Monthly Archives: January 2013

Why must we use men’s tennis as a stick with which to beat the women’s game?

Champ and dazed runner-up

So, the men’s final was another classic and the women’s final was error-strewn. So read the match reports of some hacks that doubtless have it on copy and paste these days. After all, there are some tabloids and broadcasters whose main tennis faces seem to rather enjoy pouring scorn on the leading women. They cover the Grand Slam events and the women merely get in the way of the matches and the faces they are really there to see. Superlative after superlative greets Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer but indifference greets any achievement by a tennis-playing female who doesn’t have the surname Williams.

“There’s just no depth in the women’s game right now, compared with the men’s”. Men’s tennis is blessed right now with four of the greatest players to have ever played the game. Federer held the sport together for several years before Nadal came along to raise the bar. Federer went with him, and eventually Djokovic caught them both and overtook them both too. Now Murray is scampering to keep pace with the Serb. But…….David Ferrer was the number four seed here and in the prolonged period of Nadal’s absence is the number four player in the world. He lost to Djokovic in less than 90 minutes and won only five games in the process. That is not good enough and hardly points to a multitude of depth beneath the Top 3 or 4. The women’s game hardly covered itself in glory though at the same stage. World Number 1 Vika Azarenka caused a furore by appearing to indicate she took a medical time-out for fear of choking to her American teenage opponent Sloane Stephens. In the end Vika won through in straight sets, and beaten finalist Na Li comfortably took care of Maria Sharapova for the loss of a couple of games in each set. But the final was high in tension, drama and not low in quality either. Yes, there were many unforced errors but they came at the end of long rallies, errors caused by the gradual erosion of somebody’s game, rather than a lack of mental strength or quality. Whilst we praise Djokovic’s resilience and never-say-die attitude now, the thought that a bump to the head like Na Li suffered on Saturday evening would have put paid to Novak earlier on in his career was not lost on me. Yes, he would have been forfeiting that match right there and then.

But that’s not fair to compare players of a different gender and of essentially a different sport, right? Well, no it’s not. But respected organisations do so all of the time to bitch on the women’s game. Vika Azarenka’s shrieks? Old news, get over it. You don’t get that in the men’s game. Well you don’t get shrieks, no. They’re men, but some of the guttural grunts that come from Djokovic in most rallies would put you off tennis. The women are mentally fragile, and it takes a little something to knock them off their stride completely. True of lower-ranked players for sure. But not for the likes of Azarenka, Sharapova, Serena and Na Li. They have the mental toughness of the men’s top 4. Ask Nicolas Almagro where he went to once David Ferrer came back to level at 2 sets all. There are more service breaks in the women’s game. True again, it’s simply down to power. Men are more powerful than women, wow what a shocker.

I don’t want to knock men’s tennis because I have never been more interested in it than I am right now. The rivalries at the very top are fascinating and we are incredibly lucky to be witnesses to them. But then if I lazily pass judgment on one part of the sport, you know I may just get called upon by ESPN or the BBC to offer my expert opinion. BBC TV’s commentary team spent chunks of the women’s final discussing one member of the team’s previous marriage to a top female player, like that is relevant. It’s an old boy’s club that refuses to go with the times; their knowledge of the men’s game outside the top 10 is flaky to say the least but their knowledge of the top women is non-existent. I honestly do not believe that either of the men in the commentary box yesterday would choose to watch a women’s match in the privacy of their own home. So don’t let them near the commentary box. Statistics and facts only take you so far, and the line “there’s such a difference here between the women’s game and the men’s game” is unacceptable. Yes because they are two separate competitions. When Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis were trying to fend off the Williams sisters, I heard none of these so-called experts bemoaning the fact that the men’s game was sterile and lacked any of those rivalries that the women’s game had at the turn of the century. Men’s tennis is privileged to have Djokovic and Murray, will be privileged to have Nadal if he comes back, and is privileged to have Federer refusing to go away quietly. But we do not have to make it better by beating up on the women so much. It’s not a stellar era by any means, but let’s give credit to the likes of Azarenka and Na Li for rising to challenges and standards set down by the great Serena. And please let’s not put the good results of Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka down to them having new boyfriends, as one leading broadcaster article did this past week.

Instead, let’s praise a decent Grand Slam on both sides of the gender divide. Not the best, far from it. Not the worst, far from it. But decent, all the same. And let’s remember that only one of the finals went the distance……

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Anyone for tennis? Melbourne set to sizzle

Queen of Oz

January 2007 – Serena Williams fair wobbled into the Australian Open at an unheard-of price of 25/1 to win the title she had won on two previous occasions.  The fact was the younger Williams sister had suffered dramatically from personal issues, with the nadir being the death of her sister Yetunde. Serena was out-of-shape, out-of-sorts and out of the seedings. When she lost the first set of her 3rd round match with the Russian Nadia Petrova 1-6, Serena was heading for an embarrassing early exit and some mega work in the gym. But then something clicked inside the champion’s mind, if not body.  Her now-legendary will-to-win came to the fore as she came back to defeat 5th seed Petrova, before going on to beat Jelena Jankovic, Shahar Peer and Nicole Vaidisova to reach a final against Maria Sharapova, a repeat of the 2004 Wimbledon final.  But surely this would be where Serena’s credible run would come to an end.  She had defeated the previous opponents between the ears; surely Maria would not succumb to that. And no, the Siberian was not defeated between the ears; she was simply bludgeoned off the court by Serena, who lost only three games to her younger opponent.

What point am I making? Serena Williams was never as unfit as she was six years ago in Melbourne and yet she still found a way to win through.  Now, in January 2013, she has never been fitter.  This spells big trouble for the women’s draw. Gone is the uncertainty of last season; there is no blanket finish in this Grand Slam and there will be no blanket finishes for the rest of the calendar year either.  Only Victoria Azarenka has a shot at stopping Serena here, and it is a small shot too. Serena owns the Rod Laver Arena, and she will want to right the wrong of her 4th round defeat to Ekaterina Makarova in 2012. Her draw is favourable and she will not even be tested before her semi-final showdown with Vika. The winner of that match wins the tournament and I put Serena at 90-10 favourite. I’m also going out on a limb and saying this is the year we stop talking about the Serena Slam of 2002-2003 when she held all of the Grand Slam trophies for a time.  We stop talking about it because she finalises her place in the history books by winning the Grand Slam in a calendar year.

The men’s tournament is slightly more open.  Of course, we cannot look beyond Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for the eventual winner but there is at least a case to be made for any of those three to win it. And this I will try to do now. Federer comes in as fresh as a daisy and focused for once on putting pressure on others, downplaying his chances. He has been keen to point out Murray’s advances in 2012 as well as stating that there is no doubt that Djokovic is now very much the World Number 1. This is a relaxed Federer (has there ever been anything but?), one which will come out swinging freely. If he comes through his customary early-round test in Melbourne, he will advance to his semi-final meeting with Murray. Andy himself has been given a tough draw in my opinion. A quarter-final match-up with Del Potro, followed by a semi showdown with Federer will not be ideal preparation for a potential final with the World Number 1. But then he does appear to have carried his fine Autumn form into 2013 and seems set fair for another impressive year. How fresh he arrives into the final could well decide whether he wins back-to-back slams. Conversely, Djokovic’s easier route to the final could of course count against him. I genuinely do not see him dropping anything more than a single set from his first six matches in Melbourne, including potential matches with Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer (I’m a big fan of the latter, but you would love a semi-final of a Grand Slam against him – play to your best and you win, it’s as simple as that). Djokovic will do well to conserve his energy because he knows that if it is Murray he comes up against in 15 days’ time, he will need every ounce of energy he possesses to make sure he gets by the Brit. He will well remember the titanic struggle with Murray on that New York September night and how the Scot refused to go away in the fifth set when it looked like he had missed his chance. I’m not sure if we will be served up with a classic Grand Slam over the next fortnight in either draw, but one thing I am certain of is if it is to be a rematch of the US Open Final then we are in for a classic Grand Slam final.  Again! Oh happy days. My bet? Djokovic to retain and Serena to regain. Enjoy!

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