Saturday, September 2, 2017

All about the handshake

Reach out and touch a hand
Make a friend if you can
from Touch a Hand, Make a Friend
Hampton, Banks & Jackson

Not long ago, I had a brief professional encounter with a woman I'd never before met. When it was over, I put my hand out to shake hers, and there was just the slightest blip of hesitation before contact was made. I think that's because women are not acculturated to shake hands. After all, we've been omitted from most of the deal-making that shapes the world; our job is to hug and make others feel good, not to seal an agreement.

Maybe that's one of the reasons that the handshake is such an odd, unreliable gesture on the WTA tour. Of course, some of the post-match handshaking reflects "real life": There are people (these are men, in my experience) who grip your hand too tightly, and people whose handshakes are so limp, you don't know why you even made the effort.

Hand-shaking also involves looking the other person in the eye, and this is a difficult task for some people, if they are self-conscious or lack social skills. 

The whole handshake controversy was put into the atmosphere again today when Alona Ostapenko barely looked at opponent Dasha Kasatkina and barely touched her hand after their match. 

Also tonight, CoCo Vandeweghe left her opponent, Aga Radwanska, standing at the net while she celebrated her win, then she returned to the net and shook Radwanska's hand. 

Through the years, there have been players who refused to shake the umpire's hand, and players who refused to shake, or barely shook, their opponents' hands. The most famous of these incidents, I suppose, took place several years ago in Charleston, when Patty Schnyder refused to shake Conchita Martinez's hand. But there was more to it than that. Schnyder walked up to the net as if she were going to shake hands, but instead, said something to Martinez. And, to be fair, Martinez's behavior during the match was maddening; Schnyder was furious with her.

Radwanska herself was criticized when she lost her 2013 Wimbledon semifinal (she had reached the final the year before) and barely shook her opponent's hand. It seemed obvious to me that the stoic Polish star didn't want to burst into tears in public and was in a big hurry to get off the court while holding in her emotions. 

Marion Bartoli refused to shake Virginie Razzano's hand in Eastbourne in 2009 when Razzano accused her of gameswomanship. And speaking of Frenchwomen, Alize Cornet got much more than the silent treatment from Tatjana Maria after their 2016 French Open match. Maria walked over to Cornet, shook her finger at her, and proceeded to lecture her, also about gameswomanship. She later threatened legal action against tournament officials, though nothing ever came of that.

The strangest case in the WTA handshake collection didn't even occur on a tennis court. In 2015, when Canada drew Slovakia in a Fed Cup tie, Genie Bouchard refused to shake Kristina Kucova's hand at the draw ceremony. The Canadian called the tradition "lame," then went on, the next year, to refuse to shake Aleksandra Dulgheru's hand when Canada drew Romania in a Fed Cup tie.

What wasn't lame was how Dulgheru responded. She defeated Bouchard 6-4, 6-4 on the first day of the tie, then celebrated with her team by "refusing" to shake hands with them in a routine they had rehearsed.

I've attended matches at which the handshake felt to me like an insult to reality. And I recall a final in Charleston when I wouldn't have really blamed the loser for barely shaking the hand of either her opponent or the umpire, though she shook both hands heartily.

Yes, opponents should shake hands; it's a proper gesture. But so much attention has been paid to the non-handshakes in women's tennis (and some in men's tennis) that what is often totally ignored is the behavior, in some cases, that drove the player to not want to shake hands. When an opponent's or umpire's behavior creates that much disturbance, it isn't fair to focus only on the social breach of the non-handshaker.

The no smile/no eye contact handshake is actually fairly common on the WTA tour. It may seem more obvious when Ostapenko does it because Ostapenko is a piece of living theatre, with facial expressions, gestures and body language that are hard to ignore. Fortunately, Ostapenko Theatre is usually very good-humored.

And, should the occasion call for it, Professor Strycova is always available to provide instruction. Just ask Elina Svitolina.


Fred84 said...

By turning her back on Aga at the net, Ugly American Colleen just showed once again why she's the perfect player for the Trump era. Arrogant, crass, and disrespectful towards opponents.

Unknown said...

Great article! You see it never occurred to me that women are sort of bad at shaking hands because they don't typically make agreements and such, but it's an interesting perspective. I shake hands more like a man, I have quite a firm grip. If women are really better at hugging, then the WTA could consider changing the handshake with a hug :) That would be nice :)