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?

18 comments:

Katie said...

No, I personally do not think that there is a crisis in tennis. These things happen all the time and I feel like women's tennis has always gone through ups and downs throughout the generations. I think that even though we saw this happen at Doha, we cannot make assumptions that the "Road Map" concept isn't working. Although if it keeps happening, then we may have to reevaluate it. As far as the Age Eligibility Rule goes, I don't think that we are missing out on talent. Even if there are young players that could compete professionally, it would be more beneficial for them and to the game to wait a few more years because they become more mature and their skill becomes to much higher. In turn, this will only make the game more competitive and interesting. You do bring up a good point about Serena and Venus being some of the only top American's left in the game. It will be very different once they retire because it might take a couple more years for the US to regain some dominance. However, I think it will happen soon and once it does there won't be a crisis we have to worry about. We just need the talent.

B. Fisher said...

I believe that there isn't a crisis in tennis, but that the game is just changing. I feel like the tournaments held outside of the US aren't followed as well here in the US, simply because of when they are played. This also could lead to a slight decrease in the popularity of the sport among Americans, which COULD have something to do with the lack of US born players at the top of the women's tennis rankings. The "road map", in theory is a good idea, and at Doha, things looked good, with 6 of the top 8 players in attendance. I'll be interested to see what occurs following the eventual retirement of Venus and Serena Williams, since that could lead to a decrease in US dominance of majors, most of them won by the Williams sisters in recent years. Like Katie mentioned, I believe that the US will develop another wave of talent that will be top tier, it's just a matter of "when, not "if".

curlingnation said...

I also do not believe that there is a crisis in tennis. I really like what Brian said about waves of talent going through the circuit right now. There will be great American born tennis players that will come up through the system and prove to be winners. Right now its just Eastern Europe turn to dominate. I do disagree with the WTA's rule about eligibility of 18 year olds. I believe that they could drop that to 16 or 17 to build more interest and competition of players in the WTA. Women do mature quicker then males and hit their peaks at an earlier time. So if players start in the WTA at an earlier age they will learn how to play at a higher level and will be at their peak performance after a couple years in the WTA. I like the road map idea and what it does for the WTA. Players need to be playing in more tournaments to keep the fans happy and the competition at a high level. Yes this does make the players more injury prone but that stuff happens. Football players can't just take a week off because they don't want to play in the game. If that could happen you wouldn't see all the star players every week. Tennis players need to play in tournaments and keep competition and fan attendance at a high level. Overall I think tennis is good right now. Yes it would be nice to have a top US player who is young and ready to be the star after the Williams sisters leave but this stuff happens teams go through phases and the WTA will go through phases with players at the top of the rankings.

Matt Heilman said...

I like the idea of this article talking about how the Williams sisters have basically changed the game of tennis just by themselves. Talking about how powerful they are and how young athletes have started training differently so that they can compete at their level. The quote by Venus Williams was kind of interesting because it almost seemed a little cocky on her part talking about how other players have been trying “their moves.” I do agree that the sisters have changed the game but not on their own.

I like the statistic about how the top 100 players come from 33 different countries and how the sport of tennis has developed a larger global audience. A big part of this comes from the statistic I just mentioned because these top 100 players doing great in their sport makes their countries want to follow them and potentially give interest to other young athletes in those same countries.

One other part about this article I liked was about how tennis players basically make or break their own salary. I was unaware that it costs tennis players a lot of money just to join tournaments. The article brought up how tennis players are not like other athletes when it comes to pay because their success depends on how much money they may or may not make throughout the year.

T.Scott.Kravitz said...

Perhaps the road map, in a way, is a response to the potential earnings in women's tennis. Why would the Williams sisters feel the need to play EVERY tournament when a purse is so much? Granted, Serena and Venus have accumulated their wealth over time, but as a professional tennis player one could reason that every available match would be meaningful.

Of course the major endorsement deals do pay the bills, minimizing the sense of urgency to win top dollar. The competitive drive to win is present in all athletes, but at what point is the financial gain just a perk to winning?!

As someone who will one day direct a professional sporting event (and someone who has lots of experience in running such events), your bottom line depends on the participation of the sport's greatest athletes. Whether the event is for profit or the proceeds go to charity, we are attracted to greatness. Ticket sales to the Master's (PGA) decrease if Phil and Tiger did not participate. Ticket sales DRAMATICALLY decrease at a smaller event if Phil and Tiger do not play (now Lee Westwood). Not only does this affect the tournament but the sponsors, governing body, and the television network covering the event all take financial hits.

Having five players win 32 gram slams between them not play at an event is huge!! That greatness is exactly what people pay to see!

In regards to John McEnroe's comment about women not being tough enough to handle the current tour schedule- WAY over the line. I can argue that a shorter schedule will provide for a more competitive atmosphere and higher ticket prices (since there are less opportunities to watch these women compete), but not because the level of toughness and endurance is lacking.

shileyk said...

I personally do not believe there is a crisis in women’s tennis. Although I do not have a strong background or serious knowledge on women’s tennis, I believe it is just going through a “rough stage.” This crisis is brought up based on top players being injured which can happen in any given sport; athletes acquire injuries. Playing devil’s advocate, you can look at this “crisis” in one of two ways; either these injuries cause spectators to be angry at not seeing the top athletes perform or spectators take this crisis as a way of competition and seeing who can take over the #1 ranking. As Scott has mentioned, this same issue is occurring in golf. The previous #1 golfer in the world, Tiger Woods has fallen from his throne after struggling this past year after his personal issues. Many golf followers hate seeing Tiger struggle as I do, but others may take this time to watch the rest of the tour compete and take Tigers spot at the top of the rankings. The way I look at it, everything happens for a reason- there is always a bright side to things.

As for the Age Eligibility Rule, I agree. 14 year old professionals sounds ridiculous, let them mature and build upon their skills and enter the professional level older and better to improve the competition. The NBA recently adjusted their age eligibility in requiring one year of college basketball. Some of the greatest basketball players to every play did not attend college and entered the league right out of high school, but playing one year of college ball will allow you to better your skills and enter the league at a higher level. This is great for a fans perspective and I am in favor of it. The NFL also has such a rule in which players cannot enter the NFL draft until playing at least three years of college football. As for the NHL, it is hard to even play college hockey before you are 19 or 20 years old and not many baseball players can make it through the farm system to the big leagues until they are about the same age. So why not require tennis players to be 18 years old before turning professional? I strongly believe it is for the better of the WTA...

Jordan P. Martin said...

I do not think there is a crisis really. I think what is going on in tennis is just a small(er)sport still growing. There are so many other top stars in football and baseball and basketball because there are more players involved and more opportunities for more players to be recognized. Also the sport is just bigger in terms of popularity.
There are still hundreds of players in women's tennis but I think the playing level is a little obscured and rather top heavy which may be why we see a continued dominance by just a handful of players.
I think the age limit rule is still a little ridiculous however. To throw a young girl at the age of 13 or 14 into an arena full of passionate fans and incredibly experienced and talented adult women who are serving the ball over 100mph at a girl that could be a freshman in high school.

I think implementing something a little older may be appropriate because you can become burnt out very easily on just the little league and middle school level of sports let alone being put in a professional world touring tennis league.
In terms of Venus and Serena becoming older I feel like they still have some competitive years left and they should be alright in the end because they have been two of the most dominating women in the sport overall and especially in today's day an age. I think the US dominance may be slipping but there's always someone coming up who has potential and raving with possibilities as to be the next greatest thing.

RodriguezR said...

I wouldn't necessarily say there is a crisis. I don't agree with the "Road Map" because that eliminates the upset aspect of competitive tennis. However, when these dominant women tennis players play each other over and over. I'm sure the ratings are extremely higher than a women tennis player who is ranked out of the top 100 vs. a tennis player such as Venus or Serena. I agree with the comments John McEnroe said about the schedule shortening for these professional tennis players. This will also help T.V. ratings as well because all the stars of tennis won't get hurt as much. The comments that Mary Fernandez said about I feel are true. Because there are missing out on talent. But, you should be aloud to recruit these players to some sort of extension. That way when they are 18 years old they can still play professionally at a high level.

Emily Cohen said...

I do not believe that there is a crisis in tennis. Just because the top players get hurt doesn't mean that the whole sport is going downhill. Venus and Serena could have gotten hurt because they have been playing so long and the wear and tear on their bodies could have caught up to them. They have been training hard for years and it could be that it's just too much for their bodies now. I like the fact that there is an Age Eligibility Rule because 13 year olds should not play professional tennis. If they are truly as good as they claim to be they will be just as good if not better by the time they turn 18. I know that tennis isn’t the most popular sport Venus and Serena have made it a better known sport. Even with them coming closer to the end of their careers I think that they will still be associated with Tennis with their endorsements and such. I feel like their names will forever be associated with tennis and even though after they retire America won’t have any well known players in the top 10 I feel that in the next couple of years that someone will pop up and come close to their level.

Emily Cohen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cbisch said...

I don't think that professional tennis is in the midst of a crisis, but I do think its struggling to find a new identity.

For years Venus and Serena have dominated women's tennis, much like the American superstars of years past. As you, and Kimmelman have indicated, the U.S. has excelled at women's tennis throughout history, and in some ways have become the model for success. But with Venus and Serena aging, and falling in the world rankings, it seems that the U.S. dominance on the sport of women's tennis is starting to falter. As you mentioned the next U.S. player ranked in the top 100 is Bethanie Mattek-Sands and she doesn't seemed poised to tackle the top spot any time soon. With the U.S. dominance seemingly on its way out, foreign players are beginning to climb through the ranks towards the top spot, but so far no one has reached a superstar status similar to the likes of Venus and Serena.

I think the WTA has made a conscious effort to develop new rivalries and develop star power but it hasn't worked the way they had anticipated. The "Road Map" has been, so far, unsuccessful at creating matches between the top ranked players in the world and the eligibility requirements might be discouraging superior U.S. talent from emerging early on.

In order for women's tennis to return to its form of the 1970's its going to take a large market (U.S. or China) superstar to emerge and reach the top of the world rankings. As it stands now the U.S. stars are aging, and beginning to fall through the rankings, and the leader boards are filled with players for Eastern-Europe (a market that doesn't present a very large demographic). A top ranked player from the U.S. or China would be the type of superstar that the WTA needs to put this "crisis" to rest.

Max Marshall said...

I do not think that you could consider women's tennis in crisis. Although the age of the Williams sisters is reaching a point of considering retirement, they are still two of the best to ever play. Every sport has times where talent is at a high point and also when it hits a low. Women's tennis has been one of the top women sports viewed all over the world. I believe that Women's tennis has established itself in the U.S. as one of the top spectated sports for women. Venus and Serena Willams have dominated tennis for a while which intrigued Americans into watching. At the same time, the women from eastern Europe have made it a point to have tennis flourish in their countries as well. This leads to a serious globalization move that will help Women's tennis stay afloat in the world of women's sports. The Age Eligibility Rule should be in effect in my opinion as well to restrict young teens from essentially dropping out of school and increasing the risk of burnouts. With all these points together I believe that Women's tennis can still be a strong sport for women and the globalization helps by pushing the U.S. tennis players to win one for their country and not only themselves. All in all, tennis is not in a crisis right now, but a time of growth. When there is growth there needs to be restrictions such as the Age Eligibility Rule and the Road Map concept to regulate such growth.

vmeloni1232 said...

There is not a crisis in women’s tennis. Every sport has its up and down moments and this may just be the WTA’s time. It may not be dominated by American women like it used to be, but there are still plenty of followers. Players like Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, and Maria Kirilenko are all under 23 years old and none may be American, but all American fans know of them. They have the talent, but they also have the looks that could take the WTA from a possible down back up, as long as these young women stay healthy, win, and continue to be in advertisements and events. As far as the age limit, it could be pushing back talent, but there is no real way to tell. As far as John McEnroe’s comments, it may be true, however that will not happen because the women mentioned above, along with the WTA itself are making money from doing all of these tournaments for showing up and participating, To combine the two, putting young women, no matter how good they are, into all these tournaments will injure players and cause the WTA to lose a lot of young talent. Putting young women in a full slate of tournaments can cause structural damage and ruin careers, like a young baseball player rising through the system. Young pitchers can’t just come into the Major Leagues and throw 200 innings, he can only through about 15-20 more innings than the previous year, to help protect his arm. There is no crisis in tennis, its just changing and globally, it is changing for the better.

jramge said...

I believe that the power in tennis is on the move to a higher competition. Because of the power that women are bringing to the sport. Being larger, faster, stronger, is letting women athletes become a higher media level as well. They are getting more televsion, printed, and even radio time. I think we will see shortly another battle of the sexes, because women will want to show that they can compete with the men.

Great article there is so much you can talk about.

Sports Goddess said...

I do not think that there is a crisis in tennis. Right now tennis is going through a transitional period that many male dominated sports go though. It is something that cannot be stopped. Players will eventually get older and retire. That is the tale for all sports but some sport's athletes deal with more wear and tear than others that is why the athletes may retire in some sports sooner than other athletes in other sports.

The perception that there is a crisis in tennis, I feel has something to do with it being a shortage in top players from the U.S. The U.S. has always been known as a dominating force in everything especially athletics and when you look at the top players from any sport it is only fit to see athletes from the U.S. The fact that tennis is an international sport is a factor that shows that there is remarkable talent throughout the world in the game and that the U.S. is not the only country that contributes to the success of the game. As time goes on and the best from the U.S. retire, there will be more athletes from the U.S. with the potential to take their place. Just because there is a shortage does not mean that there is a crisis.

I feel that one of the comments that were made by John McEnroe specifically was very unnecessary and inaccurate. When John McEnroe suggested that “perhaps women's tennis should scale back its schedule, since women may not be tough enough to handle the grueling schedule”, I feel that he was wrong. Many athletes suffer injuries due to the grueling nature of their sport including men’s tennis, football, and basketball. Being a woman has nothing to do with the fact that there are injured players. In the sport of tennis there is a lot of movement that could be tiring on even the strongest most in shape man. I feel that there is no way he could just single out women’s tennis to scale back when there are injuries in every sport men’s sports included.

Lance Eddy said...

No, I do not believe that their is a crisis in tennis as a sport. As stated in your article tournament winnings and endorsements are the highest among any women's sport. This is definitely a sign of growth in the global marketplace. Also, I believe that the number of successful players from other countries is a result from the deepening talent pool as a result of tennis's growth in popularity in other countries.

That being said their could be a crisis in American tennis. Hopefully their will be upcoming American talent or American's may lose interest in women's tennis without a player to root for. Though this could damage tennis's appeal in the US, it would not hurt the WTA as a whole since it is a global organization that is growing new interest throughout the world.
I don't think the road map rules will not make much of a difference since most of the best players will be more concerned with their personal health then whatever repercussions the receive from withdrawing from tournaments. Ultimately for the best players the most important thing to the players is that they be at their best for the majors, since that is where their fans and their sponsors want to see them succeed the most. I don't think the road map will make players play in tournaments smaller tournaments like the on in Quater if it means it may hurt their chances at Wimbledon.

The Tennis Prof Chronicles said...

Great comments from everyone. I wanted to summarize a few points that were made by a number of you. First, it seems that the overwhelming consensus from all of you is that tennis is not in crisis. Of course, that being said, how many of you are avid tennis fans?:-) Several of you also suggested that the fact that more players come from many different nations reflects the global growth of tennis. That is a point well taken.

Katie made a great point when she said that talent seems to be produced in waves. Other tennis writers have suggested the same thing (including Chris Evert), so I think you may be right. Interestingly, tennis was supposedly in a crisis about the time that the Williams sisters and Anna Kournikova appeared on the scene at ages 12 and 13. They seemed to do all right!

Finally, some of you addressed the comments made by McEnroe about needing to cut back on the schedule. I especially liked what Kristina wrote--i.e., "Being a woman has nothing to do with the fact that there are injured players." Using last night's NFL game as an example, one of the toughest players ever--Brett Favre--went out with a concussion. All sports do in fact deal with injuries.

The Tennis Prof Chronicles said...

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