For years, women’s tennis has laboured under accusations of being boring. And indeed, for those of us who grew up watching Martina Navratilova win Wimbledon every year forever, pulverising every opponent en route to the final, it was. But at this year’s Australian Open, the women are biting back, and you call them boring at your peril.
Firstly, it has been the men’s tennis which has been more uncompetitive. Rafael Nadal’s first-round match against Marcos Daniel was probably the most extreme example: Daniel retired hurt in the second set, trailing 6-0, 5-0. That’s not a scoreline, that’s an anxiety dream. Walking out into a huge stadium and failing to win a single game must rank up there with realising that you are about to sing an aria, and you don’t know the words, or the tune. Oh, and you’re naked.
But in the women’s draw, Venus Williams took her role as a crowd-entertainer very seriously. She turned up for each match wearing an increasing baffling outfit, including one yellow lattice-work number which made her look like a tall, slender, demented maypole, and was apparently inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Had she accessorised it with a giant hat in the shape of a white rabbit, she could have looked no quirkier. When she pulled out with an injury yesterday, the tennis fans may have been disappointed, but the fashion police were probably glad of the rest.
Meanwhile, Kim Clijsters bit back when she found out that Todd Woodbridge had been texting another player, saying he thought Clijsters was pregnant. There is a long, ignoble history of male commentators treating female players not as sportswomen but as potential dates – how they play is decidedly second to whether they’re hot or not.
Clijsters responded during a post-match interview, quoting his crass remarks to the crowd. It was the perfect riposte – no crying, no demanding people be nicer about her, no pointing out that as one of the world’s top athletes, she doesn’t look remotely pregnant. She laughed throughout their exchange, and stuck the knife into him on his home turf. She’s not only more interesting than most of the players in the men’s drawer, she also has the potential to become the world’s smiliest assassin.
And world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has been taking no prisoners either. She had heard that the media had called her press conferences boring, and were complaining that her answers were always the same. Not unreasonably, she reminded the room that since she was always asked the same questions, her answers were unlikely to change.
She has touched upon the problem with coverage of women’s sport, and especially tennis. The media want pictures of these girls looking cute, and they aren’t really interested in much else. They trot out the same tired questions every day, then complain when a player gives the same tired answers. Wozniacki is hardly going to say that her opponent played like a block of wood, or that the tournament is a shambles – she has to work with these people every day. And players who do say something unpolitic (usually Serena Williams) are promptly demonised by the very journalists who complain they’re boring when they answer diplomatically.
So without pausing, Wozniacki rattled through the answers to the trite questions she knew they were bound to ask: how did she feel about the match, was she happy to be through to the next round, what did she need to do to win the tournament, and so on. Then she asked for more interesting questions, and spoke for several minutes about cricket, global warming, Kenny Dalglish, her possible future as a wife and mother, and her skills as a pianist. Her press conference finished with cheers from the assembled hacks. So don’t call these women boring. Not only could they beat you at tennis, but they might just beat you at your own game, too.