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.
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 -
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.