Tuesday, August 29, 2006

When the Chakvetadzes ruin it for the Davenports

I happened to be in the home of a stranger (it was a craigslist thing) who was watching the start of Davenport's first round US Open match yesterday. Seeing that she was hitting and serving well, I said aloud "wow--seems like her shoulder is better." And the stranger basically said Davenport was never really injured that badly. That she may have felt some pain and just opted, two days before the Open started, to pull out of the final in New Haven last Saturday.
I was shocked by his explanation. I didn't see the match against Henin-Hardenne but I read the coverage. I read Davenport's statements about how wanted to saw her arm off. And she did lose the first set 6-0. I believed her. I still believe her, despite this man's very strong, matter-of-fact assertion.
I believe her because 1) I have seen people tank matches and it doesn't look like that. I have seen people who have been slightly injured give less than their all. And when there is a twinge, the scoreboard doesn't look like it did on Saturday.
And second, I believe Davenport because she is Lindsay Davenport. In this situation I see the recent behaviors of players such as Anna Chakvetadze and Justine Henin-Hardenne as bringing forth a shadow of doubt over the women's tour. Even the incident with Mary Pierce at last year's Open with the multiple back-to-back injury timeouts (all within the rules) in her win over Dementieva in the semis made things on the tour look a little less than legit--to put it mildly. (And perhaps has led to comments such as those by Justin Gimelstob about "drama" and such--not that I am excusing his remarks from the recent and more distant past.)
The tour seems tainted in some way and even those with impeccable on and off court behavior are being dragged into the muck.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Problems at the top

I am sitting in on a sport sociology seminar this semester at a large state school that has a strong DivI athletic program. Almost all the other students are in sport management or sport kinesiology and, as such, have positions as graduate assistants on the university's teams. I think this will make for interesting discussions where people can draw on their current experiences. But I also hope the class, which will be discussing issues such as race, gender, sexuality and sport, will help some of these folks see and/or realize the way they have been thinking about and acting on various constructions of sport and identity. In part because I think it will help the athletes with whom they work currently but also because these students will likely take positions in sport management and administration and thus have the ability to help challenge these hegemonies.
For example, when we went around the room introducing ourselves, one man noted that he worked primarily with the men's tennis team but also sometimes, of late, works with the girls' team too. He seemed to get that after high school boys' sports become men's sports but missed that a similar name change occurs for female athletes as well. Saying girls when referring to women, in this case, is belittling and infantilizing . It immediately informs us of the hierarchy that exists in collegiate sport and reinforces it. Not sure if anyone else caught this very minor moment in the class; but maybe by the end we all will be a little more aware of these moment and their potential ripple effects.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Observations from the Pilot Pen

I went to New Haven yesterday and caught a day of action at the Pilot Pen, the last tournament in the US Open Series. It was a great day. It got a little hot after noon which just meant one opted for seats that perhaps were not as good but in the shade. The Yale Tennis Center is a pretty good facility except that they only have one set of bathrooms and they are at center court which is at one end of the complex. And when you're drinking lots of water to stay hydrated well...you have to plan well.
But the tennis was good. Here's what I saw and thought.
1. Anna Chakvetadze will not be a consistent top ten player. Why? Because she seems to have some issues with the mental game. Chakvetadze was the player who withdrew against Hingis last week at the Roger's Cup in Montreal. It was the match that prompted that entry below about "drama" on the women's tour and Gimmelstob's comments. I didn't doubt the injury the way Gimelstob did and it was taped yesterday but Chakvetadze's behavior in her match against a qualifier was abhorrent. At match point for the qualifier, Chakvetadze went to the chair, said something (I was on the other side and didn't hear) and sat down, putting a towel over her lap. It appeared she was calling for the trainer. There was a significant pause and puzzlement and it seemed some conversation before the chair announced that Chakvetadze was retiring. I don't know if she was told that she couldn't call the trainer and just opted not to go back out and wait for opponent to serve a ball while she stood there.
Anyway it was a crappy thing to do. Not the same way that Henin's withdrawal at Australia was--but in the same vein.
2. Watching the Chakvetadze match ( I arrived late in the second set) I overheard some older men behind me complaining that the match was still going on--some of them had left and come back hoping the second match of the day would have started. "How can you sit here and watch this?" one asked a woman in the group. They felt it was too slow. Grrr....Comments like these baffle me. First, this was, despite the withdrawal, a well-fought match. Second, they hit hard and they constructed points. Maybe these guys want the wham bam point's over ma'am version of tennis that if often played in the men's game. If so just shut up and wait for the next match. And lastly the comment irked me because the Pilot Pen used to be a women's tournament before going mixed. I like co-ed tournaments but I wonder where this one if headed as it continues to grow (according to tournaments organizers). The women's draw is smaller--half the size of the men's. But it's stronger with Henin, Davenport, and Mauresmo all playing. And with Blake being knocked out last night the men's side of things looks pretty ho-hum.
3. Watching Amelie Mauresmo practice in person may just be better than watching her play a match.
4. Arnaud Clement is a bit particular. At first I though Clement's little quirks were endearing. OK so he wants all the ball persons in their proper spot when he serves--Agassi is like that too. But when he condescended to a ball boy for not opening up the folded towel before giving it to Clement to wipe his sweaty face, that crossed the line. Clement went into an exaggerated display of how to open a towel before handing it to him. Ball persons are often, at best, ignored, and at worst, subject to the odd and arrogant behaviors of players. The term "indentured servitude" frequently entered my thoughts as I watched players--men and women--toss their towels and balls back with little regard for who was doing all the fetching.
Oh, and Clement was all pissy about the noise coming from a nearby court where kids' activities were taking place. How is he ever going to survive the cacophony that is the US Open?
5. Pretty girls get all the applause. Tatiana Golovin and Svetlana Kuznetsova played a good (well I didn't see the first 6-0 set) match and it seemed that no one--except me--was rooting for Sveta. I don't hate Golovin and I am glad she has recovered from her ankle injury earlier this season but I wanted to see Kuznetsova have a good tournament going into the Open, the site of her only major to date. So what's the deal? Is it because she doesn't wear a halter dress while playing like Golovin? Because her hair isn't as long? Her demeanor not as "feminine"?
6. When men play 2/3 rather than 3/5 the game is very different. I don't bother showing up to watch until the end of the set because it seems that more often than not the men are just biding time until things get serious at around 4-4.
7. I really like Gael Monfils. I don't know why exactly but I like him. I saw him in person for the first time yesterday and I just liked his on-court presence. His forehand seems a little erratic but he stayed positive the whole time. He jumped around and was lively despite the lack of crowd encouragement (see #8).
8. Small tournaments are a little different. It was very quiet. When the Monfils match was over there was a little polite applause. Even in Center Court the crowd was very staid. This was my first live tournament in a few years and maybe I have been hanging out in hockey rinks a little too much but I still thought that there could have been a little more crowd enthusiasm. Even when challenges were made (on Center Court matches only) there was little crowd response.
9. Katerina Srebotnik has a good serve. The Serbian known mostly for her doubles, was placing first serves--some out wide--in the 90s and even over 100 mph at times with her second coming in at 80 or so. (She has nice legs too but I try not to objectify female athletes in that way. For example, it took great restraint not to comment above on Mauresmo's excellent abdominals which she leaves unadorned during practice sessions.) Anyway I was a little surprised she has such a good serve given her lack of success in singles. Though I suppose if you play a lot of mixed in the tour you have to develop a stronger serve given that you are serving to men half the time.
10. Lindsay Davenport is back. I saw her first match in several months and she did well. I was curious as to how she would close out the match up a break in the second but after a few deuce points she did manage to do so in fairly good form. We'll see what the rest of this week brings. I am a little worried for the Open given that the draw is likely to be a little screwy--Serena Williams not seeded, Clijsters out, Hingis in the top 8. Should be interesting.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Am I a prude?

Just back from a very nice and relaxing vacation with perfect weather. There was no internet but there was cable so I caught some tennis but I was jonesing for some women's sports this afternoon and so quite pleased when I caught the Hingis match at the Rogers Cup. Not much to report except that the commentators like to say "drama" a lot when there are injury timeouts and there was a not so subtle implication from courtside commentator Justin Gimmelstob (isn't he still a player?) that the female players exaggerate injuries, thus creating the drama.
Anyway, the point of this was that after the match I found the finals of the AVP Chicago with Misty May and Kerrie Walsh won easily. I guess I haven't watched beach volleyball in a while, but I was shocked by the skimpy swimsuits. I have, to a certain extent, gotten over the fact that they play in triangle bikini tops. All of the women in the court didn't really need a lot of support so these worked just fine. Well fine except that after falling or stretching they had to tug at them to make sure they were covering all the appropriate places.
But most of the tugging was down below. Except it was futile because there wasn't any fabric to pull. The bottoms didn't have enough fabric to get bunched up anywhere. It all looked rather uncomfortable. When you're playing hard it seems the last thing you want to be doing is constantly adjusting your uniform.
So why then do they persist in wearing these itty bitty "uniforms"?
I think I will just leave that question rhetorical.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Yeah Jeopardy!

Last night, in the penultimate episode of college Jeopardy!, there was a category called Athletes in Double Jeopardy. I was so pleased that of the five answers, three were about female athletes: Danica Patrick, Kim Clijsters, and Annika Sorenstam.
The Danica Patrick one was just a picture of her, a posed shot, not action, but at least she was in uniform. This, in my mind, made the question, which was in the $2000 spot, a little on the easy side. But I was surprised that the answerer paused and made it seem like it was almost a guess. I mean, how many other females are sporting racing gear these days? (Yes I know there are more female racers than Patrick, but none that are nearly as famous. The woman has a deodorant commercial!)
But on the up side, all the questions about women were answered correctly. Though the answerer of the golf question (about winning the career Grand Slam) said "Sorenstam" and I thought he should have been made to give her first name given that her sister, Carlotta, also plays golf. You can't just say Kennedy when you want to answer a question about American politics, right? Oh well, it's a little thing and it doesn't damper my enthusiasm over the excellent representation of female athletes.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

You know it's bad when...

...your mother starts noticing the disparities in the coverage of women's and men's sports. Well I guess it's not the same for everyone's mother. My mother though is 1) not a huge sports fan and 2) probably would not self-identify as a feminist. I don't mean this in a bad way of course. She is a smart woman and it doesn't take that much to see what is going on. But people come up with numerous excuses and have blindsports when it comes to actually seeing inequality.
But my mother this afternoon, as I was channel surfing looking for coverage of the British Open, noted that it hasn't been on much and has been on at odd times. Today's coverage of the third round was less than two hours on ABC. My mother noted that the men's British Open that was contested a few weeks ago got extensive television time.
I didn't watch the men but I wouldn't be surprised if one day's worth of their coverage was greater than the three day combined (thus far) of the women's tournament.
And of course, looking at the leaderboard, it looked like things were very exciting today with previous leader Juli Inkster (going for the Super Grand Slam) had an off round shooting 2 over and falling three shots behind the leader Steinhauer and tied for second with three others. And Lorena Ochoa with low round of the day at 7 under after mediocre first and second rounds.
Here's hoping final round coverage is a little better.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Oh, Amelie

I came across this picture of Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo about a week after she won her second grand slam title. I was dismayed. As attractive as she is, this dress does nothing for her. Perhaps because it doesn't seem like her style. If Ellen DeGeneres, he most visible lesbian in Hollywood can wear styling pants suits to the various awards ceremonies than Mauresmo, the most visible lesbian in tennis, can certainly do so as well. OK sure it was the champions' ball at Wimbledon, arguably the most venerable tennis tournament in the world. But the dress is just so not Amelie.
I have felt that Amelie, while not going back in the closet certainly, has not been as out on the tour as she was when she first burst on the scene at the 1999 Australian Open. Of course at that time she might have been a little naive about the reaction. But still we never see a girlfriend in the players' box or hear her thank a significant other. Other players aren't required to sequester their personal lives. Mauresmo might, of course, have made a "choice" not to talk about her personal life at all (maybe it's different in the European press) but it seems unlikely that the choice was not motivated by the significant attention her homosexuality has garnered. In a sense I can't blame her. But still I am disappointed that her vibrant outness from early in her career has faded.