Saturday, May 15, 2021

How commentators dishonor professional tennis

I am continually amazed by the unprofessional things that tennis commentators say and, and equally amazed that they are allowed to say them. Though a lot of people don't think language is very important (I've been "reprimanded," and even attacked, for pointing out sexist language in the tennis world--and in other worlds--because "that's what you want to spend your time complaining about?," "there are bigger fish to fry," etc.), but it is. Very. In fact, there is no more significant currency among us than our words. Through language, we express knowledge, respect and empathy--or the lack of them

Also, saying words is the major part of some jobs; for example, the job of tennis commentator. It is reasonable to expect a professional to do a good job handling a major part of her or his job.

But many tennis commentators do not appear to care that much about any of these factors. These are the areas in which commentators fail us again and again:

Mispronouncing players' names

This is not a problem in other sports, but it's a huge one in professional tennis. I listen mostly to U.S. and British commentators, and they constantly mispronounce players' names. Sometimes they even brag about how they mispronounce players' names, which is both disrespectful (as is mispronouncing names in the first place) and arrogant. 

It would seem that people who have been exposed to eastern European names for many years would learn that there are set patterns for pronouncing those names. The patterns are clear, and it doesn't take a Ph.D. to recognize them. But in every match I watch, there is at least one commentator who will (surprisingly) correctly pronounce an eastern European name, and then turn right around and mispronounce another one in which the same pronunciation pattern exists. There is only one explanation for this, and it isn't a nice one.

(Years ago, an ABC commentator did a not very amusing (and somewhat physically creepy) interview with a young player about her "difficult" name, and she explained how to pronounce it. After the recorded interview was shown, the commentator proceeded to again pronounce the player's name incorrectly. Draw your own conclusion.)

So commentators, when it comes to pronouncing names, are either disrespectful, not very bright--or both. But there is another factor involved. If they cannot learn the (rather simple) patterns of pronunciation, or if they come across a name that especially stumps them, all they have to do is check the WTA pronunciation guide. Obviously, they do not, so one has to wonder whether laziness is also at play. (Or maybe they just don't care.)

And it isn't just commentators. A few years ago, I had two tennis journalists (one of whom is quite well known) "correct" me (and argue with me) when I correctly pronounced a German player's name. I wish that players would follow the lead of Dinara Safina and Julia Goerges, and insist on being called by their correct names. But that doesn't mean that it's the players' job to make sure that their names are pronounced correctly--it's the job of the individuals who are paid to do the pronouncing.

Using sexist language

Calling any female over 18 a "girl" is sexist, and calling women in their late 20s and early 30s "girls" is very sexist. Calling tennis pros "young ladies" infantilizes them; that is a term that we use (well, I don't) for female children, and its connotation is obvious.

Then there's the issue of commentators discussing "tennis" when what they mean is "men's tennis." They are not the only ones who do it--I recall being asked "What's wrong with American tennis?, " and when I said "Are you kidding?! Serena, Venus, Sofia, Madison, etc." the answer was "Oh, you know, I meant the men."

Andy Murray sums it up nicely in this interview:

Using other offensive language

A friend once said to me, "I hate political correctness." My response was to tell tell him that "I hate the term 'political correctness.'" Yes, there have been a couple of terribly stupid (and damaging) things done by people who didn't have a clue about the subject (the horrible "niggardly" incident comes to mind), but in general, a call for a change in language is a call for respect to be paid to a member of a particular group. 

Often--very often--that group is the group known as "women and girls." But tennis commentators manage to offend other groups, too, by using terms and expressions that are offensive. The most common of these is the declaration that a player "has gone walkabout" when she suddenly mentally checks out of a match. This term originated among commentators when Evonne Goolagong was on the tour. Goolagong is an Aboriginal Australian, and the walkabout is an Aboriginal rite of passage in which an adolescent male makes a journey to the wilderness. 

Mainstream society did not understand (or want to understand) the walkabout, so those who participated in it were thought to be lazy, transient, etc. To apply this  twisted meaning of the term to Goolagong was flat-out racist (commentators also called her "the little chocolate drop").  To continue to use it to describe a player's little mental vacation is still an offense against Aboriginal people.

A term that commentators often use is that a player took her or his opponent "to the woodshed." This is a direct reference to a truly horrible type of child abuse, and it has no business being in the sports lexicon. Neither does the often-used (I heard it all week in Rome) term, "she got a scalp." That is, of course, a reference to an especially cruel practice performed during some wars in world history, and--as recently as the 19th Century--a practice sanctioned by the U.S. government against Native Americans. 

Using lame metaphors that elevate other sports over tennis

Way back in the day, some women wrote and illustrated a very funny book called Titters. On the back cover were some hilarious fake blurbs, one of which said "Makes Charlotte Bronte look like Emily Bronte!" Well, that's the kind of metaphors that tennis commentators use all the time. Terms like "get to the finish line," "she teed off," "that's just batting practice for her," and "if that were a baseball pitch....," make tennis subordinate to almost all other sports. Football, basketball, golf, and baseball commentators are not using tennis metaphors to describe what's going on on the field, the court, the greens, and the diamond.

Also, it is just terrible metaphor construction, and makes Charlotte Bronte look like Emily Bronte--minus the satire.

Words are very important, and commentators have an important job in which words are almost everything. Tennis, and especially women's tennis, deserves better.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Simona, sexism, and the denial and dismissal of sexism and misogyny in professional tennis

I like Simona Halep's game. I like the way she handles her career. I like her personality. To be even more candid--I like Simona. But her insistence that there is no sexism in professional tennis is, in a word, delusional. 

Halep, a former world number 1, has explained to us that there can't possibly be sexism in the sport because the umpires call the matches the same for both women and men. This is a head-spinning statement of 'logic" that could just as well have come from a Lewis Carroll creation.

  • When women have to constantly fight for equal pay, that is sexism.
  • When an ATP player (Jo Wilfried Tsonga) says that women are inherently inferior athletes because of female hormones, that is sexism (a lot of the media found that amusing--that, too, is sexism).
  • When an ATP player (Novak Djokovic) says that it's fine for woman to get more prize money as long as men then also get even more prize money, that is sexism. 
  • When an ATP player (David Ferrer) dismisses a ruling from a female umpire because "girls are so stupid," that is sexism.
  • When an entire Davis Cup team (Spain) becomes hysterical when they are given a female captain because "she can't possibly understand the men's game" (apparently, men must easily understand the women's game, since so many of them are WTA coaches), that is sexism.
  • When a member of that team (Rafael Nadal) criticizes said captain for being "defensive" when she has been attacked in public for days on end, that is sexism.
  • When the former director (Raymond Moore) of a major tournament says that the WTA players "ride on the coattails of the men," and that the women should "get down on their knees and thank" them, that is sexism.
  • When an ATP play (Andy Murray) hires a woman as a coach and he becomes the butt of many ATP jokes, that is sexism.
  • When an author (Patrick McEnroe) thinks that his observations on Venus Williams' "inappropriate" kits are important enough to include in his book, that is sexism.
  • When a member of the ATP Players' Council (Sergiy Stakhovsky) uses his position to campaign against equal prize money, that is sexism.
  • When members of the media ask about "tennis,"  and "tennis players," but they mean "men's tennis," and "male tennis players," that is sexism.
  • When an ATP member (Rafael Nadal) repeatedly brings up the subject of male models to justify women not getting equal pay, that is sexism.
  • When commentators use sexist language (more common among females), that is sexism.
  • When ATP members (Thomas Berdych, Giles Simon) declare that women's tennis is inferior, that is sexism.
  • When an ATP player (Nick Kyrgios) uses a WTA player's private life to publicly insult an ATP peer, that is sexism. 
  • When a former player now turned coach (Dmitry Tursunov) compares breaking rackets with rough sex, that is probably worse than sexism 
  • When a journalist (not to mention, countless fans) informs us that ATP players should make more money than WTA players because "the market rules," that is sexism (hello!--what about the "market"?)
  • When ATP players tell Andy Murray that they would rather forgo a pay raise if women are getting one, too, that is sexism--and worse. 
  • When fans in Australia loudly and demonstrably object to Vika Azarenka's grunting (which it isn't--it is screaming), that is sexism.
  • When an ATP player (Sam Querrey) stars on a television show that is based on outrageously male-dominant gender roles, that is sexism.
  • When Wimbledon inspects the insides of women's skirts, that is sexism (actually, it's assault)
  • When the French Open decides to deny night matches to all WTA players, that is sexism.
  • When a coach (Toni Nadal) dismisses the ruling of a female umpire by saying "we had some problems with a girl," that is sexism.
  • When an ATP player (John Isner) says that he could never hire a female coach because they wouldn't be able to live in the same house or apartment, that is sexism. 
  • When a former ATP player (Tim Henman) bases an entire interview with ATP players (and they go along with it) on "what would Serena Williams' ranking be on the ATP?" that is sexism.
  • When an ATP player (Alexander Zverev) is credibly accused of committing violence toward a woman and the ATP remains totally silent, that is sexism
  • When the Next Gen draw ceremony features female models who reveal groupings and letters under their clothes--duh--that is sexism.

Sexism coming from the ATP and the sports media is, of course, nothing new. From John Newcombe ("The ladies' game is the icing on the cake") to Stefan Edberg to Janko Tipsarevic--the organization has long shown a disdain for women. Halep herself was the victim of one of the most overt examples of sexism from a member of the press when he asked her a deeply personal and totally inappropriate question about her breast reduction surgery.

Whatever compels Simona Halep to deny sexism and misogyny in professional tennis is something about which I won't make guesses. What is really sad, though, is that there are so many fans who are well aware of all the sexism, but they continue to support the ATP--not just men, but a lot of women. I no longer watch ATP matches unless my favorites are playing, or two ATP members are playing who have not demonstrated sexist attitudes or said and done sexist things (or those few who have openly supported female players).

Why on earth would I want to watch someone who believes that I'm inherently inferior to him?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ad Astra! Astra Sharma wins MUSC Women's Health Open in Charleston

Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Unseeded Astra Sharma of Australia upset top seed Ons Jabeur today to win the MUSC Women's Health Open in Charleston, thereby securing her first WTA title. Sharma's 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory capped a week in which the 25-year-old knocked off eighth seed Madison Brengle and two very talented teenagers, Linda Fruhtvirtova and Maria Camila Osorio Serrano. 

Jabeur, the favorite to win the title, showed just why she was expected to win her first title when, during the first set, she repeatedly frustrated Sharma with hitting her signature drop shot, and by pulling Sharma all over the court. But Sharma has shown this week that she is in it for the long haul:

“I didn’t know really what to do. She was wrong-footing me, she was drop-shotting me, she was making me cover a lot of court, and I couldn’t really read what she was doing....but I just thought, you know, if maybe, maybe I just keep competing, keep showing up, keep doing the right things—those are really inherently quite tricky shots, so like maybe she’ll waver here and there, and like I’ll get an opportunity to get it closer."

Sharma made her move in the second set, and won it 7-5. Then everything changed:

Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

“…by the third set, it was hot, it was humid; I think I was a little bit more energetic than her and my intensity was still the same, so I think that was what eventually gave me the little lead, yeah.”

Sharma's thinking turned out to be accurate. She was patient, and she was relentless. And when she realized that she had a physical advantage, she imposed herself. 

After the match, Sharma said that she had used her time this week to employ her physicality in more of an offensive way than she has in the past. 

“I think that is the basis of my game….I might not have the straight-up weapons that a player like Ons has, but I do have the speed to kind of close and finish at the net….”

This was Sharma's first win over a top 30 player. 

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 

Jabeur said that it was a tough loss, and that “She serves different from the other players, so it was kind of difficult for me to adapt and to return better.”

Of the treatment that she received for her right arm, Jabeur said that she has had long-term shoulder pain, and that she was just hoping to release it a bit so that she could serve better.

The U.S. team of Hailey Baptiste and Caty McNally won the doubles title, defeating top seeds Ellen Perez and Storm Sanders of Australia, 6-7, 6-4, 10-6. It was Baptiste's first doubles title, and McNally's third.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Jabeur and Sharma to contest for the title in Charleston

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 Yesterday, top MUSC Women's Health Open seed Ons Jabeur said about her upcoming semifinal against Danka Kovinic: “I am going to really play like I never played before. I really want this win, and I’m going to do anything to win."  

She wasn't kidding. Today, playing against the woman who defeated her last week in the Volvo Car Open semifinals, Jabeur put on a clinic that included all of her clever, tricky shots. Add consistency, and you have a deadly formula. Jabeur defeated Kovinic 6-3, 6-0, but--as is often the case--the match itself was more than the score might indicate.

Kovinic fought. She fought so hard that, in the first set, she went from 1-5 to getting painfully close to having a chance to even things at 5-6--Jabeur needed ten set points to take the opening set. And even though the Montenegrin player won no games in the second set, she saw to it that her opponent needed four match points to finally end the match. 

“In my head, I was like, she deserve to play this game and she deserve to win this game,” Jabeur said about the game that went on and toward the end of the first set. Of the second set, Jabeur noted: “It’s a tougher set than it looks like. I know it’s 6-love, but the games were really long, and it was advantage most of the time”

Toward the end of the first set, Jabeur appeared to be struggling with some type of abdominal issue. She confirmed that she has been having stomach problems and plans to get checked when she goes home.

Once again, Jabeur talked about her determination: “I don’t want to waste any more opportunities…I’m in this momentum right now and I want this title, like, so bad, so I’m gonna do whatever it takes to get it…I wanna show the world what Ons is capable of.”

Asked about her husband's quickly coming to her aid to take her bag when she walked off the court, Jabeur's immediate response was “That’s part of our marriage contract, you know, to take my bag when I come out of the match.” (It's a tradition, of course, as in “Fix the drink and fix the racket.”)

Neither Jabeur nor Kovinic has ever won a WTA match. Kovinic had a chance last week, but lost the Volvo Car Open to Veronika Kudermetova. Now it's Jabeur's turn to attempt to win her first WTA title. Her opponent will be Astra Sharma, who defeated Maria Camila Osorio Serrrano 7-6, 6-1.

Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

The last part of the first set between Sharma and Osorio Serrano was an eerie replay of the concluding part of the first set between Jabeur and Kovinic, with a lengthy battle at 5-6. Osorio Serrano had four set points, but Sharma prevailed, and she prevailed in the tiebreak. After that, the Australian was on fire, using her considerable athleticism and some expert shot-making to overcome her opponent. 

Speaking with the press, Sharma said that she thought that Osorio Serrano--having played so many matches lately--may have gotten a bit tired. The Colombian player agreed, saying that she grew tired and was "out of gas."

Osorio Serrano also had a bit of a leg problem which she intends to have checked  “It was a really good two weeks, and I’m happy for what I did. I’m pretty tired, but I feel like I did really good things these two weeks; I learned a lot....it’s good that I still have things to work on.”

“I really just want to go to sleep," she added.

Sharma talked about her mindset during the first set: There wasn’t a lot of pressure on me, I felt, because I thought, you know, even if she breaks, I still have two more sets, like I’m playing really well. I trust myself that I can keep this kind of play and push her….”

“She’s such a clean ball striker, such a tough opponent," she said of her opponent.

Sharma said that playing on clay is a good opportunity for her to utilize her fitness. “Clay is such a physical surface, and I’ve tried to use that, this time, to make girls beat me….If you can beat me over three sets and I’m going to run down everything, like, then—too good.

“...That’s what I tried this week, to do, like make sure that every point is tough, you really gotta play every point against me, and that was the goal this week.”

The Australian player talked about her college team days, and said that college tennis was a lot more pressure because team members were counting on her to win. “Every point counts, I don’t want to let anyone down.” 

When she turned pro, it was less intense for her because it just she: “No one’s cheering you on, no one’s holding you accountable, it’s just yourself out there….”

“…I’ve learned along the way, like, how to be my own little college team in a way, like having, supporting myself out on court….”

Sharma and Jabeur have never played each other before, and neither has ever won a WTA title, though each of them has reached a final.

Meanwhile, the doubles semifinals have been completed. In today's match, Hailey Baptiste and Caty McNally defeated Elixane Lechemia and Ingrid Neel 6-0, 6-2. In the final, Baptiste and McNally will play top seeds Ellen Perez and Storm Sanders, who defeated Julia Wachaczyk and Renata Zarazua 6-2, 6-2 yesterday.

Friday, April 16, 2021

"I was everywhere on the court"

Danka Kovinic (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 Danka Kovinic defeated third seed Shelby Rogers 7-5, 6-1 today at the MUSC Women's Health Open in Charleston, and advanced to the semifinals. Rogers was dealing with an ab strain which inhibited her service motion and contributed to service stats that were not up to Rogers' usual standard. And--as Rogers was quick to point out--her opponent played extremely well today.

Kovinic credited mixing her shots, especially not giving Rogers the low, flat shots that she likes, as the main tactic that helped her win. “I think my game, mixing, with sometimes a higher spin on forehand and then a little bit faster spin backhand, and, plus I was really missing very little today, basically every return I was getting back in the court….”I was everywhere on the court.”

Kovinic also noted that having a day off was helpful. She said that her body felt fine, but that she had become mentally tired after playing so many consecutive competitive matches. Kovinic said that she first noticed the mental fatigue in her match against Lauren Davis, in which she felt somewhat nervous.

The Montenegrin player said that she especially liked playing the consecutive tournaments in Charleston because it has kept her mind busy: “It’s not like, everywhere—it’s still on the tennis court.”

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

For her efforts, Kovinic will get a repeat of last week's semifinal at the Volvo Car Open. She and top seed Ons Jabeur will again compete for a spot in the final. Last week, Kovinic came out on top, and she said that she is looking forward to playing Jabeur again. “Hopefully she’ll play a little bit less drop shots," she added.

For her part, Jabeur defeated Nao Hibino 6-0, 6-1 in 48 minutes. Jabeur said that her goal was to be aggressive today. “I’m really glad the way I played this match.”

Regarding the upcoming semifinal re-match between her and Kovinic, the top seed was very clear: “I am going to really play like I never played before. I really want this win, and I’m going to do anything to win. I will be brave, and not let the stress play the match for me. I can beat Danka. Obviously, this time, there’s less pressure on me—she won last week.”

Next was a contest between two talented upstarts--Clara Tauson and Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, both of whom have performed impressively at this tournament. Unfortunately, Tauson's left knee injury got the better of her, and she had to retire at 6-4, 1-0. This was unfortunate not only for Tauson, but for spectators, because--despite the injury--the two of them were playing so well, and the match had the potential to be quite exciting.

“I’m so sorry that it had to finish like that," Osorio Serrano said after the match. "I’m friends with her and I know it’s tough to be injured and not be able to play. It’s so sad to see her like that….”

Osorio Serrano said that she's been working a lot on the mental aspect of her game. "I used to get mad a lot when I was playing…I was thinking that I was too good….” Now, she says, she has put away the anger and frustration and just plays point by point.

The Copa Colsanitas champion appeared both surprised and amused with her results in Charleston. “I’m proud of what I”m doing and I still can’t believe that I’m in the semis…that’s crazy to say, for me.”

She also talked about the reactions of others to her success: “My family cannot believe it…they just keep texting me that this is unreal….The media in Colombia, they’re talking a lot about me, and that’s funny because I’ve never been that much on TV.”

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)
Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Finally, Astra Sharma and Linda Fruhvirtova played each other for the remaining spot in the semifinals. In her last two matches, the 15-year-old Czech player hit a combined 24 double faults. She got away with it in her round of 16 match against Emma Navarro, but not today. 

Sharma defeated her 6-4, 6-3. Fruhvirtova grabbed attention this week with not only with her game, but with her poise on the court, which is quite impressive for a 15-year-old. Sharma said it best: “She’s an amazing player who plays as if she’s been born to hold a racket her whole life.”

The Australian player explained that the considerable amount of strapping on her leg "looks pretty dramatic, but there's little pain. "...it's more for my peace of mind." 

Sharma said that, in playing Fruhvirtova, she kept it simple and used her physicality on court. “I think I’ve always utilized that well in a defensive way, but trying to use that more offensively, I think, has been paying some dividends."

Here is the semifinal draw:

Ons Jabeur (1) vs. Danka Kovinic
Astra Sharma vs. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Osorio Serrano and Fruhvirtova continue their success in Charleston

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

The round of 16 continued today in Charleston at the MUSC Women's Health Open, and two young players who have garnered a lot of attention got even more when they both advanced to the quarterfinals. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Linda Fruhvritova won their matches against Christina McHale and Emma Navrro, respectively.

Osorio Serrano, a former number 1 ranked junior, recently won her first WTA title at the 2021 Copa Colsanitas, which she entered as a wild card. Today, the 19-year-old Colombian player defeated Christina McHale 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, after being down a set and a break in the second set. 

Discussing her ability to come back and turn the match around, Osorio Serrano said: “I don’t know—I don't feel that I’m thinking that much. I don’t feel like I’m gonna lose…I just feel that I have to play every point.”

She gave credit to coach Ricardo Sanchez for helping her with a lot of things that she didn't realized she needed to improve. Osorio Serrano said that, despite what she may think or want to do, she always listens to Sanchez.

Linda Fruhvirtova (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 Fruhvirtova, following her win over 4th seed Alize Cornet (who retired in the third set) in the second round, continued her campaign today with a straight sets win over Emma Navarro. The young Czech player said that she realized that her serve wasn't going to be good today, so she focused on other things. "Every match is different," she remarked, "every day you feel different." Fruhvirtova is now into her first WTA quarterfinal.

Top seed Ons Jabeur also advanced with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Alycia Parks. Jabeur said that it was difficult for her to adapt to Parks' serve because the ball was so high. She also talked about her comfort level in Charleston, and how nice it was to stay in the same location for two tournaments. "Everything is amazing here--the food, the sites, the hotel, nothing to complain about...."

The other winner today was Astra Sharma, who defeated Christina McHale 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, in a hard-fought match that contained a number of momentum swings.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Ons Jabeur (1) vs. Nao Hibino
Shelby Rogers (3) vs. Danka Kovinic
Astra Sharma vs Linda Fruhvirtova
Clara Tauson vs. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Rogers advances at MUSC Women's Health Open, Tauson upsets Tomljanovic

Shelby Rogers (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Third seed Shelby Rogers advanced to the quarterfinals of the MUSC Open today when she defeated Clare Liu 6-2, 6-2. Asked in her press conference how it felt to have a straight-forward, no drama win, Rogers said, “Well,  think I was due for maybe a couple of tame matches; I’ve had quite a lot of mental battles over the past couple of months....” Most recently, she had a drama-filled match against Amanda Anisimova at theVolvo Car Open.

The third seed will next face Volvo Car Open semifinalist Danka Kovinic. Kovinic upset seventh seed Lauren Davis today in three sets.

Also winning today were Nao Hibino, who defeated Francesco Di Lorenzo, and Clara Tauson, who upset sixth seed Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-4. 

After the match, Tauson talked about her tennis mentality, and said that competing on clay involved her mindset: "“I’m trying to play a little bit higher over the net and play with less risk....I think it’s more mentally for me, staying in the rally and just hitting with the girls.”

Clara Tauson (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Tauson said that she has learned to look at higher-ranked players and think that she is just as good as they are. This tactic is helping her a lot right now, she said. She went on to talk about the mental shifts that she has undergone. “When I was younger, I was very explosive and had a lot of outbursts," she explained, but now she talks with her mental coach every day and is able to remain calm.