Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It’s amazing what the right man can do

I’m probably about to piss off every feminist reading this blog. But I’ve never understood why it’s OK to talk about the woman behind the man but not about the man behind the woman. That seems unbalanced, unfair. For example, everyone I know credits the stability that Mirka has brought to Federer’s personal life. It’s a fact that his best years have occurred under her unstinting support. Not that his best years are in any way behind him – I still believe that he can win 20 Slams. But even now Mirka remains a fixture in his box. She seems loyal, committed, devoted. And he seems to thrive on it.

But when a woman succeeds, we seem to have a harder time giving some of the credit to the man standing supportively behind her. In a bid to validate the woman’s effort –itself an honorable goal – we seem to need to diminish any role played by a penis-bearer other than her coach and/or father.

Yet it is a fact that Kim Clijsters got her early success during the period when she was involved in a committed relationship with Lleyton Hewitt and enjoyed the unquestioning support of his parents. And it is also fact that her resurgence has coincided with the emotional commitment to her new husband and the father of her beloved daughter. How does it detract in any way from anything she has done by acknowledging this?

I don’t think that conceding the positive impact of the right kind of masculine emotional support in any way detracts from what a woman has done. But for many feminists it does. Suggesting that a supportive man may help inspire a woman to be all that she can be is somehow interpreted as claiming that the woman is somehow less than on her own. That without his support she would be nothing. I disagree of course.

Thankfully I am not prone so such limited either-or-thinking and can see shades of gray. I can also acknowledge that the wrong kind of masculine influence can derail a woman terribly. Jennifer Capriati anyone? And I have often wondered if Jankovic’s decline has not in part been due to her acquisition of a gorgeous polo-playing boyfriend since 2008. And did Nicole Vaidisova’s promise flame out entirely after she married so young to Stepanek? Let’s be honest, sometimes the right man may come at the wrong time.

But sometimes a woman’s commitment to her tennis happily coincides with being in love with the right man. Venus Williams’ longstanding romance with pro golfer Hank Kuehne is often quoted as an example of how love and achievement can go hand in hand. There is certainly no doubt that the period 2007 (when Kuehne first appeared in her Wimbledon player’s box) and 2010 saw Venus return to top form and produce some of her best tennis. Does it detract from her accomplishments to acknowledge this?

Maybe I’m just at heart a romantic who believes that women’s phenomenal accomplishments can co-exist with being emotionally balanced and romantically grounded. Certainly this is my impression of the resurgence of Maria Sharapova. I do not in any way intend to detract from Sharapova’s tremendous mental strength when I say that being loved up by Sasha Vujacic seems to have been very, very good for her.

And this is the same blogger who once opined that Nike poured millions down the drain in their endorsement of this fading star. I stand by my expressed belief that Michael Joyce was no longer the right coach for Sharapova. I am glad that she has replaced him with Thomas Hogstedt (who has been credited with coaching the talented Na Li to the semifinals of the 2010 Australian Open.) About this change Maria would comment, “He sticks to his job. He's out there to try to make me better in different aspects of the game. I think that his experience can definitely help me, a new voice. I worked with Michael and my dad for so many years. I think it's just really positive to bring someone in.” I just love reading between the lines, don't you?

I agree with Sharapova about the positive impact of bringing the right man in. Sometimes changing the man in your life may be critical to your personal success. And no I am not only referring to men of the romantic kind. Sometimes it’s also important to recognize when you and your coach need to part ways, when the relationship has become so overly familiar that he has totally forgotten that he is your employee and not the boss of you. Next thing you know you're winning on clay against a Grand Slam clay finalist!

But sometimes you also need to find the right lover who, while understanding the demands of professional  competition, also seems to understand your needs as a woman. Or maybe I'm just projecting.


TennisAce said...

I am not a feminist by any means and I actually do agree with you in relation to this article. I too find that a lot of women are wont to put aside the fact that a man may have been instrumental in helping a woman and I think that is just wrong. As far as I am concerned, men and women are here to coexist with each other and to provide support for each other. It is not the Lord's will that men and women should be alone.

In relation to Sharapova, I agree that getting a new voice was the best way to go as she and Joyce were more friends than employer/employee and I think she realised that if she ever wanted to get back into playing top tier tennis, she needed a coach and not a friend.

Hogstedt has been very professional in the box and even moreso when he comes down for those on-court coaching sessions. Not really sure about the mental strength of a player who needs someone to whisper in her ears what to do, but that is another discussion.

tennischick said...

thanks for your comment. i don't think that Maria's lack of strategic know-how reflects a lack of mental strength. i think that these are two entirely different issues. and just like that a new column has been inspired! :-)

TennisAce said...

LMAO. I am really looking forward to your take on someone who needs a tennis whisperer to come down and help her through a match and someone who relies on their ingrained self belief to win a match. Funny thing is that these days on-court coaching is being touted as a sign of Pova's mental strength, while cited as a weakness in Wozniacki's game. Cannot wait to hear your take on this.

bensap said...


tennischick said...

I think that we define mental strength differently. I'm not saying that Sharapova doesn't have a problem. Yes it is a fact that both she and Wozniacki (whom I've now nick-named MBGR (Mouth-Breathing Golden Retriever) need to be told what to do on the court. That is not necessarily a sign of mental weakness. It is more clearly a sign of stupidity, of a lack of tennis strategy, or an absence of a game-plan.

But Sharapova can be mentally strong to the extent that she remains fearless and she is a fighter. She doesn't seem to choke, at least I don't remember a match where she did. And where MBGR gobbles up being told what to do, Sharapova clearly becomes embarrassed, because she is aware that she is messing up. Through it all Sharapova remains relentless.

The problem IMO is not a lack of mental strength but a lack of mental know-how. There is a subtle distinction between these two that I think you're not allowing. And yes I will write an article about it. but first I need to get something off my chest regarding said mouth-breathing retriever.

TennisAce said...

Just saw the post about the MBGR. LOL.