The New, Frustrating Lines of Battle in Tennis: ATP vs. WTA

As Roger Federer hobbled through his quarterfinal match against Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells — a match that failed to live up to the high standards of the rivalry due to Federer’s injury — the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox decided to weigh in on the subject:

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I wouldn’t have bothered addressing this notion, due to the fact that Cox is a columnist who prides himself on making controversial statements. I usually consider his comments to be silly white noise.

But then, a much more respected figure in the tennis community, Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim, chimed in:

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Earlier in the day, Sam Stosur withdrew from her match against Angelique Kerber, citing a calf injury, and Victoria Azarenka withdrew from her match against Caroline Wozniacki with an ankle injury.

Here’s the immediate problem with these writers’ comments: Stosur has retired from two matches in her entire career. This was the first time she’d ever pulled out and given her opponent a walkover. This was just the third time in her entire career that Stosur quit a tournament midway due to injury, numbers that compare similarly to Roger Federer’s two career walkovers.

Azarenka is admittedly a different story. Her injury retirement and withdrawal history is well-documented. However, she was in tears during one of her matches when she lunged on the injured ankle, and footage was shown of her struggling to walk without a limp during practice. There was no doubt that Azarenka was dealing with a significant injury.

The timing of the two withdrawals was unfortunate, because it happened to leave the tournament without any WTA matches that day. But given Stosur’s history of either luck with injuries or reluctance to withdraw unless absolutely necessary, and given Azarenka’s obvious acute injury, it was unreasonable to react to these withdrawals with anything other than understanding that both players were simply physically unable to play their matches. I’m assuming that neither Cox nor Wertheim were privy to any of the three injured players’ medical records before making their statements.

Federer prides himself on his record of not withdrawing from tournaments, and that’s great for him. Fans appreciate a player who toughs out a match like the one he played against Nadal. But he’s also had some luck staying healthy throughout his career, and he’s the exception, not the rule, on the ATP Tour. There are plenty of ATP players whose injury withdrawal histories look more like Azarenka’s than Federer’s. And quite frankly, the Federer-Nadal match was borderline unwatchable because of Federer’s obvious back problem.

The incident is simply a continuation of the disturbing phenomenon that’s arisen in professional tennis. The two tours have grown to become adversarial to one another. Every situation is an excuse for some tennis player, member of the media, or commentator to tear down the WTA.

*****
When I started watching tennis, I viewed the sport as a single entity. Tennis is tennis. The rules of the game are the same, and the rivalries are equally compelling. I’ve learned that many people don’t believe this, but there are many of us that do.

At a combined event, I still look at the order of play and find matches of equal interest on both tours. There’s no difference to me; the men and women are both more than capable of showcasing lovely ball-striking and compelling tennis strategy. They are different, but one is not superior to the other.

Yet, somewhere along the way, it became common for ATP players, reporters, and fans to make jabs about the WTA:

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Stakhovsky, a member of the ATP Players’ Council, is a public face of the ATP, and he’s on social media, bragging about how he could beat the top-ranked female player. For a sport that prides itself on cordiality and sportsmanship, it looks pretty poor for men’s tennis’ representatives to be diminishing female players for not being able to compete against those who were born physically stronger than them. Yes, Stakhovsky could presumably beat Serena Williams. He was born with physical capabilities that allow him to put more MPHs on his serve and groundstrokes. So what? Does this make him a superior tennis player? Certainly not.

The WTA was not founded as if it was some sort of competing sports league against the ATP. Women are competing against other women, yet somehow the media narrative always becomes a contest to prove which tour is more gritty or willing to play through injuries, which tour produces more compelling tennis (a matter of opinion), or which tour showcases the best displays of mental strength.

When one of the top women beats an opponent, 6-0, 6-1, it’s an excuse to criticize the lack of depth in women’s tennis. When a top man beats an opponent 6-0, 6-1, it’s because he’s just an elite player.

When a top woman takes a poorly-timed, questionable medical timeout, it’s an excuse to ask her 23 times about it in her post-match press conference, and to use it as a generalization on the state of women’s tennis.

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When a top man takes a poorly-timed, questionable medical timeout, he’s not even asked about it in the post-match presser.

When players trade breaks in a WTA match, it means they’re playing poor quality tennis. When the men do it, it’s just a toughly contested match between great returners.

When Petra Kvitova cries during a match, she’s a “tear-stained drama queen.” When Andy Murray cries after the 2012 Wimbledon final, it’s a “revelation,” showing his love for the sport.

When Serena Williams comes back and dominates the WTA Tour after a long injury absence, it’s an “indictment” of every other woman on the WTA Tour:

Yet now, and even though she still puffs heavily after punishing, long rallies, Williams is again one of the favorites to win Wimbledon.

An uplifting personal story if she pulls it off. Champion, back from death’s door, and all that.

But how acutely embarrassing for women’s tennis.

But what an indictment a Williams win would be for all the other women who, by now, really should be making a far bigger imprint on the game.

When Nadal comes back and immediately reaches four finals, winning three of those, including his first Masters 1000 event on his worst surface after a long injury layoff, it’s good for tennis.

Serena Williams has a track record of outclassing everyone else on the WTA, but if she loses matches, it’s because of “hormones.” When a top man loses, it’s because he must be valiantly carrying an injury.

*****

These are just examples, and there are exceptions to these generalizations, but avid WTA fans will tell you that the tennis world is uncomfortably fixated on the WTA’s shortcomings. Any minuscule problem with a WTA player becomes a reflection on the women’s game, where the same standards are rarely applied to the men’s tour.

Tennis is not a game that belongs only to men, just because they were born with more muscle mass than women. Just because they are capable of hitting the ball harder doesn’t mean their version of the game is superior to watching women showcase their competitive spirit and athleticism on court.

What’s the lesson in this? I don’t know. I don’t know what can be done with a problem this ingrained. These things presumably grow better with time and awareness, but they’re not changing quickly.

Diminishing the women’s game will never strengthen the ATP Tour, and it will never strengthen tennis as a whole.


Amy can be spotted on a tennis court in the Philadelphia area, shanking backhand volleys.

94 Responses

  1. SamG
    SamG March 20, 2013 at 10:34 am |

    Hear ! Hear !

  2. Adam
    Adam March 20, 2013 at 10:53 am |

    I completely disagree, accept the fact that women do not deserve equal prize money because the quality of tennis is sooooo much lower

    1. Tennisfan
      Tennisfan March 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm |

      Yeah because David Goffin getting bagled by Nieminen is really top notch quality. Give me a break with this quality argument, absolute trash.

    2. Deborah
      Deborah March 21, 2013 at 1:47 am |

      I completely agree with Adam. In so many respects, the women’s game is uniformly less than the men’s. And the chasm grows wider as the men’s games reaches new heights. And I don’t have the sense that the women seem to mind. This drives me crazy as a woman, and as a major tennis fan.

    3. Aaron
      Aaron March 21, 2013 at 4:46 am |

      This article isn’t even talking about prize money..

  3. Michael
    Michael March 20, 2013 at 11:00 am |

    You are entitled to your opinion as much as any of these people you are taking issue with. There is one aspect of your commentary I feel it is important to clarify. Stakhovsky is a member of the ATP Player Council. He is not on the Board, which is the body that actually governs the ATP. Yes, Board members do carry more weight with what they say. I would contest that a player council member should not have that burden (quick, name half of members of the council without looking). Thus it is debatable that his public comments should be afforded anymore weight than a rank and file member, and it certainly is misguided to call him the face of the ATP. It seems to me you yourself are diminishing the game by assigning responsibility to the entire ATP orgranization for one member’s comments. There is resentment from both sides, to be sure, and he is not the only player to have ever spoken out. I simply suggest that taking such a tone against the whole ATP as you have while primarily using the commentary of pundits as fuel for your fire really goes against your desire to strengthen tennis as a whole.

  4. Shradha
    Shradha March 20, 2013 at 11:04 am |

    Let me start with a cliché : truer words were never spoken.
    This is everything which bothers me about current state of tennis. I agree, compared to other sports, racket sports have higher gender equality . Women’s cricket world cup happened in India(we are a one sport nation where cricket is a religion) this year, and nobody turned up to watch. Even though entry was free.
    Tennis is one sport particularly where women over the years have fought for financial and social equality and had a great success. Instead of feeling immense pride in that, they try to insult it. They show supremacy where solidarity is expected. There Deep rooted male chauvinism doesn’t allow them to consider women as there equal.
    Whole sports media considers women’s game as a step-child whose achievement are humbled and shortcomings are exposed in front of the world. Its considered something which is there, but not the real thing, just a sub-standard product.
    Djokovic was famous for injuries, MTOs all these years. He even got thrashed by Fed and Andy.R for this. Still everything is now considered part of his growing up, while Vika is being called colorful names in press conferences.
    Looks like WTA players are juggling on a rope. One miss-step and everybody starts insulting the whole system.
    I actually have a lot to say on this. But finish my rant here.
    Thanks for putting our(me and thousand others) thoughts in this true and unapologetic blogpost.
    Bravo…

  5. Karen
    Karen March 20, 2013 at 11:08 am |

    I am happy that finally someone who clearly has a better grasp at writing has written about something that I have seen coming a long time ago. The fact is that the media narrative regarding both Tours is what has contributed to this nonsense. In addition, it does not hep that people like Sergei, who can’t even make it out of qualifying these days, are the voices and faces of the men’s tour.

    For an organisation that many said would fail 40 years ago, the women have certainly made the men fearful of just what they can accomplish. What gets me more than anything else is the lack of a collaborative voice from the WTA, either from the organisation itself, or from the Player’s Council. I wish the women were more vocal in expressing their views, especially in press conferences, rather than giving these robotic responses to issues that affect the Tour.

    I am not saying that they should be contentious, but I would think that the same energy that Maria, Serena and Vika take in promoting their various brands, that they would use all that power to promote the Tour and let the voices of the women be heard.

    I wish that these women with so much power and commercial appeal, would take the next step and really make the WTA brand one that can be envied by every other sport brand in the world. It is high time the women take the dream of Billie Jean and the other women and turn it into something a lot more awesome than it is right now.

    1. Jewell
      Jewell March 21, 2013 at 3:40 am |

      Wish I could *Like* this one. :)

  6. Aysha
    Aysha March 20, 2013 at 11:09 am |

    Great article. For me the root of the issue is the players themselves. Whether it’s easy to admit or not I think it’s clear that the vast majority of male players do not view the women as playing the same sport as them and certainly don’t believe they should be getting paid the same. The top guys may say the right things in press conferences but in reality I get the impression that pretty much all of them view the ATP as a superior product. It’d be interesting to ask them to articulate why, though given the publicity any comments on this issue get I doubt many would openly say what they think.

    What’s also important to note is that tennis is an anomaly amongst sports for having such a visible women’s product. How many can name the top female golfer? Or top female soccer players (outside the US where it’s followed a bit more)? I wonder how much of an impact it also has that no other sports reporters have to cover the female version of their sport too. Mainstream tennis reporters are still overwhelmingly male yet they’re meant to report equally on the men and women — the gender bias is obvious at many times.

    Finally, beyond the views of the male players and the journalists, I think it’s a fact that the tours are different in terms of the type of shotmaking you get to view. Though both the men and women play the same sport, for obvious reasons, they are very different beasts. One can’t avoid that and one can’t expect that everyone will like both tours equally. I don’t have a problem with someone saying they find the women’s game boring (or the men’s for that matter) and don’t think they are necessarily sexist for saying so. So though I agree with all the points in the article (criticising women for MTOs but not men, applauding Rafa’s return but suggesting Serena’s success was negative for the WTA etc.) I do think that fundamental difference should always be borne in mind and is why I don’t ever see the tours ever being truly united.

  7. marc
    marc March 20, 2013 at 11:21 am |

    excellent article amy…i wish i could say i care about each tour the same but i don’t…certainly not in recent years…i think it’s tough for the wta at the end of the big tourneys together…the men constantly get the big dramatic match-ups with the big names, and many times they have lived up to the hype or exceeded it, while the women have had so many blow-outs or desultory straight-set grand slam finals or semis…look at just this sunday…the comparison of the two finals was pretty stark in terms of drama…not massive, but pretty big…throw in delpo’s match with joker the day before and it’s just tough for the ladies…of course right before this period got started with fed then nadal the women were more dramatic at the end with the williams sisters coming on going against hingis and whatever kournikova brought…i think sharapova not being able to deal effectively with serena after her big win at wimby was tough, and i hated seeing henin go, though her size was eventually going to catch up to her

    been watching tennis sine the early 70’s and grew up with chris and martina and goolagong and king so i always respected the women even though the depth was pretty poor…better depth now, just not the big payoffs at the end they need..i’m sure it will be better in the future and the men may have a cavern to fill in 5-10 years

    i did get into it with some folks recently on some media or political site after the decison came out allowing women officially into combat…saying that serena could handle herself just fine there, better than most guys…not that jehovah would let her:)

  8. MattV
    MattV March 20, 2013 at 11:22 am |

    The last statement is scathingly correct.

    1. marc
      marc March 20, 2013 at 11:53 am |

      he won’t even let her vote!

  9. miri
    miri March 20, 2013 at 11:22 am |

    I admit to not following the WTA as much as the ATP. That has nothing to do with gender, however, it’s more about story lines. There was a time when I couldn’t stand to watch men’s tennis. My then favorite player had retired and what I was mainly left with on the men’s tour was big servers and players who wanted to hit the crap out of the ball instead of thinking their way through points. Changes in racket technology only made this worse. That’s when I started watching women’s tennis almost exclusively. It helped that there were some great story lines at the time – who could replace the Evert/Navratilova rivalry (superior to any other in the history of the game, IMHO)? would Seles overtake Graf? What about Sabatini? Would she live up to her potential? So, for me, it’s not about the gender (although, yes, good looking men do have a bit of extra appeal for me), it’s the about rivalries and the types of tennis being played.

  10. Brian H
    Brian H March 20, 2013 at 11:54 am |

    Great article.

    Just really really don’t understand why the media can’t educate themselves even a little bit about this, though. Or at least know when to keep their mouths shut, because it seems like we hear about this about once a month. There’s probably no hope for, say, Barry Flatman, but I’ve been gradually losing respect for Jon Wertheim, etc. over this. (Thought he was one of the more enlightened ones. And I guess he is. But I can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that he has just a bit more respect for the men’s game.)

    But then again, if you think tennis is bad, try basketball. Because we’re living in a world where *former college women’s basketball player* turned sportswriter Kate Fagen can write a three-part series for espnW admitting that she hasn’t ever watched the WNBA and explaining that it isn’t much good because it needs to be more like the NBA.

    And it’s all so very pointless. Competition is competition. Sports are sports. Just because men naturally have more testosterone doesn’t somehow magically make them more sporting or skilled or entertaining to watch…

  11. deetsy
    deetsy March 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm |

    completely agree. this is just talk on the “respect” level, not even starting talking about prize money and then we have such full awful misogyny and sexism.
    Btw, sometimes i wonder if Rafa or Roger could sometimes beat Serena, mind one poor Stakhovsky

  12. Max
    Max March 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm |

    The Serena vs Rafa argument is arguably the best one.

    Many journalists said Nadal was limited with his movement.
    The guy has a F-W-W-W record since he came back. That pretty much destroys the whole “golden era” storyline if a rusty, injured player can whop the floor with the entire Tour.

    Nalbandian physically injured a linesman and Llodra made some racist remarks.
    Tipsarevic is described as one of the best “characters” on the ATP. He’s a borderline misogynist, what a character. Justin “Sexpots” Gimelstob is employed by the ATP.

    It tells you everything to know about that organization.

    Finally, the journalist go out of their way to tell you that all the WTA players play the same game and have the same personality while the ATP ones are so unique.

    Wozniacki, Serena, Stosur, Sharapova, Petkovic. They couldn’t be more different.

  13. Tennisfan
    Tennisfan March 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm |

    Absolutely amazing article. Especially with the Nadal and Serena parallel. Nadal comes back and oh look how good for tennis, him dominating again. But oh Serena achieves the same feat, and the women’s tour is weak? Absolutely disgusting. Also it was funny how not many journalists called out Tsonga for his hormonal statement because he’s a top player.

    I’m afraid the battle between the WTA and the ATP is just heating up but this article proves just how bad it has gotten.

    Disappointing that people like Jon Wertheim said something like that. What about when a tonne of players on the ATP retire huh? It was unfortunate that both Stosur and Azarenka did it on the same day but they were not healthy enough to compete and make it a match for the fans, risking further aggravating their injury to be out of the season longer. I remember when Djokovic was already losing but retired to Murray in the Cinci final in 2011, no one says anything though because he’s the best player, a liked player, a man.

    Or even with the Azarenka incident in Australia this year with the MTO. I gotta say it didn’t look good but she did it within the rules as every player does. Djokovic did in in the 2012 US open final before Murray served for it but because he won, no one says anything. Or Berdych in Indian Wells down a break in the second set, took a toilet break in the second set, and knew the toilets were on the other side of Court 2 so he made his opponent wait for 10 minutes and when he came back he broke back won the match. Unbelievable and just shows that there is inequality between the tours and it sucks that it creates conflict and takes away from the tennis.

    Amy, good work.

  14. Tennisfan
    Tennisfan March 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm |

    Also one last thing that is VERY important.

    Without the big four in men’s tennis, the ATP would not be as popular as it is today. Them four alone bring in the money for tournaments on the men’s side. Without them the WTA has x50 more successful players. When Federer and Nadal retire, the ATP is in trouble so players like Simon and what not say they play longer and work harder, that is a joke because fans don’t even come to see them.

    If fans had to choose to see a match with someone in the top 20s women’s players at the moment than see one with Simon or Stakhovsky you just know who they are going to choose.

    Once Federer and Nadal leave, they are in big trouble.

    1. Master Ace
      Master Ace March 21, 2013 at 12:47 am |

      The Miami tournament director already admitted that tickets sales are down due to Federer and Nadal not playing.

      1. Tennisfan
        Tennisfan March 21, 2013 at 6:02 pm |

        Well there you go. Future of the ATP.

      2. IdaT
        IdaT March 22, 2013 at 5:39 am |

        Well, considering Fed announced he wouldn’t play months ago and Nadal’s decision was last-minute… the sales downturn had more to do with Fed not playing than Nadal. Now, maybe some Nadal fans chose not to use their tickets, but they would have already been bought. Besides Nadal was never going to play due to the IMG deal. Same with Fed.

  15. Karunya
    Karunya March 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm |

    “Diminishing the women’s game will never strengthen the ATP Tour, and it will never strengthen tennis as a whole.”

    Truer words were never written. I believe Cox’s and Wertheim’s and McEnroe’s comments tells us more about themselves than Azarenka or Stosur. As Brian pointed out above, there is no hope for Flatman et al, but Wertheim? Whatever happened to Boyfriend Jon? Nothing good ever comes out of hanging with Gimelstob! And Amy, I want to thank you for writing this. I like the tone of this article – unapologetic!

  16. SA
    SA March 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |

    Standing applause for this.

  17. Fernando
    Fernando March 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm |

    Fernando says the truth is that tennis is by far, the only sport that attracts a crossover male audience and not becasue of the “babe” factor. The quality of the play is excellent. Ever since Billie Jean King beat Riggs, the WTA has been gaining more and more respect Amy does have a point, there is gender bias in tennis as there is in society, but careful not to get too defensive, see ghosts or feed the beast. It hurts the cause.

    For example, Fernando does not see gender mentioned in Werthheim’s tweet. And if you follow Wertheim’s articles and mailbag, he always give equal access to the WTA- especially Serena, who by Fernando’s count has not missed a mailbag mention since Don Budge retired.

    I am Fernando @vivafernando

  18. Duderino
    Duderino March 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |

    Note on Stakhovsky: true that he is sometimes a bit borderline with his comments/tweets but regarding his response on how many games he would win against Serena: stupid question receives a dumb answer…

  19. Kevin
    Kevin March 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm |

    Thoughtful piece in response to some not-so-thoughtful reactions from last week’s Thursday withdrawal at the BNP Paribas. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to indict the WTA for these two withdrawals if you don’t also indict the ATP for withdrawals that also occurred during the tournament. The only difference was that two of the WTA withdrawals unfortunately happened on the same day.

    It did kinda suck for the viewing public, especially when compounded by the tepid Nadal-Federer match. But that’s unfortunate timing, and not a sign that the women aren’t tough enough to play through pain (and thereby justify equal pay). I haven’t heard anyone else bring up the fact that Leonardo Mayer’s withdrawal from his match with Nadal could have had a direct effect on Rafa’s knee and overall freshness heading into the Sunday final, but I’m sure it did.

    I’m surprised Jon Wertheim played ogre, because he’s generally balanced in his views. Not this time though. I’m also surprised nobody brought up the significant occasions that both Venus and Serena played injured in order to “save the day”. Venus played a Wimbledon final wrapped like a mummy because it was a final, and it was Wimbledon. Serena played a Miami final hobbling against Vika, and lost, because it was a final and she didn’t want to disappoint fans.

    We can all cherry pick instances of player behavior to justify a particular narrative, but in the end that doesn’t make the narrative more valid. It only makes us look biased and short-sighted.

  20. Thomas
    Thomas March 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm |

    Lets be real here, Serena couldn’t hang with the top 20 male juniors in the US. She just couldn’t move well enough and would always be on defense.

    1. Max
      Max March 20, 2013 at 6:35 pm |

      So what?
      Serena can sell out a whole stadium and make worldwide headlines. No junior boy can do that.

  21. Mary
    Mary March 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm |

    Amy, thank you for speaking up about this.

  22. btp
    btp March 20, 2013 at 6:49 pm |

    Is this a joke? Women’s tennis even at its best is error-laden and is not in the same universe in terms of quality as men’s tennis. ATP players resent the WTA probably because the women get equal pay even though their matches are worse quality, shorter, and bring in much less revenue. What happened to “equal pay for equal work”?

    1. northernboy
      northernboy March 25, 2013 at 7:11 pm |

      It’s this sort of ignorant comment that is the norm in this whole debate.

      ‘Women’s tennis at it’s best is error laden’?? Give me a ***ing break!

      Can tell you I’ve seen some pug fugly men’s matches throughout the years.

      Where the WTA has suffered recently is in the lack of high quality Slam finals compared to the men, and the inconsistency of some of its top talent. Ana Ivanovic is still incredibly popular at the WTA would be judged to be in a whole lot better shape if she and Jelena, whose personality also makes her a fan fave, were still playing to their capability.

      It just fluctuates with the generations. Recall how tumultuous the men’s tour was in the early 2000s (remember when a 33 year old Agassi was world #1 and winning multiple Slams? How’s THAT for an indictment of the men’s game, good as Agassi was). The women at the same time had a dominant ruling class with the WIlliams, the Belgians, Davenport, Capriati, Mauresmo, Hingis, Seles all playing. But then the story was made out to be the antipathy of the world towards Venus and Serena.

      I see double standards like this all the time.

  23. Arienna Lee (@ExtremeGrip)
    Arienna Lee (@ExtremeGrip) March 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm |

    Nice work, Amy! You’ve made great points here, particularly regarding Stosur. I’ve noticed a concerted effort to bring a feminist viewpoint to tennis (on twitter) and am generally admiring. The one thing I struggle to understand is why so much credence is given to what male players have to say about the WTA. They are no more than young men (most relatively uneducated) who have been asked questions – or chose to offer opinions – about things they don’t understand very well. Dwelling on their statements lends them false power.

    Women are generally not paid as well as men in any field, so in that sense tennis is a ahead of the curve. I think it’s fantastic that so many women (and men) want to defend WTA players from being devalued, and yet I’m not fond of the saying “tennis has a sexism problem.” As if there is a place free from it.

  24. Andrew Burton
    Andrew Burton March 20, 2013 at 7:18 pm |

    There’s no excuse for crude sexism – “girlz are rooled by theyr hormonz, lol.” I genuinely believe that the argument for equal pay at the Slams is one which is accepted by the great majority of fans and players: competitors are all world class athletes representing the best of tennis.

    If your mindset is one which assumes the default “professional tennis player” wears shorts rather than a skirt on the court, you may also have some work to do.

    And any attempt to generalize from a sample size of one or two players’ actions at a single tournament to general eternal truths about a whole tour also ought to be taken with a monster shaker of salt.

    I nod my head vigorously at Amy’s statement “Tennis is not a game that belongs only to men, just because they were born with more muscle mass than women. Just because they are capable of hitting the ball harder doesn’t mean their version of the game is superior to watching women showcase their competitive spirit and athleticism on court.”

    And we shouldn’t forget that Jon Wertheim’s 2002 book “Venus Envy” was based on the assertion that the womens’ game a decade ago was much more interesting than the mens’. Tennis in 2013 isn’t the same as it was a decade ago, two decades ago or three decades ago. Like miri above, I’ve gone through periods in the last thirty years of enjoying WTA tennis more than the ATP version.

    I don’t think the suggestion that currently the ATP version has the edge in terms of elite players, and in terms of the quality and variety of rallies, is automatically a sexist one. The key word in the last sentence is “currently.” Great tennis, to me, has always involved fine athletes hitting a variety of shots under pressure, inducing their opponents to match them. Part of the interest of tennis is that hitting the ball well didn’t necessarily mean hitting it harder. 5 years from now, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be enjoying a wave of superb WTA players who are changing our understanding of what great tennis looks like, while lamenting the way the ATP game lost its way.

    1. Jewell
      Jewell March 21, 2013 at 2:26 am |

      “I genuinely believe that the argument for equal pay at the Slams is one which is accepted by the great majority of fans and players: competitors are all world class athletes representing the best of tennis.”

      If the players who were moaning about it last year are to be believed, equal pay isn’t accepted by a great majority at all. If the discussions on Tennis.com comments are representative, I’m not at all convinced that it’s accepted by the great majority of fans, either. When I’ve argued for it in comments I’ve been called dishonest and hysterical, and part of the extremist feminist and homosexual conspiracy in tennis. (no, I didn’t make that up.) I didn’t feel like I was speaking for a majority – even a silent one. Silence is no use to me, anyway – it’s not good enough. I expect more.

      It’d be nice if it was – currently, I feel like the majority of the sport views people like me as “less than”. And that’s depressing.

  25. Scott Ferguson (@borisranting)
    Scott Ferguson (@borisranting) March 20, 2013 at 10:56 pm |

    Well said, great article. Fits in well with another one lamenting the dumbing-down of modern tennis journalism – http://mtfsucks.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/abject-poverty-of-tennis-journalism.html. Cheap shots at the women’s game are far too simple. In some cases they might be factually correct, but who cares – tennis shouldn’t be fighting the men vs women game but tennis vs all other sports. Everyone wins from a greater share of the pie. If they are just sledging each other, it’s as dull and pathetic as politics…

  26. chico
    chico March 20, 2013 at 11:38 pm |

    Amy, the men not only hit harder, but are faster and hit with better spin. As a player in my youth and tennis coach for 12 years i can tell you that the quality of men’s tennis is superior to that of women’s. That doesn’t mean it is any better to watch necessarily, we all have our differing reasons to watch tennis and what we want to get out of it varies. Their are many that would rather watch the women’s game over a men’s. For me seeing the men hit with the power they do, run at the speed they do and see the momentum swing over the course of 5 sets is the pinnacle. Backing it up 2 days later even better. Something I just couldn’t do. Hence the admiration.

    Unashamedly I would rather watch a men’s match than a women’s match and it’s BECAUSE OF the physical differences. It means more power, more speed, more spin. Women just can’t match the men on these fronts. Serena at times can on the power front. Is this sexist? Absolutely not. I prefer dogs over cats, doesn’t mean I hate cats and actively discriminate against them. They posses certain qualities i admire that cats might not.

    There is a market for the men’s game and a market for the women’s. There is plenty of discrimination about the women’s game and it mostly comes from men. It’s not valuable and attitudes should change. For this reason I like this article. However the quality of tennis is higher on the men’s side. Through no fault of anyone/thing other than their physical capabilities.

  27. Master Ace
    Master Ace March 21, 2013 at 12:56 am |

    Amy,
    Excellent article. I wish the TV executives would give equal time to the WTA as they do with the ATP. Before 2013, EuroSport had the WTA rights on TV coverage but for some reason, Stacey Allaster decided to go in another direction which I think is a big time failure on her part. She should have renewed the contract with EuroSport. On ESPN3.com, some WTA events are covered until the QF which I think is a waste of time if you can not cover SF and F. Allaster needs to rethink the TV possibilities especially in USA. Coverage of Indian Wells and Miami is a joke. Today, the top half of the WTA is playing in Miami but there is NO TV coverage.

    Therefore, Stacey Allaster is loser of the week(or entire year, IMO)

    1. Karen
      Karen March 21, 2013 at 2:16 am |

      MA, I swear sometimes that Stacey is doing all she can to ensure that women’s tennis never sees the light of day via tv programming. We heard so much being said about new tv partnerships, and yet, 2 Premier Mandatory events later, we can hardly see any tennis on tv, and when it is shown, most of it is men’s tennis. I have no idea what she was thinking.

    2. northernboy
      northernboy March 25, 2013 at 7:15 pm |

      Couldn’t agree more MA – the biggest error on the part of the WTA is not to have a current TV deal. Allaster has been a total failure. The Strong is Beautiful campaign, while making a few snappy commericals with cool music, is a total disaster, as Jewell has elaborated on.

      Get me some concrete results so I can actually watch their matches on TV the way I can with the men then we’ll talk Stacey.

  28. Jewell
    Jewell March 21, 2013 at 2:10 am |

    *applause*

  29. lantern
    lantern March 21, 2013 at 2:32 am |

    for stoky… To have said that is like sayin Allyson felix should should compete witj Usain Bolt on track?,herald non-sense,or messi with marta of brasil? They are women is the way they are created,we as men are builth stronger and smatter than they were,the WTA top Ten women are what it is and they make more money than the ATP top Ten,equal money or not that does not change the what women contribute to tennis as a whole.juust thing os time we respect and give our women more priorities.it’s agood thing tennis is doing that wiht equal price money.

  30. lsm19
    lsm19 March 21, 2013 at 2:55 am |

    As a woman and a lifelong fan of tennis, while I find the women’s matches to be equally fun to watch, I’m not sure I agree that they should get 100% equal prize money in tournaments where the men have to play best of 5 sets and they only have to play best of 3. When you think of 5-6 hour marathon matches, they are all them men playing them. The women only ever have to play best of 3, and the men & women have the same amount of rest time.

    Unfortunately, with the way the sport is being played now, the amount of physical training players are putting in off the court, and the fact that they all play A LOT more tournaments than they did back in the day of Evert and Navratalova, it is just a fact that you are going to see a lot more players dealing with these injuries.

    1. Max
      Max March 21, 2013 at 4:08 am |

      The whole 3 sets vs 5 sets is the most irrelevant argument in the debate.

      1. lsm19
        lsm19 March 21, 2013 at 5:00 am |

        Respectfully disagree, and have had others around me voice the same opinion. Where have you ever had two WTA players fight through 6 hours of a grueling match and not be physically able to stand thru a trophy ceremony i.e. Rafa/Djoki? In my opinion that deserves a larger reward.

        1. Aube
          Aube March 21, 2013 at 8:20 am |

          This could be way over board comparison but when a man and a woman procreate,the burden of bringing the baby to life weighs heavily on the balance of the women in terms of sufferance and pain,does it make the father less valuable? no? right? same with this issue just cause they play less sets doesn’t invalidate a match,and I’ve seen women matches last longer than men’s or women matches be more interesting than men’s,it’s just what it is but of course we’re still trying to get women equal pay in every work place in general so I don’t expect miracles overnight…

          After all I’m extremely happy baby girls no longer get dispatched because they were born “girls”..if they get a chance to live no matter how long it will take I rely on them getting full advantage some day,yes some day!

      2. sarah
        sarah March 21, 2013 at 10:41 am |

        The only relevant metric is revenue generated. Businesses reward productivity, not labor for its own sake. The men’s game brings in more revenue by virtue of matches being longer (more TV time and exposure) and higher popularity (larger audience). Hence, the players should be paid more.

        1. Jewell
          Jewell March 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm |

          I dream about the day someone cites global figures to prove their claims about revenue. :)

          Let’s assume what you say is true. And when that is the other way around, as it was around the turn of the century? Will you be arguing that the women should be paid more?

          Forgive me my scepticism, but if you are the same sarah arguing above that men’s tennis is intrinsically superior, I don’t think you will be. Which rather casts doubt on revenue being the thing that matters, doesn’t it?

          1. sarah
            sarah March 22, 2013 at 7:42 am |

            I don’t think you understood the point, your ad-hominem argument only obfuscates the issue.

            Businesses succeed to the extent they earn money, and players are valuable to organizations to the extent they enable that. This dynamic is true whether we are talking about employees of all kinds. From CEOs, to traders, to salespeople, to athletes. This is why I didn’t cite court time, which also argues strongly for men – because it is not relevant on its own (only its revenue impact). Or quality of play, or how much time they spend practicing, etc. Their monetary worth is directly related only to what they bring in.

          2. sarah
            sarah March 22, 2013 at 8:09 am |

            And yes, in circumstances where female competitors bring in more revenue, they should earn more. Which is why Maria and Serena earn and deserve more than say, Lukas Rosol, even if he might win in a match.

  31. andres
    andres March 21, 2013 at 4:34 am |

    Amy,

    Although I understand what you are trying to do (demand equality for WTA), I think you loose credibility due to taking stuff out of context. Why is it good that Nadal comes back and win and not Serena? Well, because Nadal attracts crowds and Serena does not (Indian Wells did not suffer a slowdown of sales, Miami did). Why is it different when a man wins 6-0 6-1 and not women? Well, because men’s tennis is so physical, that it is very rare to see it. In women, not so much (there are plenty of statistics out there, again, context). You like to compare crying after losing a final to crying during a match? Even if not considering that it is rarer to see a man cry everywhere else in the world (for whatever reason)? Do you like women’s tennis better? Good, that is your right and opinion. Some people like Colombian soccer better than Spanish.

    ps. this is not argument, but just a question. Does menstruation really not affect a player’s performance? Even if she is at 95% (one week every month), that is enough of a disadvantage in a competitive environment, is it not?

    1. Brian H
      Brian H March 21, 2013 at 5:50 am |

      Okay, not to get in massive argument here, but just to correct for any confused people: 6-0 6-1 matches aren’t rare in men’s tennis because the game is more “physical,” it’s rare because men are better at serving relative to the rest of their game. So men can and frequently do get a single break and then ride it until the end of the set. Women don’t have such a big service advantage, so multiple breaks are more likely. If you’re actually watching the matches, a 6-4 men’s set is often as obviously lopsided as a 6-1 women’s set. (If think this means that women are bad at serving or men are bad at returning is your business. Personally, I just think it just means the games are different, resulting in an increase in the amount of variety in the world. Which is a good thing.)

    2. Max
      Max March 21, 2013 at 6:05 am |

      Serena can draw huge crowds and all TV channels want her on as she always get the highest ratings in the US.

      It’s good for ticket sales that Nadal is back but if a rusty, injured player can whop the floor with his competition, it doesn’t look good at all.

      Brian H. made a strong point.

    3. Jewell
      Jewell March 21, 2013 at 9:18 am |

      Every woman is different. Menstruation doesn’t automatically put all women at 95% performance or less, or turn us all into shivering emotional wrecks incapable of doing our jobs – whatever that job is.

      Some studies show no effect on performance with some aspects of menstruation on some women. Others suggest women are more prone to certain types of injury at certain times of the cycle.

      You should also be aware that women, athletes or not, can and do take various things to control menstruation, both the timing of, and effects such as stomach cramps.

      As a general point – hormones aren’t exclusive to women, either.

  32. Ana
    Ana March 21, 2013 at 5:14 am |

    As a woman I find the entire feminist movement to be a bit embarrassing. It was once a noble cause with actual goals but now it simply gives us excuses for having sub-par results compared to men. Obviously there is some lasting discrimination but overall I think feminists should stop talking and start proving themselves as equal/greater competitors because it is something that we are more than capable of.
    So, with that in mind I want to address a few of the WTA vs. ATP issues:
    Prize money- Generally speaking, I love equal prize money. The quality of women’s tennis does seem to be lower than men’s tennis (harsh but fair). Still, the women at the top worked every bit as hard to get there as the men did. They trained an equal amount and continue to play an equal amount, so equal prize money is absolutely warranted. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the prize money situation in Grand Slams. I think the equal pay for equal play argument is valid but I also don’t think women have as many natural physical gifts that would allow us to play for 5 sets even if we tried.
    Grunting- This is a joke right? The women grunt infinitely louder than the men. That’s not an opinion, that’s statistically provable. Further, as a junior player with many friends currently at the top of the ITF rankings, I can tell you that it IS intentional when players are screaming. 100%. It’s really not debatable.
    Walkovers- A few people made uneducated and stupid comments. They’re dumb and the WTA still rocks. Plenty of people make similarly reflexive comments about the ATP so let’s stop victimizing ourselves. It looks bad and it detracts from actually justified arguments against sexism.

  33. Yevgeny
    Yevgeny March 21, 2013 at 6:13 am |

    This is a pretty horrendous overall comparison, I must say. When speaking of the superiority of the ATP tour vs. that of the WTA, the argument really boils down to one question: which tour brings in more money? The answer, of course, is the ATP. Why? More intrigue, better talent, more compelling personalities, etc.

    1. northernboy
      northernboy March 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm |

      And ‘more intrigue’ is definitely not accurate. The question of ‘who will break through to win a Slam’ actually means something on the women’s side. On the men’s side the unspoken 2nd part to that question would be ‘when the Big 4 retire’, as there is absolutely no intrigue in men’s tennis outside of the top 4.

  34. Karen
    Karen March 21, 2013 at 7:56 am |

    If Stakovsky and others are so damned good how come they fail against their peers? If they can’t make it against their peers, how is it possible that they could make it against a top ranked woman? Has anyone ever thought of that scenario? We all think that because so and so is a man and so and so is a woman, Player X would beat Player Y. Where is it written that a man will always beat a woman? Who is to say that Serena or anyone else would not have an awesome day on the court and whip some of these guys on the ATP’s butt.

    There is a story told that in Australia this year, Maria Sharapova had a hitting partner who is an up and coming junior player. I think he is 17 years old and is top ranked on the ITF junior circuit. Sharapova, it is reported whipped his butt on the practice court, so much so that they had to find someone else for her to hit with.

    Most, if not all of the women on the WTA tour have male hitting partners. These women hit against men in practice in order to build power and to be able to take their games to another level. I have seen the serve speeds of some of these men and I have seen where some of their serves landed. I have also seen people like Azarenka, Serena and Venus take serves that are coming at over 100MPH and send it back with interest.

    So the next time we have this conversation about who is better, perhaps we should also look at the fact that the men should be glad that some of these women are playing against other women and not against some of what passes for professional athletes on the men’s side.

    1. eisen
      eisen March 21, 2013 at 6:10 pm |

      So you are saying that just because Sharapova whipped a 17 year old junior player’s butt in practice court…the men in ATP tour should be glad none of them are on the men’s tour?? Well the WTA players should also be very glad that they don’t have to slug it out in best of 5 sets at the Slams!!

  35. Yevgeny
    Yevgeny March 21, 2013 at 8:12 am |

    Well, I won’t be dragged into an about semantics. And you’re contradicting yourself by saying that I’m wrong about what makes quality tennis because it’s a matter of opinion. I’m just saying that your comparisons are bad. Pick and choose what you will from that statement, and if you’re incensed I criticized your article, so be it. Peace.

  36. jerry white
    jerry white March 21, 2013 at 8:56 am |

    Embarrassed by my fellow men supporting career shortening three of five play. I used to think we were as smart as the women.

    1. Victor
      Victor March 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm |

      I totally agree with that. The men should abandon this punishing tradition at the Slams and adopt the WTA model, which has the ideal notion that preserving its players are paramount above anything. Oh, and they get equal pay!

      We shouldn’t scorn the WTA for equal pay. We need to applaud them for being smart in the way it’s handled business at Slams.

  37. eisen
    eisen March 21, 2013 at 6:17 pm |

    The ATP always has been lucky to blessed with very good rivalries Federer – Nadal, Sampras – Agassi, Borg – McEnroe, McEnroe – Lendl, Djokovic – Murray, Djokovic – Nadal which catches the viewers attention. The WTA is yet to find one in this decade. All we can think of is Navratilova – Evert, Graf – Seles, Graf – Williams, Williams – Williams.

  38. Jim
    Jim March 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm |

    So here we have a bunch of feminists crying because some analysts observed what we already know: Men’s tennis is of better quality than women’s tennis. No matter how much you whine about it, it doesn’t change the fact that women’s tennis is boring to watch and it’s reflected on how much money the league brings in compared to the ATP. And yes, any man who’s played professional tennis would mop the floor against any top women players. The fact you’re trying to attack and censor other people’s opinions about that just makes you look foolish. If the WTA was as exciting to watch as the ATP, then more people would go pay to watch it. If you’re upset about the WTA not being respected, put a superior quality product on the court and people will pay to see it. But complaining about how men are born with superior strength and how it isn’t fair just shows your lack of sportsmanship.

    1. northernboy
      northernboy March 25, 2013 at 7:22 pm |

      Clearly the fact that you have all these people in here saying they are actually fans of the women’s game disproves your assertion that ‘women’s tennis is boring to watch’ is a ‘fact’. Learn the difference between fact and personal opinion.

      No one is trying to CENSOR anyone – to censor means to prevent someone from speaking. Everyone has the right to free speech, but no one is immune from criticism of said speech.

      Someone needs an remedial English lesson..

  39. Omair
    Omair March 22, 2013 at 1:31 am |

    Thanks Amy for stepping up and writing down. Hats off to you on this effort.

    This really shows the double standards being followed by Media persons. The Serena Nadal comparison is so true, and other things as well.

    Plus I have never seen media complain when men grunt and whine but when women do it, it is an issue.

    I compiled the results of ATP and WTA top 3 players and compared them to see whose results have been more consistent. I am done with 2 articles (Sharapova vs Murray and Azarenka vs Federer) I am in the process of joting down the final article which will be Djokovic vs Serena and conclude the series of articles. Here goes the link of the two articles.
    http://www.womenstennisblog.com/2013/03/08/who-was-more-consistent-over-the-last-12-months-sharapova-or-murray/
    http://www.womenstennisblog.com/2013/03/18/victoria-azarenka-vs-roger-federer-who-was-better-in-the-last-12-months/

    Thanks again Amy for stepping up.

  40. IdaT
    IdaT March 22, 2013 at 5:20 am |

    The Nadal/Serena deal is not really the same thing. The womens tour beneath Serena is weak. It is just made more obvious when Serena plays. As for Nadal… since when is his going F-W-W on clay a big deal? No fellow top player competed in those events. It was like he was against the junior league. As for IW.. well, once again he benefitted from a good draw. He didn’t play Djoker or Murray. He played an ailing Fed. He got a walkover, and he got a day off between his QF and SF whereas Delpo played Murray, Djoker, and Nadal on three consecutives day! Had Delpo not been worn out, he would have won. And BTW, many media said the same thing about Serena when she came back – that tennis was better for it.

    1. Max
      Max March 22, 2013 at 6:28 am |

      Nadal destroyed Ferrer 6-0 6-2 and defeated Berdych on his best surface.
      If they’e not top players, who really is?

      The ATP beneath Nadal is really weak if he can crush a top 5 player right off the bat.

  41. IdaT
    IdaT March 22, 2013 at 5:24 am |

    Agree that it was poor timing for both womens matches to have walkovers on the same day that an ailing Fed chose to play. Stosur didn’t deserve the negativity since she rarely does that. But Azarenka has a habit of it. That’s the problem with ‘crying wolf’ is that nobody believes you when you really do have a problem (Azarenka’s ankle).

  42. IdaT
    IdaT March 22, 2013 at 5:26 am |

    As for the questionable MTOs. Both tours have some individuals who use them for gamesmanship. But I don’t see the media necessarily giving the men a pass. Granted Azarenka got grilled for hers, but she deserved it because she basically admitted to lying about why she took the MTO. She has no one but herself to blame for getting called out on it. Now, on the mens side, I wish players like Nadal would get more grief about his doing it.

  43. IdaT
    IdaT March 22, 2013 at 5:35 am |

    Even as a women, I’ve always preferred mens tennis, especially today. I did enjoy womens tennis back in the day of Evert, Navratilova, Seles, Graf. But today? No way. Outside of Serena, most of the women can’t hold serve and it’s just break after break after break. Soooo boring! That rarely happens on the mens tour. I am starting to get somewhat down on tennis in general because of how slow the surfaces are and how the game is just monotonous rallies. That 6-hour AO final between Djoker and Nadal was mens tennis at its worst. Mind-numbingly boring. When Fed leaves, the game will truly suffer.

    1. Max
      Max March 22, 2013 at 6:25 am |

      Break after break is boring but hold to love after hold to love isn’t?

  44. Trevor
    Trevor March 22, 2013 at 8:59 am |

    Chiming in on the equal pay issue: I am baffled by arguments that the WTA or ATP players deserve more or less money because of hours spent on the court or because of quality of play. As if professional sport is some hourly wage job. Professional athletes get paid by the revenue they bring as entertainment. The market decides the pay; ask any NBA, MLB, or NFL player.

    Can anyone explain why these arguments hold water in the tennis world?

  45. Jo
    Jo March 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |

    Well said! Too much negativity around wta and it won’t make tennis better. People should start to realize thus, they work as hard as the men

  46. Natural Therapies Melbourne
    Natural Therapies Melbourne March 24, 2013 at 10:45 pm |

    It is really hard to cope up with the competition when you have injury. Specially in high level competition.

  47. Is Serena Williams more consistent than Novak Djokovic? | Serena Williams

    […] I started the series to compare the two tours, since media has grown biased towards the WTA: an ATP player playing through injury is appreciated for his commitment to tennis, but a WTA player playing through injury is criticized for poor tennis, grunting is never an issue on the ATP, while it's constantly being talked about on the WTA, questions have been raised regarding the poor quality of WTA. These and a lot of other things have been said about the WTA. Amy Fetherolf, co-founder of "The Changeover", recently wrote a piece about this biased media attitude. […]

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