Look, the state of the WTA is pretty controversial right now: Roger Federer’s dissing Jelena Jankovic’s rise to World No. 1, the Safina/Serena Aussie Open final was declared an “embarrassment” by many in the media, and we’re all still mourning Justine Henin’s retirement. But after watching the thoroughly enjoyable Mauresmo/Dementieva final in Paris this weekend, it was nice to read this defense of women’s tennis in the Reuters sports blog. There’s a lot to disagree with in this article, but I like it when bloggers go out on a limb!
Women’s tennis is just as enthralling as men’s
“Embarrassing”, “pitiful” and “pathetic” were just some of the words used by the global press to describe last month’s Australian Open final between Serena Williams and Dinara Safina.
Some observers went even further and suggested women should give up their right to receive equal prize money after Williams walloped the Russian in just 59 minutes to claim her 10th grand slam crown.
The tennis police have extremely short memories. While everyone was quick to compare it to Rafael Nadal’s heart-stopping 4-1/2 hour epic win over Roger Federer in Melbourne, people have forgotten it was only eight months ago when the Swiss won a paltry four games in the French Open final against his Spanish nemesis.
In fact, on that occasion Federer won fewer games than Roland Garros runner-up Safina had a day earlier in the women’s showpiece match against Ana Ivanovic. Were people expecting Federer to hand back some of his prize money simply because he had failed to produce his A-game against Nadal? Of course not.
While there is no doubt that the Federer-Nadal thriller in Melbourne will live long in people’s memories, it should be noted that it was the first five-set men’s final in Melbourne for 21 years.
In that same time, the women’s finale in Australia has gone down to the wire six times — including the 2002 classic when Jennifer Capriati saved four match points before sneaking past Martina Hingis.
Also, the men’s game has effectively become a two-horse race over the past four years. In the 16 majors that have been contested since the 2005 French Open, either Nadal or Federer have claimed the top prize 15 times.
Over the same period, the women’s roll of honour lists champions such as Venus and Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters and Ivanovic.
All four majors in 2008 were won by different women and the battle for supremacy became so intense that the top ranking changed hands six times until Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic won the final round of musical chairs to clinch the coveted year-end prize.
Proving that women’s tennis remains unpredictable, Serena has already snatched that top spot for herself this year.
As Jankovic said: “It’s irrelevant to compare men’s tennis and women’s tennis… which by the way is probably more enthralling.
“It’s a big battle between something like five players, so you never really know who is going to prevail, it’s very hard to guess who will be number one.”
The same cannot be said of men’s tennis.
Honestly, I just look out for good matches, whether men’s or women’s, and am proud that our sport comes closer than any other to showcasing both sexes equally. I think the ATP is in amazing shape right now, with spectacular athletes exhibiting some of the most phenomenal tennis ever played (and not just Federer vs. Nadal) so I’m watching the guys more than the ladies. When the WTA gets another great Graf/Seles or Evert/Navratilova rivalry, I’ll be glued to the screen. It’s all cyclical and the the haters just need to relax and remember their history. (And I’m a firm believer in the “tennis is not office work” argument when it comes to equal prize money. If you want to pay players based on how long they spend on the court or the quality of their play, then have them punch a timeclock at every changeover or be judged by a panel of experts. There are bigger issues of inequality to address than equal prize money at Majors for already well-off tennis stars. And the women still get paid less at the lesser tournaments, anyway, if that makes you happy. Sheesh.)
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images