As a WTA fan, I found the scheduling last week at the Citi Open a little bit, well, lacking. You see, three years ago, a second-year WTA International event was added to the field in Washington, DC along with the ATP 500 event that has been there for decades–albeit not always as a 500.
The men’s event is one step above the WTA even in prestige, and quite a bit higher when it comes to prize money, so it makes sense that the ATP would be given preference occasionally–especially when it’s taken into account that the women’s event is not a part of the U.S. Open Series, and therefore the men get the ESPN times.
Still, it’s apparent when looking at the scheduling that the women in DC aren’t just second-class citizens; they’re a complete afterthought.
Ben Rothenberg did a great piece on this last year, “Men and Women Share Tournament, but Not Main Stage.” Some excerpts:
Donald Dell, a Hall of Fame tennis agent and a group president of Lagardère Unlimited, a sports management firm that puts on the Citi Open, said in an interview last year that he did not view it as a typical combined event.
‘I don’t say it’s a combined event; I say it’s two events playing in the same week,’ Dell said, adding that the women’s event was added to the men’s in 2012 to compensate for the hit the men’s field would take because of the concurrently run London Olympics. In 2011, the women’s event took place in College Park, Md.
‘A combined event connotes — which I think is unfair to the men — like we’re an equal-prize-money tournament,’ Dell said. ‘We’re not. And there’s no sense in trying to say that.’
Dell flew to Miami to meet with the ATP Player Council before the 2012 event to make certain the ATP knew that there was no intention to encroach on the men’s event by bringing in the women. Dell also met with Stacey Allaster, the chief executive of the WTA, to discuss the arrangement, and the WTA signed off on it.
A few thoughts: First of all, it’s “unfair to the men” to refer to this as a combined event?! Since when does the phrase “combined event” mean equal prize money? To what lengths do we need to go to protect the fragile male egos? (Please don’t answer that.)
As Rothenberg points out in his piece, there are many combined tournaments that have unequal statuses for the men and women, but none of them are as heavily tilted towards one gender as the Citi Open. For the most part, the most high-profile matches get the best courts.
But this year in DC, only two WTA matches were streamed, and most days featured only one WTA match on the Stadium court, slated at 1:45, well before the 4:00 window for the men. This often left a weird lull in the day for the few fans that did show up early.
Because of this, Christina McHale vs. Sloane Stephens was pushed to the third-biggest court, Kurumi Nara played her first match in Stadium in the final, and Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ekaterina Makarova played their semifinal at about 9:30 at night. Time and time again, men’s doubles and far inferior men’s matches were given preference over the women.
It’s just frustrating that the WTA would sign off on a deal that was so, well, insulting to its players. It’s totally a “we’re happy to be here, don’t worry, we won’t get in the way” deal, and not a “we have valuable product too and deserve respect” deal.
Anyways, now that I’m done airing my complaints, I will say that I loved having the women at this tournament. Combined events are just such a win for the fans and journalists.
So, I wanted to share a few tidbits and observations from my time at the Citi Open before we all completely move on to the Rogers Cup. (Wait, what’s that you say? You already have moved on? LALALALALA I can’t hear youuu.)
Here are some quotes and takeaways form a few one-on-one conversations and/or press conferences with the WTA stars:
I already posted my one-on-one with Rogers, so I won’t rehash all of that. But one quote I left out of that write-up was her answer to my question about what she took from seeing other girls around her age–including Genie Bouchard–succeed.
“It inspires you just a bit to see that you’re just as close. It kind-of pushes you in a way, and motivates you.”
Welp, that motivation surely came in handy in her second match at the Rogers Cup. Thanks, Genie!
I must say, I find it very interesting that she seems to be having all of this success right after her split with the USTA.
Also, when you look back at Rogers’ career so far, it’s very clear that she’s used to doing things the hard way. Nothing has been given to the 21-year-old, and she certainly hasn’t let her struggles out of the gate take away her confidence.
— Brett Haber (@BrettHaber) August 6, 2014
She’ll be ranked at least No 86 after the Rogers Cup.
(And never forget, we’re trendsetters over here at The Changeover.)
— Trendinalia Canada (@trendinaliaCA) August 6, 2014
King is always great to talk to. I had a nice chat with her last year at Charleston, which I recommend you read if you haven’t already. She was incredibly open about her career, her struggles, and her rocky relationship with her father.
This year I spoke with her, along with a small group of reporters, at the Citi Open after her second-round win over Christina McHale. She had already withdrawn from doubles due to pain in her right hip, and would go on to withdraw from her quarterfinal match against Svetlana Kuznetsova the next day. (McHale might want to take a good look in the mirror and figure out how she lost that match!)
Here’s what I learned:
King has split with Alejandro Dulko, who she just started working with a year ago. She is currently coachless, though she thinks her former coach Tarik Benhabiles will join her at the U.S. Open. She likes going at it solo, though.
I think it’s good for me as well, I think it’s good for every player to do it on her own, in a way you have less stress, everything is your choice, if you practice, or if you don’t want to go practice. Having the responsibility by yourself gives you more motivation.
I asked her whether she was working with the USTA, and this was her answer:
I’m working with the fitness guys at the USTA, but not coaching wise. Right now they have a really good thing going, with Lauren Davis, Christina McHale, Madison Keys, and Grace Min…I wouldn’t want to mess it up for them. The way they have it, with one coach and two players, is a really good system.
I think if I asked they would accommodate me. But I think that I’m not at the point in my career that I feel like I need to have someone all the time, I’m happy with what I’m doing.
This year, the 25-year-old has made two semifinals and had three top-50 wins, over Christina McHale, Sara Errani and Bouchard. She’s played well when healthy, but hasn’t been healthy too often. It will be interesting to see if she what the rest of the year brings.
Kurumi Nara was just a revelation to me this tournament. Her game is very crafty and surprisingly powerful, and she just never gives up. She lost the first *eight* games of her semifinal against Marina Erakovic, and she was able to come back and win the match. She also looked completely overwhelmed in the first set and a half against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final, but was able to pick herself back up.
In press, said that everything was just stuck in the first set against Erakovic. “I was very panicked, I didn’t know how to play tennis.” However, after a talk with her coach and some deep breaths, she was able to turn things around. “I tried to calm down and relax.”
Nara is very close to being a seed at the U.S. Open, which is incredible considering that she qualified and made her top 100 debut at the tournament last year.
Her English isn’t the best (albeit it’s infinitely better than my Japanese), but she was still a lot of fun in press. I learned that she watches YouTube videos of other short players –particularly Justine Henin and Simona Halep–to help with her game, and that she is friends with and an admirer of the great Kimiko Date Krumm.
Keep an eye on her, you guys.
And this one too. :) "Sometimes you look funny when you r happy" pic.twitter.com/7b7BsR7P2S
— Christopher Levy (@tennis_shots) August 4, 2014
Svetlana Kuznetsova winning this tournament in dramatic fashion was, undoubtedly, a fantastic thing for the Citi Open.
As much as I complained about the treatment and coverage at the start of this post, the truth is that the first three incarnations of this WTA tournament have not been very memorable. All of the Americans crash out early, as do the big seeds, and suddenly Magdalena Rybarikova wins two years in a row.
I love Rybarikova and think she’s a blast to watch, but since she doesn’t do anything outside of the Citi Open, she doesn’t really move the needle outside of Slovakia.
While it would have certainly helped if Bouchard had played, or if Sloane Stephens had been able to win some matches, Kuznetsova winning in an entertaining and memorable three-set final is a big win for the Citi Open.
I’m saving a lot of Sveta quotes for a piece I’m working on, but I will say that she actually seems fit and focused for real this time. When she can get out of her own way (that’s a big “when”), she’s such a treat to watch.
Also? She’s a gem. From her post-win presser:
My friends ask me where I was going to, and I said I was going to Toronto, and they said, ‘No, you’re going to Montreal.” It’s good I know this before I buy the ticket.
Stay with us, Sveta. Forever.
(There are some more thoughts on the women at the Citi Open in this post from earlier in the week.)