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.
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.