We are in the middle of clay season and the countdown to Roland Garros is in high gear. As usual, the lead-up tournaments to Roland Garros are marked by the same narratives I have come to expect from sports journalists and fans alike. According to many, the Madrid tournament on the WTA side has been a bit of a bust, because they have decided that seeds falling early in a major tournament means the WTA is weak, while the ATP offers better value for money in terms of matches and seeds lasting through the final stages. This opinion was brought to the fore by Sergi Stakhovsky posting a tweet showing the near empty stands for the semifinal between Louisa Chirico and Dominika Cibulkova and the fuller stands for the match between Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori. While what he tweeted was indeed true, he and others like him, failed to post tweets showing the packed stands for women’s matches that occurred over the week compared to empty stands for men’s matches. Essentially, you can cherry-pick pictures of matches to suit whatever point you want to make. If I had known that we would still be having these conversations, I would have taken my own pictures. Luckily, I have a TennisTV subscription and can share my own contrasting pictures. Unfortunately, TennisTV seems to have taken down that video but thanks to the WTA and their YouTube channel I was able to obtain a link to that day’s match
Tag picture: One of the more packed stadiums that I saw was the match between Ana Ivanovic and Louisa Chirico. The fans had a great time and the tennis was spectacular.
When people post misinformation about the WTA, there are folks like me who shake my head and keep on moving. Whether it is the lack of fans in the stands, the many breaks of serve during a WTA match or the on court coaching sessions, the rhetoric about the WTA is rarely complimentary. Some of these fans post on social media for RTs or a Like, but often the negative coverage comes from those who are paid to provide objective coverage of tennis matches. However, this post is not about defending the women’s game. I don’t think the WTA needs me or anyone else to defend its product. I think the women’s game is fantastic and the players themselves do a great job of highlighting the sport. This is about how the tournament and its officials treat the WTA product including the television rights holder, Tennis Channel and the online subscription service TennisTV.
At the time of writing this article, the women’s doubles final is currently being played. If you want to watch that match, it is not available on TennisTV or on Tennis Channel. The men’s doubles semifinals however are available and are currently being played. Lest you think that the women’s doubles finals featured some no names, the final is being played between the reigning No. 1 doubles champions, Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza and they are going up against the winners of the last few tournaments on the WTA, the French team of Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
Tennis Channel continues to do a poor job of promoting the women’s game and their coverage remains unchallenged. From having the program schedule say ATP Tennis when it is a WTA event that is being played to barely showing any of the women’s matches during combined events. This morning on the first televised day of play from Rome, after the conclusion of the Raonic match, there were 4 women’s matches being played. I waited a full 30 minutes to see if Tennis Channel would look in on the live WTA matches being played, instead they recapped the ATP Masters Series events for 2016. When they resumed showing live tennis, it was the next scheduled men’s match. How do they expect to build an audience for the WTA when they fail to show its matches?
As for the Madrid tournament, the women never look happy nor is the crowd support there. A few years ago 2 of the sport’s biggest stars, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, met in what should have been a blockbuster final. The stadium should have been packed to the seams and yet, you could count the number of people on hand to watch that match. It seems that the crowds in Madrid would rather watch the ATP than the WTA. Contrast this showing in Madrid with the action in Rome; the stands were rocking on the very first day of televised coverage. The Williams Sisters, who have not played doubles in quite some time, had the stands packed to capacity watching their first round loss. Sara Errani, always a favourite with her Italian home crowd, also had a packed house, as did Misaki Doi and Alize Cornet, Kasatkina and Pliskova and the list goes on and on. Maybe, it’s time to actually reward tournaments who support players by filling the stands. How about we remove the Premier Mandatory status from Madrid and give it to Rome? I say, we honor the tournaments with bonus points for appreciative audiences and crowds rather than the ones with the deepest pockets.