Underrated and Underpaid; Men’s tennis has scarcely been so good, but has the Men’s success exposed their Female counterparts?
A major tournament, in sports where they exist are the pinnacle; In tennis the 4 major tournaments or ‘slams’ as they are affectionately known come in the guises of the hard court events in America and Australia and their respective ‘open’ competitions. Frances own ‘open’ hosted at Roland Garros on Clay and of course Wimbledon in England on the grass. All are loved for something different and respected in their own right. Each will boast that at their tournament the games greatest ever match has taken place, however it would be difficult to argue against the latest instalment to be thrown down by Melbourne as a benchmark for ultimate greatness; Djokovic versus Nadal.
The mens game has evolved and subsequently thrown up match after match of sheer class, determination, guts and glory. The Nadal / Federer Wimbledon epic that finished in the dark, Murray and Djokovic’s semi this year and then of course the aforementioned nearly 6 hour final. The level of fitness and standard of performance witnessed in tennis over the last 18 months has been phenomenal and Djokovic has taken Nadal’s new era of tennis ball off him and run with it – and pretty quickly at that. It is for this reason I boldly stated that Federer would never win another major in a previous post. I have seen nothing over the past few weeks to change my opinion as it seems clear to me Djokovic, Nadal and Murray have developed the art of returning, scampering, battling and defending from the back of the court and coupled it with powerful, reliable forehands and double handed backhands which have left the swiss super star’s finnesse and class looking back to the 2000′s. It hurts to admit that a reign of supremacy has come to an end but if finnesse is replaced by gladitorial spirit and titanic struggles like the nigh on 6 hour epic just witnessed then I’m not complaining…well actually maybe there is something to complain about.
A lot of people have noted that there was the glaring omission of a women from the Sports Personality of the Year award. Furthermore the idea of equality in sport is a growing notion which is taking time to bed in to some sports – some ill advised comments from Lawrie Sanchez spring to mind about a women official in football. In golf for example there has been talk of women competing alongside men. (despite the fact they aren’t allowed in some club houses!) The key point seems to come down to standard – i.e if they are of a good enough level and in golf that playing field is easily levelled as they all play the same course then why not play alongside each other. Women’s athletics for example is again to quantify success as they are measured by the same times over the same distances as men. In these examples women cannot compete alongside men because they don’t stand a chance of succeeding and therefore have their own category and quite right too. Women’s athletics is just as exciting as mens in all events.
Prize money in sport is huge and its quantity usually illustrates the sports popularity and global brand. Golf is a huge global brand, attracts big sponsors such as HSBC this weekend in Abu Dhabi and therefore can afford to splash out huge pay cheques for its participants. Major tournaments in sport attract big crowds and wealthy sponsors and subsequently can do the same. In the case of the Australian Open tennis the prize money is illustrated below, with first round losers scooping $20,000 just for playing (and losing) 1 game in Heather Watson’s case (not including qualifiers) and $2,3 million (about £1.5 million) for the two respective winners. I think you can probably guess what is coming next…
I am not wading a vendetta against women’s sport in this article; I would not. I enjoy all sport at all levels from amateur to professional, men, women, children, World Champs, Olympics or Parallel Olympics, to be honest I watch pretty much anything. However it is my contention that a sportsperson who puts in twice as big a shift should be rewarded for their efforts. I disagree with the wage structure currently evident in football but that is a different debate, however in tennis it is stars like Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray who put the bums on seats and earn the tournament their kudos, prestige and financial backing. Sadly I debate whether Azarenka and co. provide such lure. Obviously it is unfair to just compare the finals, surely their are no two finals that are further apart in drama, suspense and quality as the 2012 Austalian Open Men and Women’s singles finals; The men had just finished the first set while in equivalent time the women were shaking hands over their net with Sharapova suitably embarrassed at her no show in the final. Professional tributes from Luke Donald, Rio Ferdinand and Tim Cahill on Twitter eluded to the impressive physical effort of Nadal and Djokovic and the stats below illustrate the phenomenal hardship their bodies go through. Whilst I accept the Women’s game is shorter in its three set format it is never designed to be a whole 50% worse off. the statistics below confirm my assertion that Women’s tennis (previously famed for it’s longer rallies and more interesting points) falls short in nearly every facet. Especially for the humble supporter.
Statistics are of all matches played at the 2012 Australian Open.
|Average Games per match||18||34|
|Time on Court||623 (10 hrs 23 mins)||1,251 (20hrs 51 mins)|
|Average time on court||89 minutes||178 mins (2hrs 58mins)|
|Total points played||831||1,508|
|Average points per match||119||215|
The stats are even more damning if look in detail at the just their last four games – 4th Round, Quarter final, Semi final and Final
|Average Games per match||21||43|
|Time on Court||412 minutes (6hrs 52 m)||983 mins (16 hrs 23 mins)|
|Average time on court||103 minutes (1 hr 43m)||246 minutes (4 hrs 6 mins)|
|Total points played||544||1,129|
|Average points per match||136||282|
Djokovic in the final spent longer in one set than Azarenka did in the whole match! It isn’t just the finals but the whole competition though and thats what gets me ranting. Tournament after tournament, round after round we see a war of attrition between finely tuned sportsman at the top of their game. In peak physical shape and able to perform high performance tennis among vast levels of fatigue. On the flipside in the women’s game we hear and see an eclectic mix between grunting and choking. Performers with little mental dexterity and an abundance of frailty. It is obviously unfair to tarnish all with the same brush. Kim Clijsters’ feat to win the US open after having given birth was exceptional but I am quick to question would she have succeded if the women’s game wasn’t in such disarray. Sadly Women’s tennis is devoid of any real stars or role models for youngsters to aspire to, whats the message? Grow big and strong, move to Russia and hope for the best? The Eastern European production line keeps churning out a similar champion who people don’t seem to be able to empathise with. And when a character does come along, someone like Ana Ivanovic or even Sharapova they seem to struggle to take up the mantle and produce consistent performances. It is unheard for people not to recognise the names of the top women tennis players in the world; Clijsters, Serena Williams, Ivanovic, Jankovic all find themselves outside the top 10. And whilst it is nice to see new stars rising and winning grand slams you have to get the impression there are some ‘soft’ grand slam victories being handed out…How Andy Murray wishes that Nadal, Djokovic or Federer would not show up one day and he could get the job done in 3 sets inside 2 hours. Or that on a huge point instead of serving an ace or scampering and returning and defending like their life depended on it they might just choke and hand him an easy break or gift him a match point. It just doesn’t happen, and whilst we are riding on the crest of a wave in this golden era of tennis I think we must be prudent in our assessment; If men’s tennis has the stature and presence of Mount Everest, then Women’s is really just a drop in the ocean.
Listening to the radio the other day I took objection to the comments of the expert “analyst” or so they are called…basically the guy who is in to support the commentator by chipping in every 5 minutes or so. This is how the dialogue went;
“What do you think about Tottenham this season? Have they got enough to maintain a title challenge or do they need to strengthen in the window” asked the commentator
“I think Tottenham have a good team and could challenge for the top 2 positions in the league. If they could just add 2 or 3 players in the transfer window they would go close” stated the analyst competently.
“Interesting, where do you think they need to strengthen? What sort of player do they need? ” Replied the commentator amiably.
Cue completely flustered man desperately trying to bullshit his way out of the corner he put himself in. ”Well um, um they definitely need a striker, probably a midfielder and another defender” He didn’t know because his response was a token and standard response to the question posed, “do you think Tottenham need to strengthen in January?” I mean honestly this is an “expert” talking and what he serves up is another example of the parasitic cliche; The parasitic cliche lives inside a lot of pundits and feeds of the non specific, repetitive and mundane feedback we hear on a weekly basis… and just when you think they can’t get lack any more incision and acuity out comes the cliche, evident in this case by the old “they need to strengthen in the window” line. the analyst said they needed to strengthen because he felt it was the right thing to say, he didn’t really believe it or for that matter seem to really know whether they did or they didn’t.
It is true Tottenham have had an excellent season; they are exciting to watch, play with purpose, drive and pace that gets all football fans out of their seats. ”I’d pay to watch Tottenham play” quoted David Moyes in the build up to their premier league game this week. However their success has stemmed in my opinion from several things. Firstly they have a good blend of youth and experience with an average age of their starting squad being 27 – One of the higher in the league, the players could be considered to be in their prime. Certainly this seems true of Bale, Modric, Parker and several of the back 4. They have used only 20 players (from starting) this season – the fewest in the premier league, indicating they have, by and large, kept key squad members fit and have been able to play something like their strongest team on a regular basis. Couple an exciting and talented squad with limited injuries (I know all teams get injuries but star players like Bale have been largely injury free) and a manager willing to ‘have-a-go’ then you have a chance to be consistent and that is what Tottenham have done this season and what is pushing them up the pecking order – consistency.
Consistency comes from playing a similar team each week, the ability to remain constant and therefore replicate successful techniques and responses in new situations and different scenarios. The players in turn gain confidence and motivation from this success, want and are able to to replicate it more frequently and therefore carry their confidence into their next performance. My point is that the last thing you need is a £25 million player turning up on your doorstep with a forehead tattoo saying “the gaffa has to play his new signing”. Similarly the thought of adding 2 or 3 players to an already tight unit half way through the season runs the risk of doing more harm than good; unsettling players, hampering the confidence of players and deflating a group, high on their own success thus far. It is my contention that the window is far more profitable for teams who need an impact or a boost, a team for example who might be hovering around relegation, as opposed to a top four side who are looking to strengthen for maybe the title run in or a push for Europe.
Needless to say if the switch is made a reality, the player in question can often feel an even weightier expectation, especially if a large price tag carries them aloft into their new club amidst cries of him becoming the new club’s newest legend or indeed saviour. You only have to look at the biggest exponent of the January flop; Fernando Torres. The weight of the price tag seems to have pushed his already out of sorts form into further disarray. I saw him play for Liverpool in the flesh and he was awesome, an admirable specimen who was stockier and more powerful than I expected and had the movement to disorientate the best defenders in the world, ask Nemanja Vidic. However his arrival at Chelsea for whatever reason has not worked. But he isn’t alone, strikers with big price tags are a big no no in the January ‘sales’.
A book I can highly recommend – Moneyball, is a fantastically astute look into the statistics associated with baseball and their implementation during the draft selection process that exists in US sport. There are several players that, statistically, you should never invest your money in e.g. High School Pitchers who’s record, statistically is far worse than College pitchers. However the word of mouth and subjective approach from scouts ensured that High School pitchers are often more fashionable for the ‘potential’ they possess. Billy Beane (head coach of the Oakland A’s) would argue that he would prefer someone with proven form at a higher level (i.e. a college pitcher). He would cheer every time a high school pitcher was drafted leaving his 1st choice draft picks (usually college players) left to be swept up by him and his statistical outlook. In January, strikers are often bought for overinflated prices and brought in as ‘the answer’. However I suspect there is someone out there cheering as loud as Billy Beane every time Roman Abramovich opens his Torres directed , new year chequebook.
I’m sure that same person could be heard laughing when;
- Middlesborough signed Alfonso Alves for nearly £13 million in 2008. His 10 goals in 48 appearances ensured Middlesborough were rightly relegated for their rashness and condemned Alves to a life of huge wages and cuban cigars in Qatari football. At least someone benefitted!?
- Jose Antonio Reyes singed for £10 million by Arsenal. Reyes was brought up in a caravan, dribbling around garden gnomes to learn his trade. When he got his big move to England’s capital he was more concerned about a severe lack of understanding of English than producing on the pitch. He found the words “score” and “goals” particularly difficult to comprehend.
- Andy Carroll took the total of overpriced strikers moving last January to £85 million pounds. In fairness it is probable a lot of pressure to think that despite your poor attitude off the field, anti social behaviour orders, burnt out cars and social and domestic issues you are valued at the same price as clean water for an African shanty town for the rest of their life. To be fair he does remind me of a camel, maybe he would be of use in Africa after all. £35 million is an investment Liverpool are still waiting on a return for.
- Georgios Samaras broke all of Manchester City supporters hearts by signing for them for £6 million in 2006. His 8 goals in 53 matches screams SPL and thats where he ended up.
- Real Madrid goal machine Fernando Morientes pitched up at Anfield in 2005 to deposit 8 goals in 41 games at a return of just under £1 million per goal.
- Supersub and everyones favourite “did he really play for England” Michael Rickets and his £3.5 million move to Middlesborough. Predictably 3 goals in 32 games saw him narrowly miss out on Euro 2004.
- Gianfranco Zola stumped up £9 million on Savio Nsreko. Cue some very unhappy hammers as brescia’s loss was West Ham’s well loss as well. 10 games 0 goals and swift return flight to Florence to ply his trade in Seria B.
In fairness it isn’t just strikers, disasters such as Jean Alain Boumsong further epitomise the panic buying nature of January. £8 million for a defender proven…in the SPL. Who would have thought Graeme Souness, now an expert analyst on Sky Sports, would have the tactical nous and guile to pair him up with Titus Bramble…I can hear Billy Beane now, laughing his socks off.
Ultimately it is clearly a time of caution but there have been some real success stories of the January transfer window since its introduction;
- Henrik Larson’s move to Man Utd was just the ignition Fergie needed in his squad and the Swede helped United achieve another premier league title.
- Christophe Duggarry gave Birmingham City a huge lift in 2003 and his 5 goals were memorable in keeping them in the premier league.
- Mikael Arteta, Ashley Young and Javier Masherano are other examples of players signed to have a big impact on clubs that aren’t quite at their peak. You only have to look at the signing of Daniel Sturridge for Bolton last season, his goals were season defining and how they have missed him this year. Sturridge along with Larson and Dugarry are illustrations of how January can be of use. An inspiration not a flagship. Mascherano, Arteta and Young portray a more circumspect approach of signing talented young players with huge potential for relatively little money compared to Torres and Carroll and allowing them time to blood in without the media hype of the ‘the £30 million saviour’ arriving. It is in my opinion these type of players that is what the January window is used for, however every year some managers never learn.
Last January there was £225 million spent in the window on ‘squad strengthening’!! And in my opinion for every Dugarry there seems to be a plethora of Torres’. I will always allow myself a rye chuckle when the cash is splashed in large sums by clubs in January, even if football’s expert analyst and his parasitic cliche feels they definitely needed to ‘strengthen their squad in the window‘.