Here we go again. Just when the tennis world is in New York City, the good old New York Times comes out with tennis coverage that is embarrassing in its attempt to ignore the beauty of the sport while fulfilling the newspaper’s ongoing, dismal, politically correct agenda. What is it with our national obsession to “fix” things that aren’t broken, while making things worse in the meantime?
I’m talking, of course, about the ridiculous article written by Juliet Macur, titled “Aching For Change in an Unequal Sport,” in which she argues that, “a new best-of-three rule would spare the men from trying to push themselves beyond what is most of the time necessary.” Yeah, why should these guys (each desiring the $3 million top prize) have to “push themselves”? Of course, the article was accompanied with endless photos of these poor players writhing in agony. It’s just another example of the NY Times politicizing a non-issue.
Apparently, Macur brings the same wisdom to whatever sport she gets paid to do a hatchet job on. As her Times bio states, she has written features “on a variety of other subjects, including coyote hunting in Oklahoma…” Let me take a wild guess here — whatever she wrote on that subject won’t turn Manhattanites into enlightened subjects on all sides of the hunting debate. Surprise, surprise. This is the same Juliet Macur who, in June, wrote a NY Times piece calling for time limits on the American institution of baseball. Her sensitivity to the male athlete is so progressive, it is regressive. She is to sports what Obama is to United States exceptionalism; they both adhere to a “less is more” policy. Her big gripe against tennis? Well, she has many, which kind of makes one wonder why she’s the one covering it for a city that sells out the largest tennis stadium in the world in the first place. Oh, that’s right — it’s the NY Times.
The theme of the Macur piece is that women’s players get equal prize money, so why shouldn’t they play equal sets? She labels the difference a sexist relic of the 1950s and proposes to limit the men’s game to three set matches. Ok, I partly agree with this one. Let’s make the women play a real Grand Slam: three-out-of-five sets. Then they can stop the baseless claim that they deserve equal prize money while not playing an equal number of games (the women play 40 percent less tennis). Or how about playing by the same rules? (Earlier this week, women players were allowed to have an extra break of 10 minutes between the second and third sets, while the men did not.)
But that will never happen. (Television would probably stop showing women’s tennis altogether if it were forced to broadcast five sets of it.) And neither should the diminishment of the men’s game; it isn’t broken.
The possibility of an upset isn’t unheard of when playing five sets. That’s why Juan Martin del Potro will forever be a US Open titleholder, winning the 2009 U.S. Open final over Roger Federer, who claimed the first two sets. For the most part, the stronger player (that day) will triumph in the five-setter. If you took the notion to eliminate five-setters to its logical NY Times politically correct end conclusion, then we should just play the last two points of a match, since so many of the five-setters come down to that last couple of points in a tiebreak. I mean, why bother making people play and watch so much tennis, right?
Well, guess what? Even though players don’t wear white at the US Open, and even though there is far too much emphasis on selling alcohol and keeping fans awake with annoying rock music between games (and then trying to quiet the crowds for play) — tradition matters. The men have played a best-of-five at Wimbledon since its creation in 1877. The tradition of tennis doesn’t need to be uprooted simply because by the time Macur got to the court to view Ivan Dodig’s match, he was retiring due to cramping. He was one of a number whose physical stamina got the best of them in the first few rounds. It happens, and it will continue to happen. It’s a sport of stamina and physical conditioning. Not every player is equal and not every player will get a trophy. Now heres your $32,000 check for losing the first round. Get over it.
The Grand Slams are a big deal. The fact that they require a physically, mentally and technically more-demanding game make it so. Nothing succeeds like success. The best example in the past decade is the Federer-Nadal rivalry. It is probably responsible for all those spectators, who could care less about tennis most of the year, who shell out big bucks to sit in the lousy seats of Arthur Ashe Stadium. When they appear on opposite sides of the net, those two tennis champs transcend the sport. Their ability to raise the level of the game is what makes being a US Open champion special.
Unfortunately for the women, with their two-out-of-three set matches, there is nothing unique about playing in a Grand Slam. It’s just another two-out-of-three stop on the seemingly endless WTA tour. When was the last totally compelling women’s Grand Slam final? Probably back in 2005, when Venus Williams defeated Lindsay Davenport 9-7 in the third set. It’s special for them because they say it’s special.
Unexpected comebacks, epic matches that end in the next calendar day, matches that build dramatic tension as they change momentum, fans that stay emotionally involved in a match even though their favorite player may have already lost the first set (or two)… Fans getting their money’s worth… Borg-McEnroe in ’80, Federer-Nadal in ’08… these would all be missing in Juliet Macur’s vision of the US Open.
Such stupidity will pass: for only two weeks out of the year, while the U.S. Open is going on some place that is a 45-minute subway ride from its headquarters, the New York Times pretends to care about tennis. We should just be glad that no one really reads the New York Times anymore, anyway.
About the author: Greg Victor writes about tennis, is on no one’s payroll and has a Master’s degree in Gender History.