Page 67 ff. (Remember that this was written in 2010)
It would not be an exaggeration to say that many watch tennis for other reasons than the sport itself. They also watch tennis to see the players – like women with especially well trimmed bodies. Maybe not the most muscular of them, but instead those with finely carved upper arms, fine facial bone structures so that one is amazed and slightly aroused at how they both can look like figure skating princesses and at the same time excel in one of the most physically demanding sports in the world (footnote: ESPN … once commissioned an expert panel to evaluate 60 of the most common sports and crown the most demanding of them based on 10 different parameters. The list, which was topped by boxing, had tennis in seventh place just behind wrestling and fight sports, and several places ahead of football.) by hour after hour hammering out forehands, each more brutal than the last. It’s those kinds of tennis fans, who would rather watch Maria Kirilenko than Serena Williams, and who for many years were influential in making Anna Kournikova to the Internet’s most searched athlete, tournament organisers and sponsors are thinking about when they put certain players on Centre Court and ask them to remove clothing for advertising photographers.
One might imagine that the people behind desks in the WTA shake their heads and snort derisively over the fact that their sports stars are appraised by their looks in a way that usually celebrates and cultivates the white, blonde, long-legged female body. A backhand is a backhand, a forehand is a forehand, the performance on court speaks for itself, they might say. And they would have good reason to think that way, but it would ring hollow, because if there is one thing the WTA is interested in, it’s the sexualisation of its female tennis players, whose interests it allegedly represents.
One example will suffice. The WTAs home page – the central site for women’s tennis, with a constant stream of news, video clips, interviews, player info, statistics, tournament programmes, results and the players’ own blogs – had at the end of 2009 as the top photo story on the front page the news that two players, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, were nominated to the 2010 edition of the net’s most popular men’s web magazine, Ask-Men.com’s list of the world’s Top 99 Most Desirable Women. Last year Eva Mendes won ahead of two Victoria’s Secret underwear models and a Sun page 3 model. Under the headline “Vote for Ana & Maria Now!”, the WTA wrote that a 31st place was the highest placing a tennis player ever had, so “Let’s try and get Sharapova and Ivanovic in in the Top 30 – vote now by clicking here!” When you click, you come to a picture of Ivanovic stretched out in front of a swimming pool in a tight bathing suit. The editors judge her ‘Sexiness Factor’ to be 72 on a scale of 0 to 99, where 99 is the sexiest. Sharapova’s sexiness is all the way up to 87, which the editors justify with “nothing’s hotter than a body that is perfectly formed, and that’s why Maria Sharapova is high up on our hotness scale. Her face is the epitome of classic beauty. She has long blonde hair and even longer legs. This 188 cm. tall splendid example certainly doesn’t leave many empty seats.”
Centre Court at Wimbledon was well filled up with spectators when Sharapova met Gisela Dulko in another match that had people grumbling about the organisers’ motives for giving, in this case, the world’s number 60 against the world’s number 45, access to the world’s most prominent tennis stage. Dulko won this “Catwalk on the Court” as it was dubbed by the media, who noted that Sharapova had med her superior, with regards to both looks and ability. (Anders has a footnote here saying that in all fairness Maria was ranked so low only because she had missed very many matches because of injury).
One might imagine that when sponsors, organisers, journalists and the WTA play happily along with this that the players would object to all the non-sport stuff. Not so. Shortly after the win, the biggest of her career, Gisela Dulko sat behind the oak wood panel on the slightly raised stage with the characteristic lilac and green Wimbledon logo on the back wall in the Main Interview Room, where the obligatory press conferences take place. A journalist from the English newspaper The Sun, sitting in one of the many plush seats, began his question by telling Dulko that Sharapova had, of course, many fans, not just because she was a great tennis player, but also because she was pretty and had done some modeling. “Some have noticed that you don’t look too bad yourself,” he continued. Dulko thanked him nicely. The journalist went on to tell her that The Sun had named her Wimbledon’s new pinup, and, in that connexion, would like to know what she thought about that kind of attention, if she welcomed it. She did: “Yes, it’s always nice. I’ve always said that I’m not just a tennis player, I’m also a woman.”