The Coverage Of The Serena Williams/Maria Sharapova 'Rivalry' Is Bollocks
The Debrief: Remember that time Andy Murray and Roger Federer had a 'cat fight'? Nope, us either.
'The most bitter cat fight in tennis: One's a human volcano, the other's an ice queen. And BOTH loved the same man. As they duel on Centre Court today, the venomous truth about Serena and Sharapova.' And so opened one paper's coverage of today's Wimbledon semi-final between the world's two biggest female tennis players. Because no-one's interested in women's sports unless there's a juicy backstory right guys?
The gist of the 'story' is this: once upon a time many moons ago in June 2013, Serena Williams gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine. In it she said, 'She begins every interview with "I'm so happy. I'm so lucky" – it's so boring. She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.' Serena didn't name Maria explicitly, but the reporter kindly made that jump for the readers saying, 'An educated guess is she's talking about Sharapova, who is now dating Grigor Dimitrov, one of Serena's rumored exes.'
Anyways, later that week, at a press conference, Maria said of Serena; 'If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids.' The two did reportedly put things behind them though. Serena said: 'I made it a point to reach out to Maria, because she was inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the reporter.' A year later she called Maria's outfit 'supercute' on Twitter. Which isn't exactly the sort of thing you say about your mortal enemy so... case closed. The end. Right? Wrong. Because, unlike Maria and Serena's male counterparts, some media outlets are choosing to focus less on the sporting achievements of the two women, and instead are keen to reduce them to base, outdated cliches.
Let's look at the facts here; both women are among the most talented sports stars walking the planet. Serena has won 20 (yes that's 20) Grand Slams (for context that's three more than any man has won) whilst Maria has been ranked World Number One on five separate occasions and is the sole Russian to have achieved the 'career Grand Slam' (that's winning the Australian Open, The French Open, The US Open and Wimbledon). How's that for sporting achievement?
To reduce the rivalry between the two women to the status of 'cat fight' then is mind meltingly frustrating. Rivalries between the men are celebrated with articles like 'Five reasons why the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry is better than the Federer-Nadal one' that, rather than focussing on aspects of their personal lives, are about the sport itself. Pitching two successful women against each other in a negative light is something that we love to do to to successful women in a bid to keep them down. It's why every time a talent show features two female judges, their weekly outfits, personal lives and careers are pitted against each other ('Cheryl Fernandez-Vernsini vs Rita Ora: whoose career has really got the X-Factor'), and, why ten years on, people still can't bloody get over something that may or may not have happened between Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston.
Not only is manifesting a 'cat fight' un-sisterly, it cheapens the sporting achievements of the two players. In a time when only two women can be found on the Forbes' list of the 100 highest paid athletes (incidentally those women happen to be Serena and Maria; the gender earnings gap in tennis is lower than in any other sport) and where many of our female football players rely on full-time jobs when they're not busy placing higher in the World Cup than the mens' team have managed since 1966, surely it's important to focus not on the players' personal lives or physical attributes and instead on what what they've manage to achieve in their chosen field. Sure, sex, beauty and juicy gossip sells but do you really want that to be the basis behind the promotion of womens' sports? That's like giving creedence to that Brazilian official who said women's football is improving because women are wearing shorter shorts and are 'more beautiful'. Sure it's one way to get the crowds in, but if you want them to stay and appreciate sport for sport, that's definitely not the way.
Anyways, whilst tennis has long been a place where women are judged on their beauty, their fashion sense and, for some reason, the noises they make when they hit the ball, it also, as is seen in part by the aforementioned dimishing gender pay gap, and thanks in part to superstars like Serena and Maria, a sport where women at the top of their game are closer than ever to being parity with their male counterparts. Since Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in part two of the Battle Of The Sexes in 1973, female tennis has made people sit up and take notice; the prize money for the singles winners is the same, and Maria has proved that she can out earn lots of the boys (she's raked in a cool $29.7 million [£19 million] as of 2015). Surely then media outlets shouldn't be trying to detract from the power female tennis players have? Shouldn't they instead be using the sport as an example as to the equality that female athletes from other fields can hopefully one day achieve?
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