Monthly Archives: July 2017

Equal prize money is one thing, equal coverage is better – an open letter to Wimbledon

 

Dear All England Club,

First of all, let me start by saying how much I love your tournament. I attended the first two days of this year’s Championships, seeing players such as Nick Kyrgios, Elina Svitolina, Milos Raonic and Karolina Pliskova on my thirteenth separate visit. It remains the jewel in the tennis crown, the special atmosphere it creates by allowing pay-on-the-day sales is to be commended. The commitment to continuous improvement of the facilities for both fans and players alike is exceptional. The pure concept of Manic Monday, the only day in the tennis calendar that all remaining 32 singles competitors battle it out across the grounds is fabulous, allowing even ground pass ticket holders the chance to see top-quality business-end matchups., however this amazing concept has highlighted a deep-seated problem within your organisation of the tournament.

 

The one thing that continues to spoil your tournament is the lack of exposure given to the women’s game. Either it is a joint ATP-WTA event or it is not. The disparity in coverage has been well and truly highlighted on Day 7 of this year’s tournament but has been going on for years. I am sure you are aware of tennis fan Mark Leyland who has presented you with statistical data over the last few years showing you this very evident difference in the amount of men’s matches scheduled on the main two courts with those of the women. I shall not go over this excellent data analysis but a quick Google search will highlight it for you. Last year appeared to signal a change in the tide with the gap between men’s and women’s matches closing but this year you have returned to the 2:1 ratio on both main courts. I discount TBA matches as whilst these often appear on the show courts, the mere fact they are TBA means they must be taken out of scheduling data.

I am fully aware of the sound reasoning for scheduling only three main matches on the show courts but I have to be honest and say I never feel like the women are under-represented in other Slams principally owing to the fact that on each of the first eight days of the tournaments, there is a 50/50 split on both show courts; two men’s matches and two women’s. A move to this type of scheduling, with an earlier start, would surely end all discussion on this type of bias. Bias is a strong word so I will provide the startling evidence from Day 7 only. Days 1-6 had a schedule of 2:1 in favour of the men on each day across the two show courts.

Bias is merely throwing together six matches and doing everything in your power to put on the top four players in the men’s game. I have little doubt that you will not listen to me as you have failed to listen to women’s world number ones in the past; Caroline Wozniacki has played on Court 2 in the past when she was the top player in the world, Jelena Jankovic on Court 18 when she was, 5-time winner Venus Williams played on that same court, and Serena Williams has played on Court 2 on more than one occasion. Goodness me, Serena Williams – the winner of 23 majors, 7 Wimbledon titles and the figurehead of a tennis generation. This is not a Pete Sampras 2002 situation, when the 7-time champ was put on Court 2 at the end of his career, Serena has been there when she is at the top of her game. Today will see a Court 2 battle between the last two runners-up,  world number one Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza followed by the world number two Simona Halep against multi-slam winner Victoria Azarenka. The French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko will take on the world number five Elina Svitolina out on Court 12. What a treat for ground pass holders, but please don’t platitude me by saying this is to allow all fans to see top-class tennis. I have no issue with Venus Williams being granted the respect she deserves by appearing on Centre Court or that the British number one Johanna Konta is also on one of the principal show courts. What I have issue with is matches like Novak Djokovic v Adrian Mannarino being on Court 1, the same goes for Rafael Nadal v Gilles Muller. There is no such thing in sport as a dead cert but most pundits would be mightily surprised if those two matches aren’t finished in three sets. Can anybody truly say the matches featuring the world numbers one and two in the women’s game on Court 2 will be so heavily one-sided?

Andy Murray has not played a single match on anything but Centre Court and Court 1 since he became British number one. Roger Federer has played on those courts in every one of his matches since the 4th Round in 2003. I don’t have statistics to hand for Rafael Nadal but I am extremely confident in stating he will not have played a match on Court 2 in the last ten years and the same can be said of Novak Djokovic since the turn of the decade. Those four players have achieved a hell of a lot in their careers yet so have the top women. I believe it will be easy for you to say that a lot of factors must be taken into account each day when putting together the schedule and I know that to be true. However, a decade of prioritising those four men at the expense of great champions like Serena and Venus Williams, of successive number ones in the women’s game and of now saying that Djokovic v Muller is a bigger pull and prospect than Muguruza v Kerber or Halep v Azarenka is the biggest slap in the face of the women’s game you could ever wish to supply. Talk about giving the fans what they want by putting the men’s top four can only be considered a worthy retort if you allow equal exposure for the women’s game. If the audience do not see the top players in that sport, how will they ever choose to watch?

The move towards equal scheduling in 2016 was clearly a false dawn and your lack of coverage of the women’s game not only demeans the sport but sullies your tournament.

 

I look forward to the day when you supply a tournament that is equal in exposure, not merely in prize money.

 

 

Your faithfully,

 

Mark McElvaney

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Wide-open Wimbledon: my pre-tournament thoughts

There’s been an extra week of the grass court season this year but it still barely feels like we have caught breath since Jelena Ostapenko smashed her way to her first major title and Rafael Nadal bludgeoned his way to a tenth Roland Garros trophy and here we are ready to embark on the next Grand Slam on the green green grass of the home of tennis. It’s really tough to pick a winner in either tournament with much conviction but here’s a quick rundown on the main contenders.

Hat-trick hero?

In the men’s draw, Andy Murray is the defending champion and world number one but comes into the fortnight as the hunted and in relatively poor form, whilst there are also concerns about a sore hip. His first-match defeat to Jordan Thompson at Queen’s should not be something to overplay but his road to a potential third Wimbledon title is rocky to say the least. He would have to get past Stanislas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to get his hands on the cup but he could come a cropper as early as the 4th Round when he takes on the erratic, but supremely capable Nick Kyrgios. Don’t be surprised if Kyrgios blows hot and destroys Murray’s hopes of a hat-trick.

Can Stan Wawrinka complete the career Slam by adding a Wimbledon title to his haul? There is little doubt that he has the game to beat anybody on the surface on his notorious hot days but the shame is that the little doubt there is seems to lie in Wawrinka’s own head; he never seems completely at ease and confident in his own ability on the green stuff. It will be interesting to see how he reacts if he has to face Nadal for the first time since he was schooled in the Roland Garros final.

Rafael Nadal himself is a strange one here; he has won only five matches at Wimbledon since 2011 yet is a lot of people’s pick for his third title on the lawns of South-West London. It is certainly true that he was in imperious form in Paris and looked as good as ever but his struggles at Wimbledon over the past five years should not be underestimated. An early defeat cannot be ruled out, but it is hard to confidently predict who will be the next Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis or Dustin Brown. In fact, for all the potential to fall to a shock, the Mallorcan may well reach the final here but to lift the title will be beyond him.

Novak Djokovic was very sensible to ask for a wildcard into the Eastbourne Championships this past week. He has given himself a much-needed injection of confidence and just as importantly, match practice on grass. The tournament was not particularly stacked but a run to Saturday’s final against Gael Monfils means Djokovic comes in finely-tuned and takes away the likelihood of a repeat of the early exit he suffered in 2016. If he can safely negotiate a third round test against either Juan-Martin del Potro or Thanas Kokkinakis, there is no reason why the former number one and two-time champion won’t make the semi-finals. However, there it will get more difficult…

Green green grass

 

Roger Federer is striving to make Wimbledon history. Were he to win here in a fortnight’s time, he would go clear of Pete Sampras and William Renshaw to take his eighth SW19 crown, more than any other player in history. Of course, that quest has been the same every year since he lifted number 8 in 2012 and he went close in 2014 and 2015 to doing just that. Nevertheless, this is his best shot. We have not seen the Swiss since the American spring season but if his rest has done him as much good as it did before the Australian Open (and his ninth win in Halle indicates it has), then he has to be considered favourite. His path to further history will not be easy – a potential run to glory goes past Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Djokovic and Nadal but if he brings his Australian Open game to his favourite court, then Wimbledon immortality awaits.

If the men’s tournament is difficult to predict, at least it is the usual suspects who are clouding the picture. The women’s field is ridiculously difficult to fathom. You could make cases for Johanna Konta, CoCo Vandeweghe, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and even Elena Vesnina given current and/or previous Wimbledon form due to the absence of former champions like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and the continued struggles of the world number one Angelique Kerber. So which ladies have the best shot at lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish?

Lucie Safarova is a former semi-finalist and was in great form at Edgbaston recently before she had to pull out of her semi-final with a leg injury. The Czech is in Angelique Kerber’s section but she may not even have to dispose of the world number one if Kerber were to lose early again. Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 finalist, could test her but Safarova is hitting freely and accurately and has the power game to reach another semi-final. Her doubles career really feels like it has strengthened her singles game and it is lovely to see her enjoying her tennis at her relatively-veteran age.

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Safarova is enjoying her game

 

If Safarova can be described as a veteran, what does that make Venus Williams? The five-time champion has not won the big one on her Centre Court home since 2008, and has not reached the final since the following year but her run to the semi-finals here last year as well as to the same stage in Melbourne in January means she is one of the biggest to beat here. She could have been the main one to beat until only a few days ago but it remains to be seen how she fares mentally amid rumours that she will be filed with a lawsuit due to her role in a fatal road collision. In purely tennis terms, her biggest obstacles to a further semi-final appearance would be Dominika Cibulkova and the in-form former Wimbledon junior champion Ash Barty.

Petra Kvitova would be a tremendously popular champion in the tennis world. Just seven months ago, her career looked in grave danger after being stabbed in her playing hand by an intruder to her Prague home. Her appearance at Roland Garros was already a remarkable achievement but she quickly followed this up by winning her second tournament back on tour when she lifted the title at Edgbaston one week ago. I was fortunate to be there for quarter-final day and she looked incredibly strong both physically and mentally in overcoming Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets. Her draw is an excellent one with no tough tests on the horizon until a potential semi-final with Venus. Can she win a third Wimbledon title?

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Kvitova would be a popular three-time champ

 

We could well see the first ever all-Czech final at Wimbledon. Karolina Pliskova has really kicked on in the last twelve months, her game is perfectly suited to grass and she comes in fresh from an appearance in the final at Eastbourne. A potential tussle with CoCo Vandeweghe in the quarter-finals has the makings of the match of the tournament but Pliskova’s huge serve will come good in the end and she would have the firepower to get past Safarova or Radwanska in the final four. A battle between her and Kvitova in the final would be a fantastic slog, come down to who holds their nerve and be decided by a few points either way. Kvitova would be the fans’ choice but it is important that Pliskova grabs this opportunity to shine and take her career to the next step.

Predictions:

Federer to beat Nadal to win men’s title.

Karolina Pliskova to beat Kvitova to win women’s title.

Andy Murray to go out before the quarter-finals.

Ash Barty to make quarter-finals.

A crowd to inexplicably laugh when a seagull lands on the court.

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