Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Looking at the U.S. Open From a Woman’s Point of View

Posted on September 09, 2009 by JA Allen

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

JA’s Commentary about Women’s Tennis

You want to hear the truth, don’t you?  You don’t want somebody to pull the wool over your eyes or lead you down the garden path? So, that is what I am going to do—tell you the honest-to-God, unvarnished truth.

The bottom line is that often being a woman sucks—which is perhaps the most precise word to use in this circumstance even with its unfavorable historical connotations. Frankly, it emphasizes the cold hard realities of being a woman in this day and age—in any day and age.

Women scramble to reach this detrimental rung on the ladder of life, finding that inevitably they must take one step more or laugh one decibel louder or be a smidge brighter because being number two means you must try harder and bounce back faster—if you wish to compete and be taken seriously.

A case in point—this week the women’s matches at the U.S. Open have been, for the most part, totally more engaging than the men’s matches.  The women have generated more excitement and more controversy.  Because of this, the world has tuned in to watch them.

Motherhood vs. Sainthood…

Tennis commentators are the worst violators.  Some writers have also latched onto the clichéd concept that by having a child—as in childbirth—and then returning to play tennis equals returning from the brink of death or worse; and it makes the woman worthy of enshrinement as a saint.

Kim Clijsters

Kim Clijsters

Forgive me, but childbearing is merely a medical condition from which most survive and thrive.  It is not a death sentence on the life of an athlete unless the athlete allows it to be.  Yes, Kim Clijsters is having a remarkable comeback.  Yes, it is unexpected that she would do so well so quickly.

But, please, her comeback is not remarkable because she is a mother.  She got herself back in shape and she worked hard. She had a backpack filled with talent when she decided to retire. She is only 25.  The nauseating over-fawning about her motherhood status is frankly insulting.  It smacks of condescension.

Give Clijsters credit for accomplishing what she has based on her drive, her determination, her God-give talent and quit doling out her accolades accompanied by strains of motherhood.  It amounts to nothing more than second-rate drivel.

Oh Melanie – the fair young maiden!

Yes, it is wonderful seeing all the new young talent emerging at the U.S. Open. Melanie Oudin from the United States is a breath of fresh air in the women’s game.  But, please, give the youngster a chance to grow into her status.

Melanie Oudin

Melanie Oudin

The rush to out-gush each other over the air or in print is becoming a saccharine overdose that is heaping a truck load of expectation on her young and very vulnerable shoulders

Just as quickly as the press and fans gallop to your side when you are winning, they just as quickly desert you when you lose.  The crush of such defeat can kill a career.

I recall how highly the press touted the young Serbian ladies, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, just a year ago.  Where are they now?  The young ladies are now considered refuse with the press barely acknowledging their existence.  Dropped like hot potatoes because they are no longer winning.

I even heard Jim Courier comment that Ivanovic’s game fell off once she stopped dating Fernando Verdasco.  If that is not a sexist remark than I have never heard one! Please!

I sense demise and destructive disappointment in the teenager’s future.  Her rocket rise in the tournament with all the subsequent media attention would have to alter her sense of stability. The fans have pushed her so far and the expectations are so great, her failure and its fallout could be horrific.

Age before beauty, especially in St. Petersburg…

We have all lived through those ground-breaking moments on the women’s tour when Monica Seles burst on the scene or when a long-legged Venus Williams took the tennis world by storm.

Watching a talent be born and blossom is exhilarating.

But I noted a spate of high-handed hypocrisy when commentators talked about the fate of seasoned pros who, according to the media, were on their last leg—falling to the newcomers with dispatch.  I find the floundering fortunes of the Russian aristocracy in women’s tennis distressing.

Dinara Safina

Dinara Safina

Number one ranked Russian Dinara Safina fell to teenager Petra Kvitova of Czechoslovakia who then fell to Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium—another 18-year old sensation bursting onto the scene.  Petra Kvitova had taken out Russian Alisa Kleybanova prior to dispatching Safina.

Teenage wunderkind and unseeded Melanie Oudin wiped out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; then eliminated No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva whom some predicted would win the U.S. Open this year.

Oudin went on from there to take out Maria Sharapova, by no means a slouch on the court, and then followed that up by taking out Nadia Petrova seeded No. 13—all in rigorous three-setters.  Alone, Oudin has sent four Russian women packing, three of them seeded in this tournament.

Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark took out No. 6 seeded Russian and former title-holder Svetlana Kuznetsova in round four.  Wozniacki next meets Oudin in a quarterfinal battle of the teenager wonders.

Vera Zvonareva appeared destined to win but failed badly with the match seemingly in hand.  She fell to Italian Flavia Pennetta who is also having the tournament of her life.

Zvonareva’s match paints a perfect picture of how the Russian women are losing.  They go up early, dominating only to fall apart in the end, losing to youngsters who should not yet be beating them.

It is a mesmerizing phenomenon of Russian psyche unfolding here, as one after another they scale the heights, face the same onslaught of brash courage and determination and fold under pressure.

Of the 15 Russian women in the draw only three made it out of round three and none made it into the quarterfinals.  This is a far bigger stunner than the fact no American men made it into the quarters.  The Russian women have been the foundation of women’s tennis for years.

The game has certainly embraced all nationalities.  It has become universal.  But we owe a debt of gratitude to the seasoned pros who worked hard to get the game to its present level.  They sacrificed to play tennis.  These ladies deserve our respect and we can at least show some tact and diplomacy while applauding their efforts.

Come On!!

JA Allen is a regular contributor to Sports Then and Now.

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