Monday, August 9, 2010

Sex and diversity in women’s doubles

Zheng Jie and Maria Kirilenko were probably among the prettiest entrants in the doubles draw in San Diego last week. Not that this has anything to do with the awesomeness of their tennis talent, but I would have expected that the sports media would at least have picked up on the sex appeal angle and exploited the hell out of both women.

Between Zheng’s boobs and thighs and Kirilenko’s abs and toned arms – not to mention both of their pretty faces –I had truly expected that some media outlet somewhere would have noticed that they won. That they beat the powerhouse of Raymond and Stubbs, one of the best women’s tennis doubles teams ever.

But alas, not even Zhenlenko’s sex appeal did the trick. Indeed, as I am writing this, even the WTA, the official body of women’s pro tennis, has yet to update its official website to reflect the fact that China’s Zheng Jie and Russia’s Maria Kirilenko (aka, Zhenlenko), combined their awesome form to dominate doubles tennis yesterday in San Diego.

And while their combined beauty happens to be stunning, by acknowledging their sex appeal, I don’t at all mean to diminish in any way the combined capabilities of Zheng Jie and Maria Kirilenko. It’s just that I like to face facts, and the fact is that pretty women help sell tennis. There’s no other reason why we are still being force-fed an unwelcome diet of Maria Sharapova, despite being able to ask her, bluntly, what exactly have you done for me lately? Not that she would dare answer.

So when two of the prettiest women in tennis also get almost completely ignored, I have to wonder if at least a part of the problem is the current excess of diversity on the women’s tour that is probably challenging the heck out of some media houses to re-define their notions of beauty. Not that one half of this doubles team wasn’t reminiscent of Sharapova – complete with a modeling dossier and a father conveniently named Yuri. But the other half is a gorgeous but married Chinese woman who does not fit the tall, skinny, blonde stereotype that is the current overpaid and overhyped demographic.

What the heck are the sports media to do when faced with such a challenge? Why, completely ignore them both of course. Duh.

I personally love the level of diversity that currently exists in women’s tennis. All that’s missing is for a couple of women (and, of course, men) to come out of the closet, declaring their queerness with a level of confidence that would make Billy Jean reel – and the picture would be quasi-perfect.

I say ‘quasi’ because as yet there is no African-American man to step up and make his presence felt in the upper echelons of the ATP tour. Indeed, as we speak, American men period are falling out of the top ten faster than you can say, ‘will Barack Obama get re-elected’?

But what others see as a crisis, I see as a celebration of diversity. For every American man who fails to deliver, ascends an international player for whom English is a second language. Why is that a bad thing? After all, pro tennis is an international sport, played on courts all over the world. Why not celebrate the existence of diversity? Indeed, if I were a tennis coach, I would use the current state of affairs to motivate American boys to focus less on aspiring to marry tall skinny blonde models and more on ascending once again to the ranks of dominance where they belong. We belong in the ranks of top-tiered tennis.

The current women’s singles top ten also celebrates women from all over the world. Unlike the men, this also includes the USA. Indeed, the same goes for women’s doubles where Serena and Venus remain # 2. American women are still a part of the picture of diversity on the pro women’s tour.

This is nowhere better reflected than in the last-minute partnership of a Russian and a Chinese. That they beat the formerly great Raymond and Stubbs may even reflect a changing of the guard. I can’t remember any other time when Raymond and Stubbs got passed so frequently down the line, prepared as they clearly were for the kind of crap baseline doubles played by the likes of Sharar Peer and Victoria Azarenka. I can’t remember Stubbs and Raymond being upstaged in their return game. And when last did you see Raymond and Stubbs staying back, avoiding the net at all cost?

I am unashamedly in love with Zhenlenko. I hope they play together again. I think that they have the making of a beautiful partnership. Pun intended.

CARLSBAD, CA - AUGUST 08: Maria Kirilenko of Russia (L) and Jie Zheng of China celebrate after winning a point against Lisa Raymond of the USA and Renae Stubbs of Australia during the doubles championship match in the Mercury Insurance Open at La Costa Resort and Spa on August 8, 2010 in Carlsbad, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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