Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Two steps forward, ten steps backward

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 09: Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova prepare to play against Pat Cash and Mats Wilander during day eleven of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)BOOP! OK I tried, I really did. I tried to tell myself that it was no big deal, just a bit of fun, that I really should just lighten to eff up and not make such a big deal of it. And while that is generally good advice that I generally take, I find that I am still galled by the spectacle of Pat Cash and Mats Wilander playing patty-cake tennis against Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova. What was up with that? What was I supposed to take away from this experience? Aren’t we all well past this kind of sexist nonsense?

Apparently not. And the frank enjoyment of the crowd watching this piece of ass-foolery told me that I am very much in the minority. And perhaps many of you reading this column will side with them and will think that the Tennis Chick is making an issue of nothing. Because after all no harm was done. Just two women and two men playing a silly game of entertaining doubles at the US Open. Is that all it was?

For me it wasn’t. For me it was a throwback to the days when women were expected to be seen and not heard, when women provided entertainment but did not need to be taken seriously. I thought that we were past the stage where women had to be condescended to, when women were willing to short-change or make spectacles of themselves all for the sake of entertainment. But apparently I am deeply wrong.

I was most hurt that Martina Hingis allowed herself to be a part of this travesty. I expect nothing more or less from Pornikova. She was always irrelevant to serious tennis. She always represented fluff. She was the sex object that teens and grown men lusted after. When she played tennis she filled stadiums not because of her game but because of her beauty. So her decision to participate in this piece of nonsense neither surprised nor bothered me.

As for the two men, well I figured maybe they needed the pay check. And if they were doing it for free, I really didn’t care because men have achieved enough in the world to be able to make asses of themselves whenever they choose to. It’s their world after all. We women are just trying to carve out our own space in it.

But Hingis? My heart ached. I could have cried. I felt so deeply sad for her. Gone was the athletic young woman who could scamper after a drop shot like no one else. In its place was an unfamiliar woman grinning foolishly for the cameras and trying desperately to fit into the world of fluff. My Hingis would never be caught dead reducing herself to fluff. Fluff is what caused her and Anna to break up in the first place, remember? My Hingis was all business, wanting always to win, coming to resent all of the fluff attention that their combined winning brought to the blonde bombshell. Gosh I miss that Hingis!

I miss the Hingis who always meant serious business. I miss the Smiling Assassin who once asked an opponent if she wanted to get broken or did she want Hingis to serve first. My Hingis was a talented, versatile player whom everyone either feared or respected. Not a nervously grinning woman unsure of what the hell she was doing out there under the lights at Flushing Meadows playing at tennis.

Hingis was banned from tennis for two years. My problem has always been less with this decision per se and more with the unfairness of Gasquet being allowed to get away scotch free for committing the same crime. Then again, I can’t fault Gasquet for successfully fighting to save his career. I cannot fathom why Hingis has not been able to do the same. I cannot understand why she is not beating down every possible legal door to be allowed once again to play legitimate tennis. Heck I’d even settle for her becoming a full-time commentator; the few times I’ve heard her commentate, she’s been terrific.

But instead Hingis seems willing to settle for being part of a ridiculous perversion of Riggs vs. Billie Jean King. When Billie Jean beat Bobby Riggs back in 1973, it was a tremendous moment for women in sport (not just in the world of tennis). Sure Riggs was an aging boozer and the match also served the purpose of televised entertainment. But the outcome was not scripted. Real tennis was played that day, best three of five which Billie Jean won 6-4 6-3 6-3. 30,492 people watched the match at the Houston Astrodome. Millions of others watched on TV. No other tennis match has ever attracted such an audience. BJK’s victory was a real victory, a leap forward for womankind. The Hingis/Kournikova nonsense was a step backward.

And once again just thinking about that non-event is making my blood boil. Watching these two men made a pretence of playing against the two women irked every cell in my body. I would have preferred to see them play real mixed doubles, Cash and Hingis vs. Wilander and Kournikova, or vice versa. But the stupid men vs. women format with no serious tennis was an insult to all attempts at intelligent progress. I hope that BJK had nothing to do with this travesty. It was an insult that sullied her amazing record of accomplishment on behalf of women.


TennisAce said...

Hingis wants to repair her image and get into the Hall of Fame. That is the reason why she is doing these exos. Nothing more. She is returning to the Tour to play doubles, has just signed a contract with Yonex in relation to racquets, but at the end of the day she is playing kiss ass with the powers that be to show them that she is reformed and no longer a drug addled player.

It is ironic that the players with whom she was playing against are/were drug addled tennis players. Both men have trashed women's tennis players many times both in the booth and in the media, and yet we do not hear cries of condemnation from the pulpits against them.

For me professional tennis is dying because those who want to uphold the epitome of good sportsmanship and fair play are themselves going out of the sport, little by little.

Benben said...

Agree total with the sentiment of the post, and with the reply above. All of those players are a disgrace, and i am happy to have not seen any of the match!