Lizzie Scourfield

“Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes”: Sexism in contemporary tennis: Game, set, no match?

From the very beginning it was apparent the 2013 Wimbledon tournament was to be full of surprises, as early round exits came from some of the world’s highest ranking players such as Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova.  The excitement persisted through record breaking length Men’s Semi-Final matches, and British no. 1 Andy Murray cutting it fine in some impressive comeback games. Yet in the event of the Women’s Singles Final match, another surprise of the tournament managed to manifest itself in the overshadowing of Marion Bartoli’s Wimbledon victory by the implication of the relevance of her appearance.

Having stormed through the tournament without losing a single set, French player and 15th seed Marion Bartoli concluded her Wimbledon triumph with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Sabine Lisicki, the German 23rd seed.  Bartoli’s outstanding performance, considering her mediocre 2013 record, should have been the real talking point of this outcome. Yet before the match had even started the conversation had already pinpointed on her appearance.

Speaking prior to the match, commentator John Inverdale suggested that her determination as player was likely to have emerged as she was “never going to be a looker”, continuing to imply the differences between her physique and that a player like Sharapova were likely to set her back. Whilst it is distressing enough that a BBC employed professional feels that these implications are acceptable, or even at all relevant, the echo of this criticism that followed on Twitter proves even worse:

sexism in tennis

Disgusting comments such as “Bartoli didn’t deserve to win because she’s ugly” sadly resonate with a wider problem within women’s tennis.  Upon typing in tennis player’s names into Google, the fixation with appearance becomes apparent. When searching high seeded female players Kvitova, Azarenka, and Wozniacki, the suggestion to follow the search with “hot” came into the top three suggestions on each of my searches. Yet when carrying out similar searches for male players Del Potro, Gasquet, and Ferrer, the only search suggestions I received were tennis related (with the exception of Ferrero Rocher, a search topic close to my own heart). In my own, subjective, opinion, the appearance of most of the top ranking male tennis players is nothing to write home about. Does this alter my enjoyment of the sport, or impact my opinion of their worth as a player? Of course it doesn’t.  And so why should the appearance of female tennis players be any more relevant?

In a response to Inverdale’s comment, Bartoli replied, “it doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”

It is this kind of attitude that needs to prevail within women’s tennis. Bartoli, boasting a Wimbledon champion’s trophy and a reported IQ of 175, should not have to be commenting, let alone defending, her appearance.  It is ridiculous that this kind of degradation of women to their looks should even still exist in contemporary sport.

It was only in 2007 that women and men began to receive equal prize money in the tournament, a decision which is still contested. In 2012 French player Gilles Simon argued that women should not receive equal winnings as women play best of three, whilst men play best of five. In a world in which gender pay gaps exist even from graduate level jobs, I think these women have earned their right to an equal salary. Simon continued to suggest that “men’s tennis remains more attractive than women’s tennis at the moment”, leading to a response from Sharapova that “I’m sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than his”.

2013 marks the forty year anniversary since Billie Jean King won Wimbledon, two years before the Equal Opportunity Law Article IX regulations for gender equality of federal funded educational programmes (including school and college athletics) was signed, and leading to the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association.  The amount of effort and hard work exerted by women to persevere for the status of women’s tennis should not be undermined by the custom to allude to a woman’s looks.  Marion Bartoli, Serena Williams, and Maria Sharapova: what these women have in common is extraordinary sporting talent and the ability to win Wimbledon. Everything else is irrelevant.

5 thoughts on ““Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes”: Sexism in contemporary tennis: Game, set, no match?

  1. I would like to point out (I completely agree with what you’re saying) that there was also a hell of a lot of backlash against the BBC commentators comment, and although that the people’s comments on twitter were inexcusable, the reason there was so much fuss about her appearance is that she looks nothing like your traditional tennis player- in fact she is know for not even playing like most tennis players- so the fact she goes against peoples idea of who a tennis player is means that the reaction should (unfortunately) come as no surprise.

  2. I am still waiting to hear that Mr. Inverdale has been sent on a retraining course. He should be banned from broadcasting until he has undergone a programme that teaches him that sexism is illegal, immoral and not acceptable in an equitable country. No doubt he could win a model contract?

  3. Thankfully I missed this, but I loved the way Bartoli took it in her stride. Wasn’t Inverdale suggesting that it’s what her dad must have said to her?
    Sport is about the best athlete, good looking or not, and I don’t understand why that conversation is still entertained. Regardless, she is an outstanding player, and tennis is one of the few sports left where a particular body type is required. It just so happens Sharapova, Azarenka and Lisicki model. They even had a huge discussion about it during the men’s singles, where the players are getting taller and if you don’t target your exercise accordingly, it can work against you. In my view, based on how she played during the French Open, she was always going to go far in Wimbledon. Easily one of my favourite players and I look forward to seeing her play again!

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