Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Delusions of gender on the tennis court

I’ve been perplexed by the scathing criticism that John McEnroe has received for stating that the women’s tennis season is too long. To be fair, what he allegedly said was, “There should be less events for women. You need an actual meltdown on court or someone to quit the game altogether before they realize you need to change the schedule.” And for that he has had to face a barrage of feminist claws.


What troubled me is the fact that women tennis players themselves have been complaining for years that their tennis season is too long. And they were not alone – many men on the ATP side of the fence have complained long and hard that tennis needs a longer off-season, that the injury rate is as high as it is because tennis pros play tennis non-stop, and that having to play practically non-stop across four different surfaces is too hard on their bodies.

So when Johnny Mac uttered the words that women have since been trying to ram down his throat, I personally became confused. By arguing for less tournaments for women, wasn’t he supporting what many women themselves have been asking for all along? Or was the problem that he was saying it only for women? By pointing out that the women’s season was too long but omitting to mention that of the men, was Johnny Mac just being a sexist pig? Apparently so, to judge from the reaction of many women.

Mind you, these are many of the same women who don’t have a problem with the fact that women play best of three sets at the majors while men play best of five. These are the same women who have no problem with the fact that theoretically a male tennis player could have played anywhere from nine to fifteen sets of tennis by the third round, compared to six to nine sets for a woman, but who would have earned the same paycheck. It’s OK for things to be equal as long as they aren’t really. Or conveniently.

It’s also unfortunate that Johnny Mac’s critics conveniently neglected to note his comment that it is time to make it the best of five for women at the majors. No, let’s just focus on his statement that women shouldn’t be pushed to play more than they are playing. That’s the statement that apparently pissed some women off. But not a single one of these angry feminists ratified his suggestion for equaling the playing field at the majors.

For the record, I am no fan of John McEnroe. His “you cannot be serious” shtick is so overplayed that I have not been able to even bring myself to read his biography of the same title. It’s been sitting in my to-read bin for years. I may never read it. The man annoys me. And I still haven’t forgiven him for accidentally hitting that kid with the water bottle. But I won’t hang him up by the balls for saying something that women tennis players themselves say in moments of both private and public grousing.

My impression has always been that these same women tennis players want to be able to play less but earn more points. They’re willing to chase down a gazillion tournaments to earn the points to help elevate their ranking. But having arrived there and having to play the same number of tournaments to protect their ranking, they suddenly find this to be too much of an ordeal. You can’t have it both ways sisters. And besides, as I’ve mentioned before, these are the same women that sign on for big-paying exhibition matches during the off-season. The same off-season that supposedly doesn’t exist. Hypocrisy and selfishness can be cleverly masked as reasonable complaints, no?

Ironically, I actually agree with many of the statements made by those women who criticized John McEnroe. I agree with Mary Carillo, for example, who countered with, “I hate the idea that we have to judge women on a curve and say, ‘It’s too much for them’. I've seen too many great women champions for too long.” I could not have said it better.

But I mainly agree with writers like Cordelia Fine who point out that there are many myths floating around regarding what women can and cannot do. In her book from which I stole the title of this column, Fine writes that women’s brains are not hard-wired for multi-tasking, empathy, or playing with dolls. Nor are we hard-wired to be bad at math. These are all societal constructs about which we have all – men and women – become thoroughly conditioned. But perhaps at least in the world of tennis, some women and men are courageous enough to engage in gender-bending.

And this is really all just a lead-in for me to mention how incredibly proud I am of the fact that Michael Llodra not only hired Amelie Mauresmo (a woman!) as his professional coach, but that she has coached him to a number of significant victories this year, including his win against Tomas Berdych today at the US Open. This is the same Berdych who was being touted as the next big thing after he beat Federer at Wimbledon.

Llodra spanked him in straights [7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-4], by playing a complete game. He did not rely on baseline bashing and pulling his opponent wide – the kind of one-note crap I’ve been criticizing on this blog for weeks. He mixed it up, coming in to net a total of 75 times, using sweetly timed drop-shots, combining pace and placement to produce an all-court game the likes of which Berdych clearly did not expect. And it took a woman to coach Llodra to this significant victory. Now that’s the kind of gender bending I can get behind.


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1 comment:

TennisAce said...

Fantastic post TC. I may be one of the few women out there who is not into all this equality crap. I am from the Caribbean and we women defer to our men. We want our men to be big strong protectors who are the head of households and who go out there and earn money to pay the bills and look after the children. It is only in America that all this equality stuff comes into play.

If you are equal, play best of 5. If you are equal play the same number of tournaments as the men and stop complaining. I do not get it. The thing is that what you have quoted as a JMac quote and what the media reported are 2 separate things.

I do not think the season is too long actually. I think it is just right. The problem is as you have stated. The women go to every single tournament, get the rankings points but when the time comes to defend those points all of a sudden the season is too long.

Venus and Serena have made their own schedule. Play a limited schedule, forget about rankings, forget about bonus prize money and peak for when it matters. If every player did that then they would not have to worry so much about the schedule.