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:
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.