SHAPOVALOV’S PASSIONATE PLEA FOR WOMEN’S TENNIS: Men’s tennis hardly has a storied history when it comes to women’s tennis. Bobby Riggs cashed in by ridiculing the women’s game. And speaking of cash, Pat Cash barked, “Women’s tennis is two hours of rubbish that only lasts half an hour.”
Some said women players should bow and be grateful to the top ATP players for creating such a lucrative sport. Perhaps John McEnroe was right. He claimed that Serena couldn’t beat the No. 700 man on the tour.
But that’s not the point.
And neither is the fact that some women’s players – think Osaka, Sharapova, Serena and Raducanu – have made bountiful fortunes and thousands of others have thrived. Lately there have been significant gains for women’s tennis. But there are huge gaps.
Until now, Andy Murray, the son of Judy Murray, the European version of Billie Jean King, has been the preeminent male feminist in a game known for its unmistakably in-your-face macho mindset. McEnroe once wrote that cockiness is a requirement to make it on the men’s tour.
Truth be told, we hardly expected Canadian Denis Shapovalov, No. 27, to be a flame-throwing font of feminism. Chest out, voice loud, he struts and puffs as he zooms about the court. A man who uses his share of expletives, as a teen he lost his temper and bashed a ball that almost took out an ump’s eye. You’d think he’d have to dig pretty deep before tapping into his inner Billie Jean King.
Then again, his mom, who completely shaped his game, was a player in the Soviet Union, and his girlfriend Mirjam Björklund, is No. 145 on the WTA Tour.
Earlier this week, Shapovalov issued what we call “the Denis Manifesto.” His essay in the Players Tribune was a clarion call for gender equality in tennis.
Denis conceded that he’d once “assumed that male and female pros were treated the same. Then I met my girlfriend and she really opened my eyes.” When she qualified for a WTA 250 tourney, he told her, “Oh, great! You’ll get at least $7,000 just to be in the main draw!
“She just looked at me like I was completely new to tennis. She was like, ‘Denis…I think it’s like a thousand dollars.’ I was like, “What are you talking about? How is that possible?”
Denis added that tennis’ gender gap is “so unfair. It doesn’t make sense at all. And it matters, because the expenses are crazy in tennis. You travel all year, you stay in hotels, you pay your coaching staff…Many on the tour are struggling just to break even. For these players, prize money is not about getting a nice lump of extra cash. It’s about survival.
“Unfortunately, if you are a female player, your chances of surviving as a pro are a lot lower…because you are a woman.
“Some say women don’t sell as many tickets, but when I go to [women’s] matches the stadiums are full.” Shapovalov noted that in the first round of DC’s tourney the male winner got $14,280, the female winner got $4,100 – or less than one third. Yet, Denis conceded, “Tennis is by far the best major sport in the world for women in terms of the way these prizes are shared.” And much has improved over the last 30 years. The Slams are thriving, there’s free hospitality and better prize money at Challengers. “Things are definitely going in the right direction,” he noted. But overall the gap is still huge.
He continued, “Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think some people might think of gender equality as mere political correctness. Deep down they don’t feel that women deserve as much, you know? And that’s terrible…It’s insane.
“You should be given the same opportunities regardless of gender, color, race…regardless of anything.”
Shapovalov noted when he was a kid, Canada’s tennis federation wouldn’t listen to his mother and coach, even though she’d won national championships in the Soviet Union. Denis asked, “Was it because she was a woman?…It still makes no sense.
“When my mom was playing in the Soviet Union, she felt that she didn’t have the opportunity to fulfill her potential because of money. So she dedicated her adult life to giving me that chance.”
Denis spoke of the painful grind of learning the game while living in poverty. He was told not to slide because that wore out his shoes and his family couldn’t afford new ones.
He asked, “Can you see now why discrimination bothers me? Can you see how hard it is to make it in tennis? Can you understand why stuff like prize money is important? I have been fighting the odds…[and] I’m a guy. Can you imagine how much harder it is for women?
“I’m happy that tennis has come such a long way…but I don’t think we can be happy until tennis is completely equal for everyone. I’d like to see a tour where the tournaments are the same for women and men every week…As for prize money, anything else but complete equality is not just unfair – it also blocks participation. If female players are not being treated fairly, some of those at the lower levels may find they can’t afford to continue. Potential stars will just quit…[and women’s tennis]…will be shown less on TV. That would have a domino effect and…if women’s tennis gets less exposure, the little girl in front of the TV may not think it could be a reality for her. And that is heartbreaking.
“So let’s give everyone the same chance…Let’s stop talking about reducing the gender gap. If we want tennis to be fair, it should not exist at all.”
For her part, Billie Jean King thanked Shapovalov and contended, “Equality does not mean less for some. Instead, it ensures more for all. There is so much work left to do.”
THE MAN WHO LOVES TO SUFFER: Eighteen years ago, a 17-year-old Scottish kid with two good hips who hadn’t yet collected four Slams and two Olympic golds won his first tournament in California, his first ATP tourney, a Challenger event in the seaside village of Aptos.
Goodness, Sir Andy Murray was just a commoner back then. And, while Roger, Rafa and Nole are all far from Indian Wells, the 35-year-old Murray battles on, flying the flag of tennis love. The not-that-fleet, but oh-so-committed warrior, with his incredible backhand, great return, uncanny anticipation and veteran savvy, amazingly prevailed in a 3:12 marathon over Argentinian Tomas Martin Etcheverry, who just days ago reached the final of a clay court tourney in Santiago, Chile.
Amazingly, Andy is now 7-0 in deciding sets this year. Today he saved two break points when trailing 4-3 in the final set. The man adores the battle. After his 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 comeback win, courtside announcer Andrew Krasny observed, “You showed all of us that you still have super powers…You could be on a yacht in the south of France with your kids counting your money.” (Murray’s net worth is $100 million.) Krasny added, “I have a feeling you will still be playing here in your eighties.”
Andy explained his drive, saying that when he was recuperating from his two hip surgeries he spent a lot of time at home, and his wife Kim Sears was “pushing me out the door.” He added, “I’m still extremely motivated,” and spoke of his love of competition and his “brilliant support team.”
Murray said that after his incredible middle-of-the-night 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 upset win over Matteo Berrettini at the Aussie Open, “Many people came up to me and said they found it inspiring.”
The world No. 55 added that “Getting to the final days of Slams is still the goal…The one thing is to give my best effort every single day and if I do that I will finish my career on a high note.”
Broadcaster Steve Weissman noted, “The man loves to suffer and we love him for it.” Murray next plays the No. 15 seed, Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta. He then could face one of his fellow Brits, Jack Draper or Dan Evans.
WIMBLEDON BAN TO BE LIFTED? Multiple reports indicate that, due to pressure from the tours, players from Russia and Belarus will no longer be banned from Wimbledon because of the Ukrainian war. So Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachenov, Aryna Sabalenka and Vika Azarenka will all be eligible to play Wimbledon this year.Andy Murray told BBC, “It’s a really difficult one and I do feel for the players who weren’t able to play last year, but I also understand the situation and why it’s really hard for Wimbledon to make a call on it as well.”