Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Henin Returns

Justine Henin who retired about 15months ago is to return to tennis next year, and I can't think of any who would be less than delighted by the news (well perhaps some of the other female players?).  Henin triumphed at 5"5 when the average height of the women players is 5"10 (and this 5"6-er thinks thats cause for celebration), she packed her tiny frame with muscle and actually hit the ball pretty damn hard, but also beat the other women with her excellent movement.  She also had a backhand that could kill a goat...

Inevitably, her return will lead to disscussions that 'the women's game really needs her', and general implications that women's tennis is falling to pieces.  While I would never suggest that women's tennis is perfect or without need for improvement, it interests and angers me the men's tennis is never put critical scrutiny.  When the grand slam prize money was made equal people were complaining that the women did not deserve it because they weren't as good as the men.  Ignoring the fact that the percieved quality of a tennis match is rather hard to measure, those commentors rather missed the point.  Men were not played more because they were better (or even because they play longer matches, as most the time they play best of 3 to gain ranking points for entry into grand slams) but because they were men.  Consider two players, male and female, playing one match at wimbledon and losing in 3 sets, the matches may have been the same length in time but the man will still walk away with more money.  Or he would have before the equal prize money.

As in most sports the womens game has missed out on decades of support and financial aid and has fought hard to catch up, but they are under a much more constant and severe scrutiny than the men.  When Rafa Nadal beats his opponent 6-2 6-3 6-2 or something similar he's looking like a potential champion, when Serena Williams beats someone 6-3 6-3 its an example of a lack of depth in the women's game.  And if a top seed falls early in a major tournament (just what on earth happened to women at Flushing Meadows? ) it always 'says something'- as in 'what does this say about the women's game?'.

The tennis player with the most criticism recently is probably Dinara Safina- for what I hear you cry- for becoming worl number one without winning a grand slam.  Dinara has been to 3 grand slam finals (two this year) so to say she does badly in slams would be more than a little unfair (I suppose it doesn't really help that she plaued more like a frightened child that a champion in those finals but still..).  She has collected her ranking points by being consistent and successful throughout the year.  Serena Williams has described herself as the 'real number one' an arrogant and obnoxious thing to suggest in my mind- yes she has won 2 grand slams this year and that is a fantastic achievment she rarely plays to her full potential in smaller tournaments (if she did she would have won them all).  Serena cares about tennis when there's a spotlight to shine in and has become a tennis star absolutely but hardly the greatest player.

I started this by mentioning Justine Henin's return and it's interesting to note who it was that beat Justine in her last match, in Berlin 2008, in three sets, coming from 5-2 down in the second; Dinara Safina.

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