Saturday, July 5, 2008

What I'm Doing Saturday Morning: Knitting and Tennis

I cast on for Elizabeth Zimmerman's Pi Shawl last night, and now I'm knitting away in stockinette while watching two of the best athletes that ever lived.

As someone who has a beloved little sister who has always pushed her to excellence, no result of the women's draw at Wimbeldon this year could have made me happier than Serena versus Venus. These women have changed the game of tennis and the world in so many ways.

For example, when the Williams sisters started playing tennis, the purses at three of the four the Grand Slams (and who knows how many lesser tournaments) were tens of thousands less for women than for men. Only the U.S. Open granted prize money parity in 1999. The Williams Sisters' electric style helped change that.

Rick Reilly, columnist for Sports Illustrated assessed the situation this way:
Did you hear what happened to Venus Williams after she won Wimbledon on Sunday? She was robbed! She had $52,923 ripped right out of her purse! In broad daylight!

Instead of getting $705,109, which men's winner Goran Ivanisevic received on Monday, she earned about a new Lexus less. You talk about a grass ceiling. Not only that, but it also happened to Jennifer Capriati this year at the French Open. The dinosaurs who run that tournament gave her $29,306 less than the men's winner, Gustavo Kuerten.

Leave it to tennis to jack the only group of players anybody wants to see. You don't believe me? Let's compare, shall we?

In the women's Top 10, you have the riveting Slam Sisters -- Venus and Serena Williams -- the tempestuous Martina Hingis, the sports story of the year in Capriati, the tragic Monica Seles and the big Teddette bear, Lindsay Davenport, not to mention, at No. 11, the world's leading cause of whiplash, Anna Kournikova. In the men's Top 10 you have nine guys you couldn't pick out of a Pinto full of Domino's delivery men, plus Andre Agassi. Combined, most of the Top 10 men have the Q rating of a lamp. Seriously, is Yevgeny Kafelnikov a tennis player or something you cure with penicillin?

The women play amazing, long, topsy-turvy, edge-of-your-seat points. The men hit 140-mph aces nobody can see, and then ask for a towel. Everything is serve and towel, serve and towel. It's like being at a cocktail party with Boris Yeltsin. In a third-round Wimbledon match Ivanisevic had 41 aces against Andy Roddick, who had 20. It is unclear how the rest of the points were won because the official statistician fell asleep. If men's tennis is to be saved, somebody had better start decompressing these guys' balls. Then something has to be done about the equipment.

The women we know by first names: Can you believe what Martina said about Serena? They hate one another, insult one another's fathers, insult their own fathers, bump each other on changeovers, wear body-hugging Technicolor dresses designed by Edward Scissorhands and generally provide more story lines than six months' worth of All My Children, all of which will come splattering out later this month in a new book about the women's tour, Venus Envy.

(Read the rest of Reilly's column here.)

They have blown up expectations of class, race, and gender. As Mary Carillo just said, watching their match at Wimbeldon, "This is where they belong."


Read an old article (1999) at the New York Times here.

Read article about Wimbeldon finally granting pay parity last year here.

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