Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is Serena getting the shaft from Sports' Media?

I wanted to attach the following link to an article that asks if Serena gets the shaft from Sports' Media.

Let me know what you think. I will post my thoughts on this later.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Women's Tennis in the Global Context

In the assigned reading for today's SM 3950 class, Kimmelman (2010) addresses how power has changed the women's game in tennis. Since the women's professional tennis tour began in the early 1970s, one of the main ways it has changed is in who dominates the rankings. In its early days, the top-ranked women were primarily from the U.S: Billie Jean King (see below), Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey; and later, Chris Evert (below King, Tracy Austin, and Jennifer Capriati, to name only a few.

Of course, two of the most popular women players today are from the U.S. (Serena and Venus Williams). But as Kimmelman indicates, with both nearing the end of their careers (Serena is 29 and Venus, 30), the next highest ranked woman player from the U.S. is Bethanie Mattek-Sands (No. 58), who is not exactly a household name. Meanwhile, since the Williams sisters have been out of play (due to injuries) Serena and Venus have now dropped in the rankings, to Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.
With the U.S. no longer dominating the women's (or men's) world rankings, the top 100-ranked women "now come from 33 countries, most of the best from Eastern Europe—countries like Russia, Serbia, Poland and the Czech Republic, nations hungry to nurture the sport" (Kimmelman, 2010, p. 3 of 6).

A second way in which professional women's tennis has changed since it's genesis relates to the age of players. As mentioned in the article, there was a time when 13 year old girls could compete on the women's tour. This practice ended in the early 1990s after Jennifer Capriati burned out and was arrested for possession of marijuana. Many experts felt that her burnout was a direct reflection of starting to play professionally at such a young age. Capriati joined the Women's Tour at age 13, and she already had endorsement deals worth millions of dollars. When the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) decided that there needed to be an age requirement for girls to turn professional, the Age Eligibility Rule was passed. As a result of its passage, girls could play a limited number of tournaments at age 14, but they could not play a full slate of tournaments until they turned 18. ESPN commentator (and Fed Cup Captain) Mary Joe Fernandez believes that Women's Tennis might be missing out on talent as a result of the Age Eligibility Rule.

Another recently passed ruling that effects the state of women's tennis is known as the "Road Map." Passed in 2007 and implemented in 2009, the 'Road Map' is aimed at discouraging player withdrawals and ultimately encouraging more meetings between the top-ranked players in women's tennis. A case-in-point was the recent season-ending tournament in Doha, Qatar, where the top 8 ranked players were invited. Only 2 of the top 8-ranked players were not in attendance (Venus and Serena), which might suggest that the Road Map has been effective in its aim to provide more meetings between the top players. However, another measure of players' success is how many grand slam tournaments they have won. Of the 8 players at Doha, two had won a combined total of 4 Grand Slam titles (Kim Clijsters won 3 U.S. Opens, while Mary Jo Schiavone won the 2010 French Open). However, among players who were missing at Doha (besides Venus and Serena, Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, and Svetlana Kuznetsova were also absent), those 5 players had won a total of 32 grand slams. By this measure, it appears that the Road Map is not as effective as had been hoped.

On one hand, Professional Women's Tennis has been and remains the best-compensated sport in the world for women. To illustrate, Serena Williams won over $4 million while playing in only 6 tournaments this past year. Plus, she held the No. 1 ranking in the world until October 11, when Caroline Wozniacki took over at No. 1. Meanwhile, Serena, Venus, and Maria Sharapova each earned over $15.5 million in the past year, based on earnings and endorsements. From an economic standpoint, their earnings seem to reflect a sport that is flourishing. Yet, there are those who suggest that women's tennis is in crisis--not only because of the eventual retirements of the Williams sisters, but also due to the continuing injury problems that plague many of the top players. So serious is the problem that it prompted ESPN announcer John McEnroe to suggest that perhaps women's tennis should scale back its schedule, since women may not be tough enough to handle the grueling schedule.

So what do you think? Is there a crisis in tennis? Does that perception have anything to do with a shortage of top-ranked players from the U.S? What do you think about the comments of John McEnroe and/or Mary Joe Fernandez (or others) in this article?