Unfortunately, the tennis news from yesterday wasn’t about the impressive wins at Indian Wells by Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka. Instead, it was about the egregious comments made by tournament chief Ray Moore. Yes, it’s been that kind of year in tennis.
By now, we know what Moore said. And it’s something for a guy in that position you cannot say. Specifically, the part about “If I’m the WTA I’m getting on my knees to thank God that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were born.”
The intent was right, the delivery was 100% wrong. And seeing the firestorm everywhere, he’s probably going to lose his job over it.
Serena, Vika, Billie Jean, the WTA, etc, were all correct to take offense to the language he used. But let’s be honest, he’s right in a way.
THE ENTIRE TENNIS COMMUNITY IS RIDING THE COATTAILS OF FEDERER AND NADAL.
The ATP of course is. The WTA is, too. The Slams are, the Masters, the Challengers and hell, even this blog are all beneficiaries of Federer/Nadal. So we should all be thankful for the fact we got those two plus in recent years Novak Djokovic who has emerged as a serious threat to their legendary status.
As we say, it’s a Golden Age with three men having double digit Slams.
Without Roger and Rafa, who knows if Larry Ellison would have invested in Indian Wells, or there would be as many tournaments as there are now or even if as many would be available on TV.
Tennis, like golf which benefited from the “Tiger Effect” or the NBA reaped the reward of Michael Jordan, is a star-driven sport. So having them around undeniably helps everyone in tennis (well, except their opponents, I guess).
So Moore’s comment on the topic wasn’t completely off base, he just shouldn’t have it the way did using those sexist remarks.
Of course the WTA does have, as Moore also said, their own superstars in Serena and Maria Sharapova. So I wouldn’t say they desperately needed Roger/Rafa the last 10 years or so, but having them does add to their bottom line.
Moore then got into further trouble discussing the future of the WTA, something I’ve also expressed concern about. Post Serena/Sharapova, which could come as early as the end of next year I think, there’s no one ready to carry the torch. That’s the consensus. But Moore pointed to two “attractive” players in Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard instead of say a Simona Halep or a Madison Keys who are more obvious choices based on results. Uh oh.
While he backtracked on that comment, we all know what he was saying, and again he’s right. But again because of his position he can’t say those kinds of things.
In this world sex sells. Everyone knows it. Moore knows it. The WTA knows it and the players do too. And look at the endorsements numbers, it’s Serena, Sharapova and then Caroline Wozniacki? Why is Wozniacki in there? Hmmm. Do I really need to get into this? Sadly, that’s just how it more or less is in women’s sport: Appearance often trumps accomplishment.
So Moore has alienated himself from half the pro players, specifically the WTA and he’s going to either have to resign or get let go. It’s that simple. But if he does lose his job, maybe he can work for the men’s tour. I’m sure they’d welcome him with open arms (I’m joking… maybe). And that’s because of what Djokovic said.
First, I have to credit Djokovic for saying something that probably on a lot of players the ATP think but don’t dare discuss in public (Moore didn’t say it outright, but he implied it). And that is that the men should get more of the prize share than the women. And I will be very, very interested to hear in the coming days how Djokovic’s contemporaries like Federer, Nadal and Murray handle that question in Miami. I’m sure the ATP is sending around PR points as I write, maybe readying for battle or taking the PC position.
And I agree with Djokovic because right now men’s tennis has a much bigger following than the women’s game. There’s no debate. It’s not close. Just reading the stories, seeing the comments, the overall buzz factor and watching on TV (more empties at women’s matches than men’s), it’s men’s tennis.
And the ATP tour has more total prize money than the WTA. Why? Because the market says so. You are what your can get and right now men’s tennis gets more because they are the better, more appealing product. And that’s in large part thanks to Federer and Nadal.
Just look at Indian Wells, for example. The women had the first Wednesday to all to themselves, but once the men’s tournament began see what happened to the division of matches on Stadium 1 and Stadium 2. You would assume they’d be equally divided between WTA and ATP, right? Wrong!
2016 Indian Wells Matches on Stadium 1 and 2
Thursday: 6 men, 3 women
Friday: 7 men, 4 women
Saturday: 7 men, 4 women
Sunday: 7 men, 4 women
Over the first four days of Indian Wells when both draws were playing the men had 27 matches on the big two show courts, the women had 15. Does that sound equal? No. And remember the men’s seeds didn’t even start play until Saturday!
So why did that happen?
If it’s TV contractual thing, then how come the men have the better TV deal? Who’s fooling who here?
That all said, as I read somewhere or saw a headline, the pendulum will swing back in favor of the women’s tour. Just last summer Serena was the talk of sporting world – and that’s why US Open women’s final sold out – and down the road maybe we’ll see the interest shift to women’s game like it was in the late 90s when Serena and Venus were emerging and there was Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Anna Kournikova, etc.
Even then, this debate will never stop. And that’s a good thing.
As for the sport, I just hope we can move on and just have a controversy-free tournament. Miami, you listening?
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