A couple of the people with whom I often discuss tennis are men who view the women’s game with something between disdain and indifference. This is puzzling to me, in part because they are otherwise intelligent people. And I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist. I’m just a guy who likes sports, especially tennis. I like close, hard-fought, dramatic matches, and don’t care much who’s playing.
If this Australian Open can’t open the minds of my tennis bros, nothing will. You could argue that the women have been more compelling than the men at most of the recent Slams. Reporter Ben Rothenberg raised that question in a tweet after the women’s final. Notwithstanding that Federer and Cilic have yet to play their final, there’s no question that the women at this tournament have been WAY more interesting than the men. It’s not even close. In fact, so far the most compelling thing about the men’s tournament has been the injuries.
What bothers me about my tennis bros is the double standard they apply. A few examples:
The mental frailty thing (Part 1). The bros like to talk about how women players break down under pressure. Often they use the serve to make this point. Sure, Halep vs. Lauren Davis was exciting, they say, but Halep should have served out the match much earlier. She had three chances. This point isn’t absurd, but it applies the standard of men’s serving to the women’s game. For the most part, the men are bigger and stronger than the women. They are harder to break. Nadal, who isn’t considered a huge server, holds 89 percent of the time. I’m not finding updated stats for the women, but based on percentage of service points won, most of the top women are in the 60s. That’s a big difference. You can’t apply the 90 percent-plus certainty that Federer will hold serve at any given time to Halep.
The mental frailty thing (Part II). Kyrgios can double-fault at a key moment, such as against Federer in Miami or facing set point against Dimitrov in the Australian, and the commentariat explains that it’s Kyrgios being brave. He’s “going for it” because he has so much respect for his opponent’s return. Eh, not so much. He’s trying to hit through his nerves. Regardless of his strategy, a double-fault is the same whether the ball is going 125mph or 71mph.
The mental frailty thing (Part III). The bros will pick on Slam underachiever Svitolina (who was apparently hampered by an injury) for fading in her quarterfinal against Mertens, and for choking generally in the majors. I won’t go out of my way to defend Svitolina’s Slam performances. But there’s a two-word rebuttal: Sascha Zverev. The No. 4 men’s player won five points in his 0-6 fifth set against Chung. That must be the single most embarrassing statistic of the entire Australian Open. And it follows his loss to Borna Coric at the U.S. Open, which ranks among the least intelligently played matches I’ve ever seen. Zverev chose to turn that one into a push-fest, which was the only way he could have lost. We could also pick on Dominic Thiem, but let’s leave that for another time.
The fitness thing. About 20 years ago you could make the case that several relevant women players weren’t in good enough condition. People didn’t like to talk about it, especially on television, which is understandable. But fitness matters in tennis. A lot. Today there’s no question about the fitness of the top, or even middling, women players. The Halep-Davis match, or Halep-Kerber, or pretty much any match involving Halep or Wozniacki, should be bottled and used as an advertisement touting the benefits of interval training. As for endurance, Wozniacki ran the New York Marathon at a 7:53/mile pace a few years ago, obviously while still an active player. Are you kidding me? I wonder how many current men players could match that time. Impossible to know, but the answer might rhyme with Nero. (We would guess that David Ferrer would have the best shot. Truth is, none will try because they’d be afraid of having a slower time than Wozniacki.)
Dud matches. This is often brought up as a metric for the quality of a tournament, and that’s fair. There were a couple that didn’t live up to expectations on the women’s side. I’m thinking of Keys-Kerber and Pliskova-Halep. Maybe Sharapova-Kerber, too. Indeed, it’s disappointing that the losers in those matches either couldn’t or wouldn’t modulate their games when it became clear that blasting the crap out of the ball wasnl’t working. But the great matches — including Wozniacki-Halep, Halep-Kerber, Halep-Davis, Kerber-Hsieh and Suarez Navarro-Kontaveit — were far more numerous. The men had Dimitrov-Kyrgios, and a draw littered with duds whose outcomes were decided by injuries.
C’mon my bros! Open up your minds and enjoy the tennis — like a real sports fan.