How to write about the WTA

by The Spin Team

Covering women’s tennis should be the easiest thing in the world.  Take a thousand women professional tennis players. Write about what they do.  Voila, you are done.  It is not that difficult.  However, those who are in tennis media seem to find it challenging. Writings on professional women athletes should not be riddled with sexism, stupidity or racist undertones. Yet, tennis journalists struggle to find the right words to express themselves when it comes to writing or talking about professional women tennis players.  Because I love the women’s game and appreciate what journalists have to go through, here are some tips to help you avoid the common pitfalls when covering women’s tennis.

Leave the Outfits Alone

We all see what the women are wearing.  We don’t need a blow by blow commentary on what colour or what went into the making of the outfit.  That is for the tennis sponsors to deal with.  I can tell you that apart from perhaps criticizing the colour and possibly the fit of an outfit, most tennis fans don’t really care what women athletes are wearing.  They are not going out on a date with you.  They are not your wives, girlfriends, or daughters.  Their outfits should not matter.

To Grunt, Shriek or Moan what is the question

Again, tennis fans have zero interest in this issue.  That is for the mute button at home.  Fans know the players who shriek, grunt and moan.  They are there in the stands and watching from home.  They don’t care.  No one tunes in to watch a women’s match in order to find out if Player A is still shrieking, grunting or moaning when hitting her forehands.  We don’t care.  We watch because we want to see Player A win (or in the case of the haters, lose a match).

Know My name

“If I tell you once I tell you a thousand times, don’t call me Kuzzy.  My name is Sveta”.  She has said it on numerous occasions and yet commentators insist on calling her Kuzzy.  Stop it.  I know it is hard to get that pronunciation just right, especially when a name is spelled with pure consonants.  Even spell check has issues with it, but come on, commentators, leave the really bad (and in some cases cringe worthy) nicknames alone.  My name is Svetlana Kuznetsova and I am a tennis player.  I don’t need a nickname.

Know Your Stats

 I won Wimbledon by beating Player Y.  It was my second Major title.  I am ranked No. 6 in the WTA rankings.  I have held that position since 2016.  I lost my top ranking because I have been out injured for a number of months.  Tell the story.  Let fans know what makes me so good or so bad.  Talk about my extreme Western grip which prevents me from hitting my forehand on the run.  Talk about my serve stats, my return stats, my poor (or excellent movement).  Talk about me the way you talk about the men.  Talk about my game.

Don’t be Shocked When a Player YOU Have Never Heard of Does Well

Fans of the women’s game know their players.  We are never shocked when a player YOU have never heard of either takes down a player you have heard of, but we are always surprised that it took that player YOU have never heard of to do well.  Unlike you, we are never just aware of Niculescu and her formidable sliced forehand.  It has caused us sleepless nights when she plays against our faves.  We were aware of the Pliskova serve long before she got to the top 10.  We also know that she moves very poorly but seeing as she can stand and deliver we ignored your talking points.  Sara Errani is so much more than a weak serve.  She is one of the most versatile players on tour and before Elena Vesnina won the BNP Paribas Open she was an accomplished doubles player in her own right.   Please tennis journos and commentators, do your homework and avoid the embarrassment.

Scheduling

There is a general feeling amongst tennis folks that women’s matches do not garner the same amount of support as the men’s game.  Folks use the empty stands at women’s matches to prove their point that no one watches the women’s game.  My thought process is this, perhaps if tournament directors stopped scheduling women’s matches early in the day when most folks have not made plans to watch matches maybe that would help.  I have seen lots of empty stands at men’s matches but for some reason that is never a talking point.  At the majority of the combined tournaments, most of the women’s matches are scheduled for early in the day.  At the Majors, the same rule seems to apply, unless you are a big draw like Serena Williams and even then, if Serena is playing on the day when some so called big name player or players from the host country are playing, she either gets scheduled late in the day when most folks are on their way home (see French Open), or early in the day when folks are still at work (see Wimbledon).  The only tournament that seems to get it right every single time is Rome.  You need only look at the stands to see that the women’s matches are always well supported compared to the men’s matches.

Women Must Help Themselves

In 2015, after playing what was undoubtedly one of the best matches of the 2015 Wimbledon tournament, Victoria Azarenka was asked in her press conference about the shrieking, grunting, and moaning that went on during her match.  Azarenka, never one to mince words, reminded the journalists present that both she and Serena had played one helluva match and the journalists present should probably focus on that, rather than the grunting, and shrieking.

In the same way that Venus Williams refused to move her match during the Australian Open and schooled those attending the trophy presentation in Dubai a few years ago about discrimination, so should players refuse to play early if it is against their best interests.  The women need to realise that without them there is no WTA and there is no diversity in sports coverage.  They need to learn their value to the sport and until they do that they will always be considered second best to the men.

THE WTA IS ITS OWN WORST ENEMY

 From abandoning the tv deal with TennisTV, to giving players talking points on Sharapova’s doping ban, to issuing a release about tennis needing Sharapova, the WTA has not endeared itself to fans these days.  They have taken a position of defense, rather than offence when it comes to dealing with the issues facing women’s tennis.  They should adopt a more proactive approach to managing the women’s game. Perhaps the time has come for a woman to again be in charge of the WTA.

 

 

I HAVE A SADZ

It has been sometime since I wrote about tennis.  I have tried writing a few times but there seems to be a bit of a writer’s block  that is happening to me.  I think this has to do with the fact that I am disgusted by the sport and the efforts that seem to be at play  in making women’s tennis seem like a second class citizen to the men’s game.
The Australian Open women’s final gained its highest viewership in quite some time with the final featuring Venus and Serena Williams.  While I was giddy at Venus making the final, I did become a bit disappointed that she was not able to cross the finish line ahead of her sister, but as some of my tennis buddies have said, a Williams won, so that is all that matters.
The WTA should have been riding that euphoric high all throughout the season, but then we recalled the news that the online streaming platform TennisTV would no longer be broadcasting women’s tennis.  There began a fight amongst tennis watchers to figure out how to watch the women’s game.  Some of us have figured it out but it has been like seeking for gold in them there mountains.
As I am writing this we are in the midst of the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells) and while I have barely watched any of the women’s matches, from my social media timeline I can see that folks both in the US and outside the US are experiencing problems in watching the women’s portion of this event.  I live outside the US and I have ESPN Play.  While that platform does have Indian Wells on, there are no women’s matches being shown.  As part of my Dish Network package, I do have Tennis Channel, but as the only women’s matches they are showing are American women, I have decided to not tune in (except for Venus from time to time).
When someone is unable to view your sport, it decreases interest.  I was out of the office on Monday and Tuesday of this week and rather than sit at a computer screen watching tennis, I chose to sit in front of my 55” Samsung Smart TV and binge watch Bones on Netflix.  I am a diehard supporter of the women’s game, if I prefer to watch Netflix rather than find a livestream which may be dodgy at best to watch women’s tennis, then I can’t imagine  how those fans who only have a passing interest in the women’s game are faring. Why are we still struggling to watch the women’s game in 2017?
The other issue that has left me repeatedly angry and depressed is the return of Maria Sharapova to professional tennis.  For those who have been living under a rock, Ms. Sharapova will be coming off a 15 month ban for a doping offence.  As a result of this doping ban she will not have a ranking when she returns next month.  The issue that has stirred up quite a bit of controversy is Stuttgart granting Sharapova a wild card while she is banned for a doping offence. In order to facilitate the wildcard, the event has scheduled her first match at the tournament a day after her doping ban ends.   As we say in the legal field, the Stuttgart organisers have endured the letter of the law, if not the spirit.

Angelique Kerber, the current No. 1 has taken the view that awarding Sharapova a wild card has taken away the opportunity from a German who could perhaps use that wild card to advance her career.  I agree.  Following Stuttgart’s lead, both Madrid and Rome announced that they have awarded Ms. Sharapova a wild card into their events.  In addition, the French Tennis Federation has announced that Ms. Sharapova has reached out to them and has met with that organisation to secure a wildcard into the French Open this year.  Both the FFT and the AELTC have adopted a wait and see approach regarding requests for a wild card from the Sharapova camp.

Many may have forgotten that at the ITF hearing, Ms. Sharapova’s team stated that:

“It is argued that any period of ineligibility would disproportionately affect Ms Sharapova in causing her a very substantial loss of earnings and sponsorships, exclusion from the 2016 Olympics, and irreparable damage to her reputation. There is nothing unfair in the rules being fairly and equitably applied to this player as to any other athlete subject to the WADA Code, whether professional or amateur. The rules are clear in stating:  “ … the fact that a Player would lose the opportunity to earn large sums of money during a period of Ineligibility, or the fact that the Player only has a short time left in his or her career, or the timing of the sporting calendar, would not be relevant factors to be considered in reducing the period of Ineligibility under Article 10.5.1 or 10.5.2.” The rules cannot be circumvented by invoking the principle of proportionality. It would be contrary to the principles underlying the code, in particular respect for the rules which must apply equally to all, to allow an unprincipled exception to or waiver from the rules on the grounds of proportionality of sanction as it affects the particular circumstances of this player.”

I know that many people have taken exception to the ITF’s ruling and it would seem as if Ms. Sharapova and her team are more determined to pick up where they left off in terms of the money that can be made by Ms. Sharapova.

For years we have heard about Ms. Sharapova’s fighting spirit.  We have heard about her capacity for hard work and her mental toughness.  We have also heard about her ability to come back from adversity and how important it is for her to play tennis.  I therefore have a few thoughts on a comeback that would be so much better for her image (which seems to be everything) and would be a guaranteed path to Hall of Fame glory.

·         Play the ITF Challenger/Futures circuit – how fitting would it be for an icon of the sport to highlight the plight of players who play the Challenger/Futures circuit? I recall watching Challenger tennis when Nicole Vaidisova was staging her comeback to tennis.

·         Play qualifying events.  It would show Ms. Sharapova’s capacity for hard work.  If she fails to make it through qualifying, try and go in as a lucky loser.  With her skill set she would be able to vanquish her opponents.  Recall 2007 when Serena Williams who was ranked 81 when won the Australian Open

·         Recently, Francesca Schiavone, a decorated athlete who has made her mark on the sport in more ways than one played qualifying at the Australian Open.  Schiavone has represented herself and her country and has been at the forefront of one of the most dynamic Fed Cup teams in history.  She will probably need a wild card to play in her home tournament in Rome later this year.  Why not take a page from that book?

I, like many tennis fans, love to hear and see a comeback story.  One of the reasons why  most people hate on court coaching is that it seems to give an unfair advantage to the player who calls their coach down mid match.  This is how I and I know many others view this wild card situation with Ms. Sharapova.  We view it as her being given an unfair advantage, in much the same way that her use of meldonium gave her an unfair advantage.

It is a smack in the face of other players who have played fairly for all their careers, to now be tasked with competing against a player who is being given a leg up because of who she is or who she used to be.  How Sharapova returns to the sport she claims to love can either elevate or damage its reputation. It would do the tennis a world of good if they helped Sharapova do the former rather than the latter. However, I suspect that like Sharapova, they will let money rather than integrity guide their decisions.