Sunday, May 29, 2011

When Rios said it he got burned

Now granted he probably said it in the kind of grumpy way that only Marcelo Rios could master, and that it probably came across less as healthy criticism of women’s fitness and more as a piece of hate speech. The good news is that God clearly has a sense of humor, because he has since blessed Rios with three daughters (from two of his three marriages). Perhaps now he will consider women’s feelings before opening his trap.

But back several years ago, a number of rumors emerged regarding Rios’ negative view of the lack of fitness among women’s tennis players. Rios has never denied that he made a statement regarding the lack of depth in women’s tennis, observing that the 6-0 6-1 score lines in the early rounds of Slams were an embarrassment to the sport. But he denied that he ever told Monica Seles to move her fat ass in the lunch line.

I recently watched a video of a very slimmed down Seles commenting on this incident. Now she says that she could not understand Spanish so she has no idea if Rios really said that or not. What Monica did not say – because of course it’s really politically incorrect to admit this – was that back then she not only had a fat ass but that her belly would hang loosely in her ill-fitting tennis clothing. She did not look like a top athlete.

Whereas players like Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez, and Navratilova to name a few, always seemed dedicated to their physical fitness, they were the exceptions rather than the rule. Indeed, when it came to fitness, women’s tennis was in such bad shape that the formerly pudgy Seles was able to dominate the sport quite easily.

The problem with the criticism of women’s fitness is that it has always come from men and has typically taken the form of hate speech as opposed to healthy feedback. For example, there was Richard Krajicek who said that 80% of women tennis players were “fat lazy pigs”. He later revised his estimate to 75%.

And there was Justin Gimmelstob who reportedly said that female tennis players dressed in increasingly skimpier outfits in order to compete with the supermodel types who date ATP players, and cautioned that, “If you look like a beached whale, keep your clothes on.” (This is the same Gimmelstob who has managed to keep his job as a tennis commentator despite expressing vitriol over Kournikova. One of these days I will write an article on favoritism in the land of tennis.)

And long before them all there was Pat Cash who rejected women’s tennis as “two sets of rubbish” and noted that most of the top-100 women players were “fat pigs who didn’t deserve equal pay.” And while I too am commenting on the physical state of some of the women tennis players, I would never support the use of such hateful speech.

I much prefer the approach taken yesterday by Martina Navratilova and Mary Carillo, in their commentary on the lack of physical fitness in women’s tennis. Carillo talked about a women’s sport conference she had recently attended and noted that unlike the top players of other sports such as the NBA, women tennis players do not “look the part” of top athletes. Navratilova agreed that many of the top women players do not seem to be dedicated to improving their fitness. Now that is criticism I can get behind.

Sure there are some exceptions. But for every Kirilenko, I can raise you fifteen Kleybanovas. For every Schiavone, I can raise you twenty Aravane Rezais. Or fifteen others like Kuznetsova whose weight keeps fluctuating from one extreme to another. Solid tennis players all for the most part, but is it asking too much that they look the part of top athletes as well? I don’t think so.

Part of the problem may be the new racket and string technologies that allow tennis players an advantage that was not existent during the era of wooden rackets. Perhaps the new technology allows for laziness in preparation and questionable fitness. Not so among the men where tennis remains so competitive that players like Verdasco are hiring top trainers like Gil Reyes to refashion their bodies and improve their fitness. Is it asking too much for the #1 player in women’s tennis to set an example by putting down the ├ęclair and hitting the gym? That second chin is starting to embarrass.


TennisAce said...

The problem that I think women who play professional tennis face is that while they are out there competing, for some reason, they are not really portrayed as athletes. When you listen to commentators in the booth, they are not talking about the athleticism of the players, they are more focused on the screeching, what they are wearing and whether Player A is more beautiful than Player B. The narrative on women's tennis was redefined when someone in the WTA decided that it was better to promote the sport using beauty and elegance, rather than athleticism as a way to showcase their top stars. In the WNBA and other sports where female athletes are dominant, they are showcased as athletes. Their determination, desire and their sculpted bodies show us how athletic they are and how they get to be that way. I have heard female tennis players say that they do not want any muscles and then there is also the tag that if you have muscles then you must be doping (something that is now dogging some of the most successful women on the Tour).

Part 2 to come

TennisAce said...

Part 2 - when you look at an athlete like Stosur who has exceptionally toned arms and legs and has a very strong musculature and who is described as playing like a man, you wonder whether most of these women really want their bodies to look like that. As far as I can see, no one is telling you to go out there and look like a weight lifter, but I agree with both Martina and Mary, the women these days have legs that look like they could use some gym work. When the cameras go in for close ups you can see cellulite and don't even get me started on the rolls of fat that are around the mid-section of some of these players. The most notorious of these was Safina, who used to wear clothes 2 sizes too small for her.

I am hoping that the women who heard those comments by the 2 women take it to heart because it really needed to be said.

Klaas said...

Hello Tennischick,

First af all, let me say I have enjoyed reading your columns immensely. Well written, sharp, humorous, and often full of insight.

But here I think you missed the mark completely, partly, it seems, because of your dislike of Wozniackis playing style (see also my comments on your previous article).

CW is in fact known as one of the fittest girls on tour. Her off season consists af 2 court- and 2 gym sessions daily. She follows a boxing-fitness regime which is more strenuous than most tennis-fitness workouts. She also schedules regular tuneups to her physical status during the year. In fact, a lot of the girls on tour have taken a page of her book and increased their gym work in order to be able to keep up with the demands of longer rallies and longer matches.

One of the thinnest girls on tour, Hantuchova, has allways had a bit of a double chin. Could it be genetic, perhaps?

CW increased both muscle and seemingly a bit more fat during her offseason, signs not so much of not enough gym work, as not the right balancing diet, as have some other girls, notably Kvitova. A lot of the upcoming generation seem to have discovered the benefits of increased physical strength,and are on the verge of breaking through on the top. They have no choice if they want to beat CW!

All this makes, in my view, for a very interesting Roland Garros with lots of suprises.

tennischick said...

Thanks for your comments.

TennisAce I agree that the WTA has marketed woman's tennis as more about fashion and sex appeal and less about being top-notch athletes. I find this ironic when arguably the most influential woman in tennis (Billie Jean King) was never known for anything other than her athleticism and her guts. But her legacy seems to be that women tennis players must put sex appeal above all while also receiving equal pay. How's that for a confused message for young girls coming.

Klaas, I agree with many of your comments including the observations regarding Caroline's fitness. I felt that Navratilova and Carillo were making a case for tennis players moving beyond mere "fitness" and becoming top-class athletes. That is the point that I agree with. And yes Kvitova is the perfect example of a player who is fit enough to win many matches, but who does not seem even remotely athletic. It's OK for me to be fit -- I am a psychologist, not a professional athlete. I don't think it's asking too much for pro athletes to look athletic.

As for the double chin, I agree that Hantuchova's is clearly genetic. Girlfriend could starve herself down to 75 pounds and she would still have a double chin. But Caroline did not used to have a double chin. Nor did she use to have a layer of blubber on her body. Now she does. In fact, given how much tennis she plays, she must eat like a horse in order to be gaining any weight. Look at Djokovic -- one of the costs of his streak is that he is beginning to look emaciated. So I have to wonder if Caroline is maybe unhappy which may be why she is eating. In which case, that's another reason for her to step away and get some perspective.

For the record, I don't dislike Wozniacki. But I was disappointed by her actions in Charleston. You don't diss the little people on your way up because we're going to stick out our feet and make sure you trip on the way down. And if either she or the WTA ever issued a formal apology, I must have missed it. Hence the foot.

Klaas said...

I see your point, Tennischick. But my contention is that these girls are every bit as athletic as other professional athletes beneath that unnecessary fat. As opposed to Rios days, they need to be in order to compete at top level. It is a matter of the right diet. Djokovic is a perfect example, I don't believe he spends more hours training and working out than before, but he changed his diet substantially.

That bit of fat is easily shed, unless, as you say, it is a symptom of a deeper problem. I am more worried about the fact that she now is enjoying a holiday with Mum. That is not normal behaviour for a 20 old who wants to get away for a bit.

I wonder why it is, that so many young female tennisplayers are so dependent on their parents. Now there is food for thought.

tennischick said...

Uhm Klaas you're kidding right? "Unnecessary fat" and "athletic" do NOT go together. Stop making excuses. A pro athlete should look the part of a pro athlete. If layers of blubber are allowed well then sign me up with the pros. I'm sure that I am athletic underneath my paunch. LOL!

Anonymous said...


Yep, these type of drugs will cause weight gain as well as improved stamina. Water retention is another sign of steroids use. Don't kid yourself, insider players at WTA are telling us the women are using steroids. Lazy to work hard and think they can take shortcuts with drugs.

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