Friday, June 7, 2013

“It doesn’t have the feel of a semi-final match”

That was the general consensus regarding the blowout of a win put down by Serena Williams on Sara Errani at the semi-finals of this year’s Roland Garros. The actual quote from Chris Evert was, “It doesn’t have the feel of a semi-final match, that’s for sure.” Her words confidently implied that there was no room for disagreement with her opinion.

And part of me gets why the one-sided, lop-sided, 0-6 1-6 Errani loss in no way represented the score-line one would expect of the semi-finals of any Grand Slam event. In the opening rounds, sure. Heck, even Johnny Mac spared us the salary comparisons between Errani’s 6-1 6-2 dominance of Arantza Rus and Federer’s 6-2 6-2 6-3 win over Pablo Carreno-Busta at the same point of the tournament.

But as the tournament progressed, the complaints started becoming more strident. Brad Gilbert soon joined the chorus, sounding and looking as gray and crotchety as Johnny Mac. The women were earning too much and playing too little. And Errani in particular had
no business earning the same salary as either Nadal or Djokovic.

I’ve defended women’s salary earnings before. I won’t repeat myself. Suffice it this time to say that I will focus only on the implied disrespect of Serena Williams. Because she too earned the same salary as Errani to that point. And her level of play certainly rose to the expectations of a Slam semi-final, right? Right???

The fact that Errani lost with an abysmal score-line (a bagel and a breadstick, ugh) means only that Serena Williams is quite simply that much more phenomenal. Better said, Serena is without a doubt the greatest tennis player ever. Errani had no chance against the very best.

So, if I had no understanding of tennis, I might be able to work up some empathy for the churlish gripings of McEnroe and Gilbert. And yes, it is a fact that the men spend more time on court than the women. But ask any tennis audience which finals match they would prefer to see: Serena vs. Sharapova, or, Nadal vs. Ferrer, and the women would win out every single time. Women’s tennis is that hot.

It’s kind of silly to blame the women for their capacity for dominance. McEnroe became particularly vocal during the Isner-Haas match. He refused to admit that Isner has a serious problem closing out matches, that he has no return game, that he relies too much on his serve, or that he quite simply is a tennis idiot who seems to think that a serve and forehand are all he needs to develop. To listen to the crotchety McEnroe, the problem lay with the rules. There should be a fifth set tiebreak. Isner should not have to play for hours and hours and fricking hours on end. It was the rules that were so unfair to poor Isner.

Tell that to Ferrer who beat the haphazard Tsonga in straight sets today. Ferrer is the Errani of men’s tennis. He runs everything down and gets everything back. But he also knows how to close out matches and conserve his energy for the next round. And while no one expects Ferrer to beat Nadal in the finals on Sunday, no one will begrudge him his semi-final and runner’s-up paycheck. Tad unfair huh? You get my point?

In case you missed it, my point is that I get that some matches are more exciting than others. The Sharapova-Azarenka match was far more exciting to many than the Serena-Errani match yesterday. But asking Serena to prolong her matches so that it feels like a semi-final is akin to asking Mohammed Ali (in his hey day) to intentionally drag out a boxing bout just so viewers get their monies’ worth. Why should he when he could knock out Jimmy Robinson in a minute and a half?

So, no, I do not understand why anyone would say that the women’s semi-final between Errani and Serena did not have the feel of a semi-final. Honestly, it did to me. It had the feel of one-sided excellence. 

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