Monday, June 18, 2007

State of the Women's Game

Yesterday's Birmingham Final between Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic was the kind of match that will be talked about for a long time. A thrilling three setter Sharapova took the first set and you could hear the cyber groans of Jelena's fans thinking that once again she would mentally disintegrate in an important match and that IMG's favorite would win this Wimbledon warm up.

Jelena Jankovic

Instead a real tennis match broke out. Jelena managed to win the second set and for a United States scoreboard watcher that meant putting off a nap to see if Jelena would conquer her demons and pull the match out.

Pull it out she did. No longer scoreboard watchng but instead following the match on a fan site where recaps were being posted this viewer "watched" as Jelena came back from being down love three in the third set to hoist the trophy.

It's too bad that only European tennis fans could see this match. None of the live feed sources were carrying it for viewers in the United States so we can only imagine what was going on and how the players reacted. I'm sure excerpts will be posted on YouTube but it's not the same as seeng the match live.

Which brings me to the reason for this post.

Alan Mascarenhas penned an article that questions the equal pay issue for Slams after what anyone would say was a dismal French Open Final. This short sample gives you the tone of the article.

Grass greener for women but it's still net loss for fans

Alan Mascarenhas
June 16, 2007

MARIA Sharapova can stop issuing feminist edicts and Jelena Jankovic can put away her burning bra. As the betrodden divas of women's tennis march on Wimbledon later this month, the revolution is over: the battle for equal pay at the grand slams has been won.

The All England Club had been the last bastion for those who believe that women - who play best-of-three-set matches as opposed to five - do not deserve the same pay as men.

The US Open offered equal prizemoney in 1973 and the Australian Open recommitted to it in 2001. Last year, even the chauvinist old dogs at Roland Garros awarded their male and female champions the same amount.

Presumably, Wimbledon organisers decided the disparity had become symbolic and not worth the hassle. Last year, Roger Federer received £655,000 ($1.6m) for winning, while Amelie Mauresmo took home £625,000.

Martina Hingis may have once gigglingly referred to Mauresmo as "half a man", but in prizemoney terms, she was worth at least 95 per cent.

Does women's tennis really deserve this latest pat on the back? Take last week's French Open final, where the capacity crowd was just pecking into their hors d'oeuvres as Justine Henin walloped Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-2.

For those of you who want to read the entire article please go

His argument is not without merit. I said that the French Open Women's Final was one of the worse ever and would do nothing to bring new fans to tennis. I think that Ana Ivanovic was overcome by the moment and played what was arguably the worst match of her career. She will rebound. Anyone who saw her demolish Sharapova in their semi final or saw her overcome a game fight by Milagros Sequera in quarter finals knows this.

But he is right in saying that when the WTA's legitimate stars are not playing the product is inferior to what the ATP presents to fans. You have a big rivalry at the top of the men's game but yesterdays Artois Championships final between Nicolas Mahut and Andy Roddick, on paper a shoo in for Roddick, turned out to be a very competitive match, much more so than the Federer/Gonzalez Australian Open final the author cites. The rankings fight for numbers three to ten is as fierce as the fight between numbers one and two on the mens side. The problem on the women's side is that many question the legitimacy of the number two ranked player.

Nicolas Mahut

But I have to bring up Estoril, a tournament played in Portugal prior to Roland Garros. The final there was as horrific as the women's French Open final. Novak Djokovic, perhaps thinking not too many people would be watching, did his method acting turn and made that final into farce. Internet live feed's were available however and many tennisheads in the States saw it. It is interesting that after his "performance" was condemned on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere in the world that Novak has confined his acting to karaoke clips and the practice court.

The men can throw up stinkers just like the women can so I think that part of his argument is moot. I do feel however that women can play best of five and should be required to at Slams. This would put an end to the argument that the women don't deserve equal pay and in my opinion up the quality of the matches. Those women who have a passing acquaintance with fitness would be forced to become fit. Those who think strategy is all about when to go to potty or change a racquet would have to start thinking otherwise. Mentally fragile? You'll be gone by the second round. No serve? Fuhgheddaboutit.

Haruka feels that best of three requires more intense concentration because you have no room to totally screw up. You go on a mental walkabout you'll be on a real one pretty soon is how she feels. And I agree up to a point. With the current crop of women best of three usually means a two set beat down. Yesterdays Birmingham final was the first exciting women's final this year and it was because of the tennis for a change and not just who was playing.

I think the Grand Poobah's have forgotten that tennis fans, in the end, want to see good tennis. A player should not have to worry about whether he or she is the right type for some ad campaign while prepping for matches. Two of the best female players in recent times, Monica Seles and Steffi Graf would be kicked to the curb in today's environment in favor of some preanointed faux beauty. Fans still argue who was the best, and it has nothing to do with who was "hotter" which is what the discourse about women's tennis has been reduced to in some quarters. Justine Henin may not be universally loved but everyone respects her game and knows that she comes on the court to take names.

In the end this is what tennis is about. Very few people had ever heard of Nicolas Mahut until last week. Now everyone is watching to see if he qualifies for Wimbledon where if he does he will wreak havoc with the men's draw. Ana Ivanovic, despite her poor showing at the French Final, is going to be watched very closely going forward because of what she did before that Final.

Let the women play best of five at Slams. Separate the wheat from the chaff and lets have more matches like the Birmingham Final where all fans are talking about is the tennis. Which is as it should be.


oddman said...

This is a wonderful piece, and clarifies for me why I didn't feel right about the women getting equal prize money at slams. There's no reason why they could not play best-of-five sets, really? We can run marathons and triathalons too, they don't have a 'women's distance' in those events. Really great piece!

Savannah said...

Thank you oddman. I think it's time someone called the women out on this. I was going to talk about how Monte Carlo and Roma were less dramatic this year because of the three set format for the men and still may BUT the Slams being the only five set events does make them more interesting. If the men have to step it up for Slams why can't the women? Track and Field, swimming, and as you mention marathons and triathalons don't cut women any slack and shouldn't.

oddman said...

I'm starting to like the 3-set format for the men, actually. As for calling out the women, I'd venture that the pundits (who are mostly male) aren't too keen about approaching that subject, for fear of opening up the gender can of worms.
How oldfashioned is tennis anyway, especially women's? My gosh, you'd think they should still be playing in long skirts. God forbid we can consider them athletes.

Karen said...

I agree with you, women should play best of 5 at the Slams. And Savannah, I agree with you that the best of 3 formats in the Masters Series was a little bit boring as well. Women should play best of 5 in the Slams as with every other sport where women participate, last time I looked a 100 metre sprint was the same for men as it is for women. Time to step it up ladies.

mmmm8 said...

I agree.

I can see the arguments against it, and I can even see the arguments for abandoning the five set format in slams for men, but in my gut I think it would be right to make women play best-of-five.

Anonymous said... seems that so many go to this point of, well, the women should play best of five sets to be considered for equal prize money, but overlook something in the process...the women NEVER said they wouldn't play best of 5 matches, they were never asked or given the chance to do so by event organizers (predominately MEN) who assumed women the weaker the meantime, even without the best of 5 format, the womens game caught up to the men's side in generating popularity and profit dollars...THAT'S what this whole thing is about, not the red herring of 3 sets as opposed to stop playing with this "fake" analogy...

Craig Hickman said...

There is simply no reason why men and women shouldn't play the same number of sets at Slams in singles and doubles.

No reason at all.

Anonymous said...

I think the the best decision for tennis would be for the men to abandon the ridiculous 3/5 format. The 2/3 format supplies numerous sets of exceptional tennis in 90% of the ATP tournaments. If 2/3 is such a bad thing, why are we deprived of the amazing 3/5's in all ATP events except Slams and Davis Cup.

The suggestion that the women should be as stupid as the men and play a format which, in most cases, results in matches which tend to be just longer and often more boring is ridiculous. I'd bet a month's salary that the majority of the the male players would prefer 2/3's that require concentration and top performance from the first shot to the last over the typical 3/5 match.

Do you know why we remember the really great 4 and 5 set matches (Andy-Younes, e.g.)? Because they are so darn rare!

In case some don't know this, the women tried 3/5 for the YEC final match for a couple of years, and were intelligent enough to drop it when they realized that it proved nothing and added nothing to the enjoyment of the sport.

edma1022 said...

Great article, SavANNah.

The women's game can be gradually (in degrees) turned into best-of-5 by turning on no-ad scoring at the start.

In fact, the men's game needs more than best-of-3, too, on non-slams. To remove burnout and fatigue, they can also resort to no-ad scoring.

At least it will make the sport more interesting.


brooklyn1006 said...

Great writing which to me means it's thought-provoking but also fun to read. Great stuff. I am so against 3/5 because I have just seen too many blah 3/5 matches by the men. And one of the reasons I have turned off of baseball is because I don't really have 3-4 hours to invest in watching the game and that's often what 3/5 matches become. But I loved your snarky comments about fitness and strategy. So true!!

MadProfessah said...

I think women should play the same number of sets... but I think everything but finals should be best of 3, with finals best of 5.

sher said...

I'm in agreement on women having to provide the same amount of work to get the same amount of pay. It's just shameful that now we have a situation where you feel that women get more money simply because of their gendre. Isn't gendre discrimination what we're trying to eliminate in our society??

I'm a big fan of 5-set matches, so I hope those never go away. I actually don't think women should be forced to play 5-set matches because it's not good for their (yes, weaker) bodies. However, I think they should get paid less for the 2/3 sets, just like they used to. The prize difference wasn't all that much anyway.

But if the women persist in wanting to earn more money, especially using the argument that they play doubles as well, well than best-of-5 it is.

sher said...

BTW, what happened in Estoril with Djokovic?

Savannah said...

Here's my original post on Estoril and what happened.

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