I tried, I really did. I hoped that a beer would help. It didn’t. Watching the women’s finals of Indian Wells was like taking a purge. Except that even the most distasteful purge can achieve some good in the long run. In this case, the exercise and experience were both painful and pointless.
I wasn’t actually going to go there. I thought you know, I’m sure that Wozniacki’s fans are thrilled that she made it to another finals. And I am certain that Jankovic’s fans are probably hella relieved that she is finally back. So who was I to throw cold water on their celebration? So I stifled my thoughts, emptied the bottle, and turned off the TV.
And then came Miami. And the rousing match between Federer and Serra in the first round. And the nail-biter between Verdasco and Melzer, when for a moment there it looked as if Verdasco was going to be spanked, and then he got it together. And the thriller between Gonzalez and Monaco, first going one way, and then another, until Gonzo ratcheted up the fire and blazed some heat onto Monaco. The tennis in Miami has been sizzling, even in the earliest rounds. Every single match has been a thrill a minute. The style of tennis is gutsy and fearless. Fortune definitely favors the brave. Indeed, the motto for men’s tennis could easily be ‘go brave or go home’.
Which brings me back to memories of Indian Wells and my observation that in the finals we witnessed one timid woman versus another, playing the same damn defensive game, each one trying to counterpunch the other from the baseline, running back and forth and back and forth, with no plan of attack. It was a wonder they didn’t bore each other to death. What an embarrassing final. Women’s tennis deserves so much better. When did the women become so damn timid?
I’m not saying that there weren’t any brave women in the draw. But to a woman they all seemed to have departed early. I had high hopes for Kleybanova, especially after she took out Clijsters, but she folded like a wet tissue to the ultimate winner. And then Kuznetsova went out in three sets to Navarro-Suarez. Dementieva was there but she might as well not have been. And I think Justine Henin was also there, or was that just her shadow? Maybe I read the draw wrong. Maybe she’s still in Australia.
Of course there were moments of excitement in some of the women’s matches. But for the most part nothing came close to any of the displays put on by the men. Did you also notice the striking difference in the crowd’s reaction? Not a single women’s match came close to the level of fearlessness that the men demonstrate weekly in their tennis matches, from one tournament to another.
How did this come about? What was the moment of transition from the fearless Capriatis and the plucky Hingises, from the screaming Seleses and the focused Grafs, to the tame and timid Wozniackis and defensive Jankovics? How did women’s tennis come to this sorry state?
Of course in this criticism I am not including all of the current women. Players like Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and Kim Clijsters, to name just a few, are sportswomen whose games can rise to a whole other level when facing each other at Slam events. These are not women who seem afraid. They go out on court and face down their opponents with chutzpah. (Check out this Serena video for a reminder of what fearless tennis looks like).
But most of these players either did not go to Indian Wells, or were perhaps motivated just to make a brief appearance before packing up and riding out of town. Left behind were the timid ones. And so we witnessed a pathetic final match between Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic. It almost put me to sleep. It was a shameful demonstration of timidity. Even the crowd seemed barely able to muster up the energy to respond. Honestly, I can’t wait to get past some members of the current generation of women’s tennis players. We need some gutsy youngsters to start stepping up and showing some of these cowards how it’s done.