I read about Akgul Amanmuradova before I ever saw her play. Of course that says more about me than it does about her. I make no apologies for not knowing every single member of the WTA or ATP tour. It’s not my fault that Sports Illustrated still has not offered me Jon Wertheim’s job.
I am totally impressed with (and have recently written about) the level of diversity that currently exists on the WTA tour. Of course this makes for some embarrassing moments of tennis commentary as ESPN talking heads struggle to pronounce some players’ names and often only know as much about them as can be found on their Wiki page. And Amanmuradova perfectly represents this new diversity, what with being the dark-skinned daughter of Turkistani parents, 6 feet 3 inches tall, and hailing from Uzbekistan.
I first read about Amanmuradova in March 2008 when she took part in the Bangalore Open. In an interview with a local newspaper, she commented on the difficulties she had experienced in her bid to become a professional tennis player at the time when her country was still under Soviet rule. She also griped about the hassles she had endured during that solo trip to Bangladore to include losing a bag of strings and discovering that complaining to the police made no difference, and landing in Bangladore to find that the person who had agreed to put her up was staying with someone else, leaving the tennis player to find her own hotel. She then lost the keys to the hotel. And despite all of these setbacks, she beat the defending champ and made it to the quarterfinals of that tournament.
I remember at the time thinking that she sounded like the average Caribbean player who could gripe similarly about the lack of availability of resources for tennis players. And I remember thinking that sometimes players from more developed countries don’t even realize how good they have it. With each complaint they make – like Serena’s recently about not being able to eat food in the locker-room – I feel like saying ‘why don’t you just shut up already, other people have it so much harder than you’.
Then again, I grew up hearing about the starving children in Bangladesh. I’ve always had instilled within me a sense that no matter how badly I thought I had it, there were people in the world who had it so much worse. Hence my disdain for the complaints of the narcissistically entitled. But I digress.
For the first time this week I actually saw Amanmuradova play. To be honest, when I first walked into my TV room yesterday and noticed a tall, dark-skinned person beating the crap out of Jelena Jankovic, I have to admit that my first thought was that I was watching mixed doubles. After all, why else was a guy serving to Jankovic? And then I looked again and realized that it was not mixed doubles at all. I was watching a woman play.
Now I could have suppressed all of this and been all politically correct and pretended that I did not notice that Amanmuradova has a distinctly masculine presence. Or I could be the Tennis Chick. And one of things I admire most about this player is that not only is she well aware of how she looks, she actually chooses to look this way and could give a crap how you feel about it. From the same interview in India:
Shunning the fashionable skirts and A-line dresses, the Uzbek hits the courts in shorts and loose T-shirts. The short-hair is tied behind and hidden under a cap. In the only “glamour gam” for women, Amanmuradova, with a booming serve and a booming voice, tries to be as unglamorous as possible. “I am not really interested in it,” shrugs the 23-year-old. “You saw, I didn't even participate in the fashion show [at the Bangalore Open] that took place. It’s not for everybody; you need to know what you like. The girls who were walking on the ramp were enjoying wearing the sarees and everything. I don’t; I am not comfortable, I will always wear shorts and T-shirts, no skirts for me.”
And before Tennis Ace starts sobbing again, let me go on record as saying that I am the only woman in my tennis group who almost always plays tennis in shorts and a t-shirt. I prefer shorts because I move so much more freely in them. It’s not that I can’t move in a skort or a dress, but with the former I find that I am always pulling down the panties that have ridden up into my crotch, and with the latter, I simply don’t get enough boob support. So, like Amanmuradova, I am a shorts and t-shirt kind of player.
And, at the risk of sounding defensive, you should also know that whoever edited her page at Wiki also assumed that she was a man. In fact, “Amanmuradova is a man” is one of the top trending searches on google for her name. And you know what? I’m glad that she has the self-esteem to not give a shit. I’m glad that her non-conventional appearance is itself an aspect of the diversity of the women’s tour. Let Serena paint her nails and pretend to be all girly. I like women who embrace their masculine side.
Amanmuradova says that she patterned her game after Sampras and Federer and it shows. She has a booming first serve, a big forehand, and a defensive slice backhand. She ventures into net without fear. But her conditioning is not the best and her movement needs improvment. Indeed, the match against Jankovic took so much out of her that she had nothing left against Ivanovic today. That’s too bad. I would have liked to see her go further in Cincinnati.