“Quirky” became the catch phrase of almost every American commentator to describe Marion Bartoli as she played the finals match against the openly favored (not by me) Sabine Lisicki. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Sabine, as any regular reader of this blog knows. But against the nerd with an IQ of 175? I’m sorry, the lower-ranked blonde with the pigtail and ribbons and jagged-tooth smile didn’t have a chance, ever, in my view.
But this entry will not be another of my rants about how the tennis establishment becomes cock-eyed when a blonde chick with a pigtail picks up a racket. I promise.
Instead, it is a rant over the not-so-subtle belittling of Marion Bartoli by relentlessly describing her as “quirky” while this word is never used to describe Rafael Nadal, despite his constant and repetitive arse-picking, and finger-smelling, and hair-patting, and shoulder-adjusting – to name just a few of his expansive repertoire of quirks.
I cannot remember ever once hearing any commentator comment on the fact that Nadal picks his ass and smells his fingers. Sure they’re quick to talk vaguely about his ‘rituals’ and about how everything has to be ‘lined up just so’. But there is much compassion for what he needs to do in order to perform – as there should be for anyone trapped in the psychological prison of ritualistic repetition.
But Bartoli does not attract compassion. She gets derided, repeatedly, as “quirky”.
The word “quirky” suggests behavior that is unusual, eccentric, odd, strange, idiosyncratic, or peculiar. Not exactly compliments, but certainly implying that this person is an individual, that he or she is original. But repeat the word “quirky” to describe the same player and she starts sounding like a freak, someone practically schizophrenic.
I’m sorry, but that is not my impression of Marion Bartoli. To me she is simply brilliant. She plays the same kind of tennis that Seles did, and intentionally so. These women are unique. They bring a different style of play to the beautiful diversity of women’s tennis. This is the same diversity that I appreciate among the men. Nadal stands out for being a refreshingly different leftie. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ironically, it was through YouTube that I discovered that Nadal wasn’t always quirky. There is online a fascinating video of him playing tennis as a teenager. Nary a quirk in sight. The unusual habits all came later. And his OCD rituals seem to have increased as time passed. Yet no one belittles him for them. It’s just Nadal. It’s how he plays the game.
Which brings me to the main point of this entry. Why exactly does Nadal get a pass for his quirky behavior while Bartoli does not?
The answer for me is blatant sexism. And understand that in this I am as much accusing the women commentators ( to include Chris Evert, Mary Carillo and Pam Shriver) as I am accusing any of the idiot male talking-heads hired to give their two cents about women’s tennis.
Perhaps I was influenced in my view by re-watching that brilliant documentary on Venus Williams’ courageous fight for pay-equality at Wimbledon. As I watched it, I found myself thinking that sexism takes so many forms, some blatant – like unequal pay – some far subtler, like the constant repetition of offensive language and labels.