One of the more popular pieces that I have ever written for this blog is a how to guide about covering women’s tennis. I am linking it again as a reminder to commentators and sports journalists alike that women’s tennis is not the forgotten stepchild of tennis, but is a professional endeavour undertaken in the same rigorous manner like the men. It is not to be ridiculed and frankly, it is not an aside or prelude to the main event, i.e. a men’s match.
Last night there were some matches that were so entertaining that for a minute I wondered at the lack of tennis enthusiasts, commentators and journalists providing play by play commentary via social media. The first match on Rod Laver Arena featured qualifier Luksika Kumkhum and comeback queen Petra Martic. It was a match with its ups and downs, but the shotmaking was absolutely incredible. It is true that the match was slow going at first, but once Kumkhum took the second set, we all knew we would be in for the ride of our lives in the third set. Kumkhum played exceptionally well, so much so that at one point she had the fans in the stands on their feet with her athleticism, especially in the forecourt. During that match there was such a dearth of commentary on social media, I wondered whether I was the only person watching it.
What made the match so exceptionally good was the fact that it was really hot, but you would never know it, apart from each player taking a little bit of time in the shade. Neither player made the heat an issue. Meanwhile, there was a men’s match being played at the same time, and from what I saw on social media, neither man was able to contend with the heat. One sports journalist suggested the quality of play was poor as the men were just trying to survive.
Another match that provided great entertainment and is the focus of my commentary today is the match between Jelena Ostapenko and Annett Kontaveit. At the tail end of the first set, that doyen of women’s tennis, Pam Shriver spoke about the many breaks of serve in the women’s match, while comparing the fact that the men’s match only had 3 breaks of serve over 3 sets. The inference to be drawn is that the men’s game either had better serves or the quality of play was much better than the women’s match. Nothing could be further from the truth. Breaking your opponent’s serve is a part of the sport of tennis. You can’t win a tennis match if you don’t break serve, whether it is during a set or even during a tiebreak. At some point you have to lose serve. Why breaking serve is misinterpreted as a defect in the women’s game is beyond my comprehension.
Therein lies the rub for me. If commentators influence how people, who are scrolling through channels, view the women’s game, then the WTA is going to be hard pressed to build momentum for its sport. Rather than talking about the inability of the women to hold serve, how about we talk about the competitiveness of matches? Why cast a feature if the game in such a negative light?
Another narrative that has raised its head is how many women have the ability to leave the Australian Open wearing the No. 1 crown. Rather than spinning it as instability at the top, how about framing it as an indication of the depth of talent on the women’s tour? Would we rather see a Tour that increasingly relies on the fortunes of 2 players (Federer/Nadal) to gain large tv audiences, or would we rather have a Tour that has a slate of multiple players pushing each other forward. Once Federer and Nadal have left the men’s Tour (and yes hard to believe but they will eventually retire), the men’s Tour will be left with a group of men who will most likely jockey for position each week, even if some are devoid of personality and have already earned the ire of tennis journalists everywhere. Will we suddenly see a valuing of having a chase for number 1 among more than two players?
We have to move away from using the men’s game as a measuring stick for the women. The women’s game can be measured based upon its own merits, which may very well include the fact that women are capable of breaking each other’s serve.
Would we rather see a Tour that increasingly relies on the fortunes of 2 players (Federer/Nadal) to gain large tv audiences, or would we rather have a Tour that has some amount of stability to take it forward. Once Federer and Nadal have left the men’s Tour (and yes hard to believe but they will eventually retire), the men’s Tour will be left with some men who are devoid of personality and who have already earned the ire of tennis journalists everywhere.
Day 6 sees play from the top half of the draw and features some incredibly good matches. It is a long weekend where I am and so I will make sure to follow my mantry of sleep being for the weak. Spin’s Picks are below
Halep v. Davis (battle of the little people. Experience takes this one)
Barty v. Osaka (how much more does Barty have left in the tank after those epic matches?)
Kerber v. Sharapova (this one I really don’t care too much about but rooting for Kerber)
Bogdan v. Keys (again, experience over youth)
Safarova v. Pliskova (battle of the Czechs – Safarova is the more experienced competitor but Pliskova has bigger weapons)
Hsieh v. Radwanska (Ninja v. Ninja – who will prevail?)
Sasnovich v. Garcia (the player with not only the bigger weapons, but who seems to be the far better competitor at this year’s event)
Pera v. Strycova (the lucky loser with huge weapons against the experienced player with a whole host of weapons. I think the lucky loser still has one more match win in her)