Saturday, May 4, 2013

Watching the men watch the women play tennis

I find it refreshing that Martina Martina Hingis has found new footing as a professional tennis coach. As a long-time Hingis apologist, I am always pleased when she does well. I have always believed that Hingis has more talent in her little finger than most people have in their entire bodies. And her coaching Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova into finals success at the 2013 Portugal Open made my cynical heart very happy.

But what especially made me feel good was the fact that Pavlyuchenkova’s success came at the hands of a woman. Hingis has become one of the few women coaching at the professional level in tennis. I’m sure that the USTA and other professional bodies hire scores of women to coach juniors. But the minute women go pro, the list of options seems to become gender biased in favor of men. And that is so not cool.

Indeed, I’ve taken to watching the men as they watch the women playing tennis. And I don’t just mean the male coaches. I am referring to the entire entourage – the physiotherapists, the agents, the hitting partners, the fathers, and of course, the lovers. For the most part, the entourage surrounding most of the top women’s tennis players seems to consist exclusively of men.

Take Maria Sharapova for example. If there is a vagina other than hers in her entourage, I must have missed it. And she is not unique in this so don’t think I am picking on her. Look at most of the top female tennis players and all you can see is a bunch of men ravenously looking on as the player strives for success on the court. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Check for yourself.

Watching these men as they watch the women playing tennis can be a distinctly unsettling experience. The hunger in their eyes, the greed, the silent willing, the unspoken pushing – it’s all there, and it’s all rather disturbing. How do we know that these women are safe? How do we know that they aren’t being subjected to all kinds of abuse after losing matches? Who patrols the entourage?

There is something unsettling to me about this masculine dominance of the tennis woman’s entourage. Surely these women can do like Serena and benefit from the presence of an Oracene or a female physiotherapist? Surely they can understand why Azarenka has blossomed from the inclusion of Meilen Tu in her support group? Surely most women appreciate the presence of other women, as supporters, confidantes, sisters, believers, boosters, whatever?

In 2013, I find kind of unnerving to see how men continue to control this sport. Where are the women? Why aren’t they also coaching both men and women’s tennis? Amelie Mauresmo should not be the exception, she should be the rule.

And yes you can rebut that it is no different among male players where men are also in control. But such a lame rebuttal misses my point entirely doesn’t it? 


Karen said...

Funny you should mention Hingis, I was just thinking of writing a blog piece about her coaching of Pavs during last week's Portugal tournament and this week in Madrid. One of the things that warmed my heart when she came down was everything was about technique with her. She reminded Pavs that she needed to move her hips, she discussed strategy with her and then finally she said come on, let's do this. Nowhere in that whole conversation did she mention one word about emotions and mentality or anything. It was about the game and the strategy and reminder to Pavs about technique. In short, it was about Pavs' game and not about what the opponent was doing or anything. In short, believe in your game and you will win and she did. She came up short today against Vika, but watch out for her progress if Hingis continues to coach her.

What annoys me about the men is that they do not coach and take the player's abilities into question, they are more focused on telling the player to reign in their emotions and all that nonsense, especially Hogstedt who keeps reminding poor Pova that the other player will choke

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