Aus Open Day 11: the Gameswoman.


Don’t get me wrong. I am far from being a fan or even a sympathetic observer of Victoria Azarenka. She is not the most endearing, classy tennis player out there, nor has she ever sought to be.

But the one thing I despise more than gamesmanship is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy was in abundance yesterday as Tennis Fandom collectively got on its high horse and branded Azarenka as a villain and the cheat.

Azarenka Aus Open 2013

Sure. Vika did not help her own cause by giving inconsistent stories throughout this whole incident. When asked in her on court interview why she left to the court, Azarenka replied, to an icy, silent crowd on Rod Laver Arena, that she was overwhelmed by nerves and almost did the choke of the year. Later on ESPN, Azarenka would claim she had breathing issues. And in her post match press conference, Vika told the media that she had to unlock her rib because it was causing back issues and making it hard for her to breathe. 

But none of this, as Craig Tilley confirmed last night on Ch 7, was against the rule books. In fact, the doctor backed up Azarenka’s story to the tournament director: 

In this instance, the doctor confirmed that he did treat the rib, he did treat the knee, and once he made that assessment, she was able and ready to continue to play. On our initial assessment on this, and also on advice from the doctor, it’s correct.

 Not that it mattered what the tournament organisers thought of Azarenka’s actions. Twitter had already made up its mind. As Jamie Murray tweeted:

“Withdrawal due to bad pedicure. Medical timeout at 5-4 for nervousness. I’m not LMFAO. #whoyoutryingtokidd

Who said Azarenka had a medical timeout for nervousness? Not Azarenka. Not the doctor. Not the tournament director. But I guess you knew better, Jamie. Because of the many grand slam semi-final nerves and bad pedicures you’ve had in your lifetime.

Even Mrs Haas decided to have a dig: 

“So when ur tired,frustrated and stressed which most are in a slam, you can take a 10 minute break off court.Good to know that’s allowed now”.

 Right. Because Tommy Haas has never abused a MTOs in his career to his opponents’ detriment. Surely, that man has a flawless record? (Hint: NO).

Azarenka did what was within her rights according to the rule book. Did she abuse the rules? Was it at least in part gamesmanship? I have no doubt it was. But you do not get to judge if -

  1. You are fan of Nadal, Djokovic, or any player who has ever taken a medical time out at a coincidentally critical moment of a match, only to hold, break serve and/or win the set as soon as they return.  
  2. You are a fan of Roger Federer and you watched him run off court to empty his bladder mid match against Nikolay Davydenko at the Australian Open 2010 while the setting sun moved slowly across the court on Rod Laver Arena for an even shade.
  3. You’ve never played high stakes tennis yourself in a grand slam semi-final while not feeling 100%.

I’m not saying that what Azarenka did was classy, fair or even appropriate. Azarenka violated the spirit of the game and then had the audacity to be utterly shameless about it.

But what I am saying is that you do not get to call someone a cheat for something that, given the chance, a lot – maybe even most – players on tour would take advantage of. You do not get to rail against actions that were nothing new to both men’s and women’s tennis, allowable under the rules of the game and cleared by the tournament organisers – simply because you feel like piling hate onto a player you disliked to begin with.

The worst part of Azarenka-gate is that it was never really about just Azarenka. There is something more sinister and disturbing behind the strength of the vitriol directed against Vika: The crowd, the media and indeed the tennis community hate her because they consider her to represent the worst of women’s tennis. The notorious side of the WTA tour that Tsonga flippantly referred to as “unstable emotionally”, pumped full of scary women hormones, seagull grunts, pedicures gone wrong and chokes-of-the-year.

The vitriol against Vika stems from the same sort of sentiments that led to this article being published in the Age by its “Chief Sports Columnist” and giant misogynist pig:  

TICKETS for the Australian Open have been on sale for almost four months. Yet, as of Thursday afternoon, the women’s final was not sold out.

Perhaps that was because the $294.90 adult tickets did not come with complimentary ear plugs. An oversight given the ”Decibelles”, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, had proven last year that if rock’n’roll ain’t noise pollution, women’s tennis often is.

Why pay for a sensory experience you can get for nothing standing outside an opened window at a brothel?

Source: the Age

Yes. I kid you not. A broadsheet newspaper in Australia actually compared watching women’s tennis to standing outside a brothel. Never mind Li Na’s inspired run to the final, raising her game to outclass the utterly dominant Maria Sharapova. Never mind Sloane Stephens’ induction onto the big stage, a young player knocking on the doors of a grand slam final like she was the starlet of some cheesy coming-of-age movie, following a path lit up by passion. Never mind all that, because female tennis players are comparable to prostitutes and I GIVE UP.

I give up on the kind of incessantly unoriginal mainstream media coverage of women’s tennis that pays no attention to the actual quality of tennis being played, but rather rehashes the same themes repetitively: grunting, instability, sex appeal, equal prize money … blah blah blah.  

I give up on the attempt by media and fans alike to devalue women’s tennis because – oh! – they only play best of 3 sets instead of best of 5. Right, that argument would make total sense … if tennis players were paid by the set. It’s the sporting equivalent of the argument that we should pay more money to watch a longer movie; or that brick sized books are more entertaining than short and sweet novelas. (And while we’re on the argument of “length = quality”, at 93 minutes long, the 62 62 Sharapova v Li semi was longer and more competitive than Djokovic’s 89 minute drubbing of David Ferrer. Value for money? Equal pay? I think not). 

I give up on the total ignorance of general sports media to recent trends in women’s tennis where a period of dominance and stability has begun among players like Serena, Sharapova, Azarenka, Radwanksa, Kerber … each of whom can be expected to reach the second week of slams and the latter stages of major tournaments.

Emotionally unstable? Upset prone? Oh tell that to a Frenchman. I give up.

But before I do, before I’m really, really done with the lamestream media, I am going to get this off my chest. I am going to bug the Age to apologize. I am going to rant on my little blog, because the WTA tour matters. These players and their predecessors who first inspired my love for tennis matter. And no one gets to compare a group of young, professional women working hard and competing like hell for their dreams to prostitutes.

xx doots

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14 responses to “Aus Open Day 11: the Gameswoman.”

  1. mattzemek says :

    *APPLAUSE*

    Thank you for saying things that needed to be said, Doots.

  2. manixdk says :

    The MTO was ordered by the medical staff.

  3. Pat says :

    Doots, you don’t get to tell people who they can and can’t call cheats.

  4. Anna says :

    Azarenka was asked point blank by Sam Smith why she’d taken the timeout. She said she almost committed the choke of the year and that she was overwhelmed.
    Those were her words.

  5. Kait O'Callahan says :

    The above poster is missing the point. I too am sick of the blatant sexism against women’s tennis, and lets face it, women in general. They even announced the men’s match on RLA as the ‘main event’ one night, as if women are just a warm up for the men. I believe Wawrinka called a pretty suspicious time out against Djokovic, but he didn’t get called out for it at all. I would love to see one of the WTA players speak out against this blatant sexism, and some time soon. I’m not sure how much more I can take.

    • peRFectTennis says :

      *NEWS FLASH* Men’s tennis is the main event. It’s not sexist to say that, it’s just fact. Any time you visit a Grand Slam and the OOP is Mens match, womens match, mens match. What happens when the first match has finished? The crowd disperses to outside courts and the majority of them don’t come back until its time for the third match. Are all those people sexist? Nope, they just choose to avoid mindless ball bashing and grunting.

      Unfortunately it’s tough for some to accept with their victim mindset.

  6. alaify says :

    This is an excellent article. Two thumbs up from me. My take, who cares for what mainstream media/random observers think. people who enjoy tennis will continue to do so, regardless. if you don’t like, why watch?

  7. marylin says :

    Please don’t “give up”.

    Great article!!

  8. northernboy says :

    Brilliant column. Spot on in every respect

  9. Patrick of La Verne says :

    Brava. I’m most irritated with Patrick McEnroe, who led the charge against Azarenka’s gamesmanship even though his brother spent his entire career breaking his opponents’ concentration with tirades designed to show up and intimidate umpires and linesmen.

  10. PriorVikaFan says :

    I understand the frustration regarding the traetment of women’s tennis, but, having watched a lot of matches, some of the reputation of the WTA is richly deserved. My personal opinion is that Azarenka cheated, and that she should be penalized for that. Medical assessments for minor injuries are made in large part based on feedback from a player. Will we ever know if there was a real physical injury? Probably not, but we are entitled to our individual opinions. I have been livid watching Wozniacki pull the same stunt a couple of times at smaller events. This really shouldn’t be tolerated by the players or fans– regardless of whether you call it gamesmanship or cheating, both are bad for the sport– especially for the WTA. If you are fighting an uphill battle against discrimination, which the WTA has since its inception, you simply cannot tolerate behavior that brings legitimacy to those who belittle the players and their accomplishments. Life and sport is not about doing the minimum allowed by the rules. It is and should be about being better than minimum. That is the mark of a champion.

  11. Final Judgement says :

    “Azarenka did what was within her rights according to the rule book. Did she abuse the rules? Was it at least in part gamesmanship? I have no doubt it was. But you do not get to judge if –

    2.You are a fan of Roger Federer …

    …so you have already made a judgement that Azarenka’s actions were at least in part gameswomanship.

    You are a self confessed “Federer Fanatic”

    So surely by your own stipulation you “do not get to judge”? But you did because you said you had no doubt it was at least in part gamesmanship.

    Also, “And no one gets to compare a group of young, professional women working hard and competing like hell for their dreams to prostitutes.”

    I think he was comparing the “sensory experience” rather than directly to prostitutes. What are YOU implying about prostitutes in your final sentence? Prostitutes are human beings. Women, playing a different kind of game, but still Gameswomen. Probably a much tougher game. Some suggested reading for you…

    You have to be very careful if you’re going to use the word HYPOCRISY. It has a reflexive habit of kicking it’s own user’s teeth out !

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