Sunday, April 1, 2012

Barbarians at the net

I watched a little of the Sony Ericsson Open yesterday. It was the women's finals, featuring world number two Maria Sharapova versus world number four Agnieszka Radwanska. It was a good match, with Radwanska basically frustrating Sharapova at every turn, eventually winning 7-5, 6-4.

Tennis is great sport, and professional tennis is--to  me--highly enjoyable because the competitors come from all over the world. Truly all over the world. But in recent years, the dominant players seem to be hailing more and more frequently from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, especially in the WTA. Look at the current rankings:

11Azarenka, Victoria31/07/89BLR973021
22Sharapova, Maria19/04/87RUS793015
33Kvitova, Petra08/03/90CZE717018
45Radwanska, Agnieszka06/03/89POL596022
56Stosur, Samantha30/03/84AUS582522
64Wozniacki, Caroline11/07/90DEN541022
77Bartoli, Marion02/10/84FRA471028
88Li, Na26/02/82CHN463518
99Zvonareva, Vera07/09/84RUS434021
1010Petkovic, Andrea09/09/87GER380018
1111Williams, Serena26/09/81USA358014
1212Schiavone, Francesca23/06/80ITA351522
1313Lisicki, Sabine22/09/89GER314121
1419Kerber, Angelique18/01/88GER282021
1514Jankovic, Jelena28/02/85SRB281523
1616Ivanovic, Ana06/11/87SRB278522
1715Goerges, Julia02/11/88GER278526
1817Cibulkova, Dominika06/05/89SVK248522
1921Hantuchova, Daniela23/04/83SVK245027
2022Vinci, Roberta18/02/83ITA239527
2120Pavlyuchenkova, Anastasia03/07/91RUS238122
2223Kirilenko, Maria25/01/87RUS235024
2318Peng, Shuai08/01/86CHN224023
2427Kuznetsova, Svetlana27/06/85RUS210619
2528Safarova, Lucie04/02/87CZE208023

Thirteen claim residence in those regions. Andrea Petkovic resides in Germany, but is from Bosnia. That's fourteen out of twenty-five, over 50%. The numbers are pretty much the same for the next seventy five, with about forty being from Eastern Europe and/or states of the former Soviet Union.

And frankly, they've earned those rankings by winning. It's completely fair. Still, for a sport--women's tennis--that was once dominated by the United States and Commonwealth nations, it's a troubling development, in my opinion.

To be fair, dominant players from these regions are nothing new. After all, the seventies and eighties saw the rise of Martina Navratilova and--to a lesser extent--Hanna Mandlikova. But they were only two of the field. Also in that field were Americans, Brits, Australians, and many others.

And maybe there's a little bit of snobbery at work here. I have to admit that I miss the tennis of that earlier period; no flashy clothing, a more polite game, and--most importantly--a quieter game. For if there is one thing that has followed the change in demographics among the tennis elites, it is the rise is grunting and the like after hitting a shot. Go back and look at an Evert match. Points are deathly quiet. The impact of racquet on ball and shoe on ground is all that can be heard. A Bub Collins whisper of "net court!" sounded like a blaring horn. Now, points are loud, as--more often than not--both players grunt their way through the match, from start to finish.

Pardon my French, but were the hell did all that come from? Perhaps the men did a little grunting in the past, but the current crop of men is out of control, too (with quite notable exceptions). But I really think that, as a group, the women are louder. Is it possible that this is a consequence of where they are from, of the circumstances in which they learned to play the game? I honestly don't know and--having never visited tennis camps and facilities throughout Eastern Europe--cannot offer any evidence, one way or the other.

But the barbaric yawps that characterize the top tiers of tennis are a product of something.

Cheers, all.

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