The woman, unlike the men, cannot have it all: career, family, a semblance of normal life.
WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND—Of the top 10 men’s tennis players on the planet, seven are married, one is divorced and four are fathers.
Roger Federer is sire to two sets of twins with his ex-player spouse.
Andy Murray’s prissy — except when mouthing obscenities — wife wheels the couple’s five-month-old daughter Sophia onto the grounds of the All England Club, where prams are firmly frowned upon, and everybody oohs and coos.
Number of top 10 women tennis players who have kids: Zero.
Number of top 10 women tennis players who are married: Zero.
Number of top 10 women tennis players who schlep their families lock, stock and barrel around the ladies tour circuit — where many spend up to 48 weeks a year, longest season in professional sports — to recreate that cozy domestic feeling of hearth and home: Zero.
And it’s not because the females are still young; can easily put off the rites of passage to which most people still aspire. Just five players under 27 reached the second week at Wimbledon. All four of the semi-finalists were over 28. Serena and Venus Williams are in their mid-30s.
And, oh yeah, number of men whose looks, grooming and glamour quotient are inextricably tied to endorsement deals: Zero.
They lead far, far different lives, the men and the women of elite tennis. Certainly lonelier lives for females because camaraderie in the ladies’ locker room is scant. Maria Sharapova — who won’t be spotted around any WTA locker room for the next two years unless her drug ban is overturned on appeal — famously described that particular harem as her “least favourite place in the world.”
Yet the men all claim different, professing to bond as competitors inside their inner domain, yukking it up, even the most legendary approachable for the cocksure younger set.
“It’s been that way after spending one year on tour,” Canada’s Milos Raonic was saying the other day. “When you talk about guys in the locker room, considering how many days we see each other in locker rooms, other people are more in awe of being that close to these greatest players of all-time than you are. For us, you become desensitized to it pretty quickly.’’
There’s no awe betwixt females, except possibly towards Serena, and she’s been raised too well to swan it over any of the girls-to-women.
The woman, unlike the men, cannot have it all: career, family, a semblance of normal life, although there’s nothing normal about recreating a cozy, stabilizing domicile every week or so, in far-flung places. But they have spouses and retinues to attend to the details.
It’s probably the same for most working women with spouses and kids, overwhelmed by the dueling demands of day-to-day existence. But tennis players are endlessly on the move, required to make life-defining either/or choices if they want to remain competitive, especially at top-hierarchy level. Kim Clijsters came back from motherhood to scoop two more Grand Slam titles but that feat was of singular rarity. The Williams sisters have busy off-court enterprises in fashion line and charitable endeavours but they don’t play full seasons either, focusing on the majors and a few favourite tournaments — for which they’ve been endlessly criticized.
The demands of the sport are exactly the same for men and women. Except, of course, females don’t play five-set matches, an issue which again reared its tiresome head following the back-to-back semifinal duds on Thursday, distaff side of SW19.
“I think we deserve equal prize money, yeah absolutely,” Serena iterated for the umpteenth time.
Wimbledon has been paying men and women equal prize money for the last nine years. But tickets to the men’s finals are more expensive.
Narrowing her eyes at the journalist who posed the question, Serena served up a wicked winner: “I mean, if you happen to write a short article, you think you don’t deserve equal pay?”
Sacrifices made are profoundly not equal between males and females of the elite dimension.
Ponder that, maybe, when Serena takes on Angelique Kerber, 28, in Saturday’s final, the German opponent who denied Williams winner’s laurels at the Australian Open in January, Serena 0-for-2 at Slams in 2016, so apparently a loser, which irritates her no end.
Perceptions — they annoy Serena too, as if all this glory has come without a personal cost.
“I would like to see people — the public, the press, other athletes in general — just realize and respect women for who they are and what we are and what we do.
“You know, I’ve been working at this since I was three years old. Actually, maybe younger, because I have a picture where I’m in a stroller. I think Venus is actually pushing me, and we’re on the tennis court.
“Basically, my whole life I’ve being doing this. I haven’t had a life.”
And what was the subject lighting up Twitter on the very day Serena — No. 1 in the world — nailed down her ninth Wimbledon final? Her nipples. Her protruding nipples visible through the Wimbledon white dress.
Nobody had the guts to ask her about that.
Instead, an ingratiating journalist queried Serena about going down in history as one of the greatest female athletes of all-time.
“I prefer ‘One of the greatest athletes of all-time.’ ’’
Game, set, match.
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