeting “Her match lasted just 48 minutes…but Serena Williams says female players deserve equal pay”.Twitter user Nikita (@kyrptobanana) pointed out that when Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic won matches easily the BBC just mentioned that the players had won easily they did not imply that the male players did not deserve their prize money. BBC sport subsequently deleted the tweet but the damage had been done. And the BBC are meant to be progressive at least by UK media standards…

Now I’ve mentioned the equal pay issue before (in posts “The lesson from history that proves sexist Moore wrong” and “How to end tennis equal pay arguments”) but there are a couple of issues about this year’s Wimbledon besides the equal pay debate that shows that although tennis is more gender equal than other sports it is still a long way from true gender equality.

One example is ticket prices for the men’s final and the women’s final. If you want to buy a ticket for this year’s men’s singles final it will set you back £175. If you want a ticket for the women’s singles final you will only need to pay £145. Now as Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano point out (in “Playing with the boys, pages 239-240) tennis is by no means unique in charging more to watch men play than women play. But in the case of football, cricket, rugby and basketball the higher charges can be justified by the fact that demand for tickets to see men play is higher than to see women play so the price is set accordingly. But at Wimbledon both men’s and women’s finals could fill Centre Court several times over so there is no market logic for the price difference. Nor does the fact that the men play best of five sets and the women play the best of three justify the difference. Just because the men play best of five does not mean their match will necessarily last longer. The men’s final could end say 6-3 6-2 6-4 and the women’s could end say 7-5 6-7 8-6. In that hypothetical scenario the women’s final could last longer but no one would say the women should get paid more. The length of a match is a red herring.

Another example of sexism in tennis is so taken for granted that no one notices it. The men wear shorts while the women wear dresses or short skirts that shows off the women players underwear allows men to ogle them and hinders their athletic performance. For example at this year’s Wimbledon the clothing company Nike showed off what the Daily Telegraph called “super short baby-doll dresses”. Swedish player Rebecca Peterson said the dress would distract her by flying up when she was serving. Ridiculous – and the men don’t wear outfits like this! Peterson raises a serious point about how these outfits can hinder a player’s performance. When players are serving they like to carry a spare ball with them in case they need one for a second serve. No problem for the male players who just put the spare ball in the pocket of their shorts. Women can’t do this as dresses and skirts don’t have pockets. They have to put them up their underwear giving men another excuse to stare at them. Tennis is one of the few sports where the male and female outfits are different from each other. In football, cricket, rugby and basketball the male and female uniforms are the same. Both male baseball and female softball players wear the same uniforms. Field hockey is the only other sport where the men wear shorts and the women wear skirts but at least the skirts in field hockey are not as short as they are in tennis.

There is no reason – apart from sexism and tradition – why women tennis players cannot wear shorts. Women often practice in shorts and some women – most notably Victoria Azarenka – have worn shorts in matches. If women tennis players played matches in shorts they would be making a statement that they are equal to men and that they are elite athletes not sex objects there to be gawped at by leering men.

Unfortunately the women are not being helped by their own governing body. You would think that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) would be keen to promote their players as elite athletes not sex symbols. And you would be wrong. The WTA are actually running a best dressed player award at this year’s Wimbledon. Needless to say there is not a best dressed man award. Wimbledon is a tennis tournament not a catwalk. The women are not there to look good and be gawped at by men they are there to win tennis matches. It is time for unisex tennis outfits. It is time for grender equality. It is time to end the tennis fashion show. In fact it should have ended long before now.

The lesson from history that proves sexist Moore wrong

Raymond Moore the CEO of the Indian Wells tennis tournament – which likes to call itself the “fifth Grand Slam” – made a complete and utter fool of himself yesterday with vile sexist remarks about the women’s game. Here is what he said :

“When I come back in my next life I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very, lucky.

If I were a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

Oh dear where do you start with this crap? First of all the Federer/Nadal era in men’s tennis can be traced back to 2003 when Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. Women’s tennis was popular long before 2003! Secondly it is clear that if women’s tennis has been carried by Federer and Nadal then so has men’s tennis – and probably to a greater extent. Finally the remark ” ride on the coattails of the men” is wrong. That would suggest that if the women were on their own the public would not watch. Not true. At the Grand Slams and the big combined events like Moore’s tournament and Miami people come to watch the event regardless of the gender of the competitors. And a story from history proves it.

We go back to 1973. Not a good year for the UK – it started with us joining what is now the European Union and ended with the UK on a three day work week. Nor was it a peaceful year in tennis. In May Yugoslavia’s top player Nikola Pilic was banned for nine months by his federation which claimed he had refused to play in his country’s Davis Cup tie against New Zealand. On appeal the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) reduced the ban to a month – but it still included the first week of Wimbledon. The newly created players union of men’s tennis the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) was having none of that. It said that if Pilic was not allowed to play no one would do. As a result 81 of the elite male players boycotted Wimbledon. Twelve of the sixteen seeded players boycotted. As a result of the boycott of the 128 man field 78 had played in the Qualifiers (29 qualifiers and 49 lucky losers*.) The men’s event was full of unkowns.

Now if the reason people went to Wimbledon was to watch the elite men you would expect Wimbledon’s attendance that year to go through the floor. After all the men’s event was full of unkowns (the women were unaffected by the Pilic affair and had their full contingent of players there) so if the public only wanted to watch men the boycott should have wrecked Wimbledon.

It did not. Quite the opposite. The attendance at Wimbledon 1973 was 300,172. This up to that time the second highest attendance in the history of the Wimbledon Championships. That proved that people did not go to Wimbledon just to watch the elite men but they wanted to watch the women too.

Now I’m not saying they preferred the women. I don’t think they did. Had the situation in 1973 been reversed and the elite women had boycotted Wimbledon and not the men the attendance would probably have been just as high. What the 1973 scenario proved is that people go to Wimbledon to watch the event. Not the men. Not the women. But the event. And that will apply to the Australian, French and US Opens as well. And to Indian Wells for that matter.

And that is why Raymond Moore is an idiot. Most tennis fans like both genders. They like Federer and Serena. Novak and Victoria. Murray and Venus. The women’s game is not riding on the coattails of the men nor vice versa. They are both attractions for the public. Which is why
women deserve equal pay and Raymond Moore deserves the sack.

*A “lucky loser” in tennis is a player who loses in qualifying and then gains a place in the tournament when another player withdraws.