WIMBLEDON, England — Some thoughts on a week full of unexpected results, outbursts, and debate from the leafy confines of the All England Club.
Parity or parody: We should have known something was in the air at Wimbledon on the first day of the tournament when Ernests Gulbis pulled off a startling upset over Tomas Berdych in straight sets. But no one was truly prepared for what Lukas Rosol was able to do against Rafael Nadal, playing a mindless (in a good way) brand of all-out aggressive tennis in order to knock out the world No. 2 in the second round. Then, less than 24 hours later, we saw Radek Stepanek take a set off Novak Djokovic before eventually succumbing and then Julien Benneteau takes the first two sets off Roger Federer and comes within two points of winning the match before Roger raised his level and snuffed out the upset. Needless to say, the ATP has gotten a glimpse into what life might look like with just a smidge of parity, and it’s led to the most entertaining 24 hours at a Slam that I can remember in recent years.
More signs of WTA stability: It’s still too early to say, but once again you have to like the stability at the top in the women’s game. Through five days of play the five of the top six seeds are still in and generally unbothered (though Tsvetana Pironkova gave Maria Sharapova a bit of a scare before Maria locked it down to drop a 6-0 final set on her). The one seed who did fall, Samantha Stosur, was no surprise given her grass court record. Sure, it’s meant a less eventful week so far, but no one wants an series of early flameouts these days. Let’s see the best players go at in on the biggest of stages.
Ivo on blast: Ivo Karlovic is a conspiracy theorist. In his four set loss to Andy Murray in the second round, Karlovic was called for 11 foot faults. After the match, Karlovic turned conspiracy theorist, alleging that the entire country of England wants Andy Murray to win so much that the officials targeted him. Nevermind the fact that Murray isn’t English, but here’s Karlovic’s rant. “It was a little bit outrageous. In my whole life, ever since I was eight years old, whole life I didn’t do this many foot‑fault. It was like 11. It was never called when it was like 30‑Love or 40‑Love. It was always when it was 30‑All or in a tiebreak. I mean, what is this? Is it Davis Cup or is it Wimbledon? After this match, the whole credibility of this tournament went down for me…. So it was outrageous, outrageous. It’s Wimbledon, Centre Court, and they do this. I mean, this is BS. I feel cheated. On a Grand Slam, Centre Court, I don’t know what to say….Right now I’m angry about it, little bit pissed, because I don’t expect it here. Even though it is against English guy who they always want to win, but I don’t expect it here.”
So Karlovic thinks that the umpiring crew, comprised of officials from all over the globe (read: not all British) conspired to give the hometown boy an edge by calling foot-faults. This is at least the second charge made by an ATP player this year calling out an official for bias. In Miami, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga claimed the officials were biased for Nadal in their quarterfinal clash. The tournaments and ATP need to take a hard look at this. In no other sport would these sorts of comments go unnoticed and unpunished. They’re a heck of a lot more detrimental to the sport than David Nalbandian kicking a sponsor board and injuring a linesman.
Roof issues: After a light rain shower in the morning, which was more drizzle than rain, it was a perfectly gorgeous day today in Southwest London. So obviously the roof was closed over Centre Court for the entire day’s play. On Thursday there was no rain but the roof was closed after the fourth set of the Nadal-Rosol match in order to make use of the lights. And earlier in the week, when rain suspended a significant number of matches, the roof never closed. I’m starting to question my understanding of what a roof is for.
Equal prize money: By now most people have heard about this week’s (every week’s?) kerfuffle about equal prize money. Newly elected member of the ATP Player Council Gilles Simon decided to share his thoughts on the issue of men and women receiving equal prize money at the Slams and, to put it simply, all hell broke loose.
“It’s a difficult topic,” Simon explained to reporters. “But it was just about the entertainment. If you just watch how it is working in every other, like, sport, but even for the singers, for everything, you’re just paid by the public directly. My point was that I have the feeling that men’s tennis is actually more interesting than women’s tennis. As in any business or anything, you just have to be paid just about that. It’s not because we play five sets and they are playing three.”
The women, including Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have effectively rolled their eyes, with Sharapova throwing in snide (but true) dig at Simon. “I’m sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than his,” she quipped.
But through all the quotes that have been thrown around, allegations that the men are being sexist, the women are overpaid, numbers, revenue, market factors, etc., I keep returning to one simple question: in this day and age, why in the world are we even talking about this? All four Slams now pay out equal prize money and they chose to do so not because of market factors or empirical entertainment value or numbers. They did simply because it was the right thing to do. Here’s what the All England Club said in 2007 when they finally relented and offered the women equal prize money.
“We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognises the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and to Wimbledon,” said Tim Phillips, chairman of the AELTC. “We hope it will also encourage girls who want a career in sport to choose tennis as their best option. In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon.”
See? Even the stodgiest traditionalists said this wasn’t about the market. This was about what was right. It was an investment in the future and the sport. It sends an important message to both men and women around the world that at least in our tiny little tennis world, men and women get an equal seat at the table. Show me another sport where that sort of balance has been achieved. You don’t have NBA games going on simultaneously with WNBA games, or joint major PGA and LPGA events. The dual nature of our sport is what makes it unique and thereby special.
Equal prize money exists because it’s the right thing to do. Players can talk about numbers until they’re blue in the face (and to date, no one’s actually been able to offer hard numbers for analysis anyway, but that’s beside the point). The Slams can do it, they’ve said they want to do it, and they’re doing it. Can you imagine the uproar if they were to suddenly change their minds and say “Yeah, you know that whole equality and inspiring young girls thing? Nah, show us the money.” Never going to happen, never going to change. So let’s save our energy for the battles that are worth fighting and not relive the ones that have been settled.