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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