Just in

It’s the whole thing, stupid!

Jane Shillingford on the issues surrounding tennis-watching

Wimbledon wouldn’t be Wimbledon without the odd ‘manufactured’ media controversy. Early contenders include an ungracious Frenchman – I won’t even bother to look up his name – who got beat and flounced out of SW19 saying he hated the tournament anyway.

Good riddance to him.

Personally I am rather enjoying the latest one, over the Wimbledon authorities’ tightening of its ‘almost entirely white’ clothing rules. Andrew Jarrett, the tournament referee, apparently wrote to players in advance to specify that only a 1cm trim of colour would be allowed around necklines, cuffs, headbands, underwear, caps and socks.

Former (1987) Wimbledon men’s champion and current pundit Pat Cash, playing in the veteran’s section, has now apparently grabbed himself some media coverage by withdrawing in protest when his specialist tennis shoes ran foul of the ‘ridiculous’ ruling and going on to claim that some female players have been reduced to playing without bras because their underwear did not comply.

See here, if you must – DAILY MAIL

Big deal. Furthermore, highly-ironic that a man brings up in public his concerns that women might have to play tennis without a bra.

I don’t suppose for a moment that I’m the only female spectator who despairs of the Amazon-like ‘tennis teen’ robots that currently dominate the world of ladies’ tennis. It’s a fact of life that in tennis – as with most sporting contests – speed and power, natural or developed, are key attributes that enable one participant to prevail over another.

I call in evidence the outstanding careers of the large and powerful Venus and Serena Williams, who have on many occasions down the years blown their opponents away. To combat them – to emulate them, even – tennis academies around the world have sought out tall, powerful, athletic girls with good ball-sports skills and timing, to nurture and develop with years and years of practice.

We Brits sometimes get stick from tennis insiders for presuming that the sport takes place exclusively over a fortnight either side of the 1st of July each year (i.e. the Wimbledon tournament), an attitude that ignores the year-round women’s tour which makes a lot of money for a lot of people.

My answer to that is straightforward. If the women’s tour consists of wall-to-wall biff-bang play conducted by unsmiling, unemotional, robotic identikit automatons with bleached blonde hair, all dressed in sponsor-branded kit (“If it’s Tuesday, we must be playing a qualifier event in Belgium …”) – as I strongly suspect it does – you can keep it, frankly.

My kind of women’s tennis consists of bright British SW19 sunshine, Pimm’s, strawberries, cucumber sandwiches, Dan (“Ooh I say!”) Maskell, Max Robertson – and the personalities – Maria Bueno, Margaret Smith (later Court), Evonne Goolagong (later Cawley), Chris Evert (later Lloyd, later Mills, later Norman) … and of course plucky Brits such as Ann Jones, Ginny Wade, Sue Barker (later Tankard) and Jo Durie – who looks to all intents and purposes like you and me, albeit plainly better at playing tennis – going through annual emotional roller-coaster rides of highs, lows and disappointments.

As an old-fashioned feminist, I cannot help it, I prefer to get my fix of ‘power and speed’ athleticism from watching men’s tennis.

I’m not going down the route here of discussing the other attributes (e.g. sweated, matted hair, bronzed arms and thighs, tight buttocks) that prompt me to delight in watching some men’s matches rather than others, that’s for me and my girlfriends to discuss over a bottle of white wine in a bar of our choice.

Heather Watson

Heather Watson

However, when it comes back to women’s tennis, for me you can stick the automaton/power thing in the waste-paper bin.

We female spectators are just as interested in the hair styles, the outfits [what on earth was Heather Watson doing yesterday afternoon in her losing second round match, wearing what effectively looked like a bell-tent? No wonder she couldn’t get around the court as she might have liked, it was like a parachute billowing out behind her …] and identifying with ‘our’ girl’s inevitable mental crises as the match in question ebbs and flows.

Anyone interested in female sport can, of course, admire and respect the ‘power and speed’ merchants, but seeing them perform isn’t the reason we female spectators go along in such numbers to Wimbledon.

We’re there for the entertainment quotient and the empathising.




Avatar photo
About Jane Shillingford

Jane spent the bulk of her career working on women’s magazines. Now retired and living on the south coast, she has no regrets and 'would do it all again'. More Posts