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Tennis Tops Women’s Sports, and Yet Still Fights for Footing

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Why is there room at the highest for less than one women’s sport?

We head now into the French Open’s final weekend, a showcase for 2 suspenseful singles finals. The ladies’s championship match in Paris will feature two players poised to interact in an extended fight for girls’s tennis supremacy.

Iga Swiatek, a 21-year-old Polish champion who won this tournament in 2020, plays a form of fresh, cutthroat tennis that has her on the cusp of winning 35 straight matches.

Standing in her way will likely be the 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, the bubbling prodigy who may, the truth is, be too established to be considered a prodigy any more. Making the ultimate of a serious tournament, making it boldly and unapologetically, stamps Gauff as a long-lasting and considerable force.

Gauff and Swiatek make their bids for history on Saturday. In the boys’s final on Sunday, Rafael Nadal will seek his 14th French Open singles championship in a matchup against No. 8 seed Casper Ruud, the primary Norwegian man to succeed in a Grand Slam singles final.

Each matches are expected to attract massive and nearly equal public attention, but women’s tennis still must engage in a fight for fair footing. We’ve seen that unfold again on the red clay at Roland Garros over the past two weeks (more on this later). Still, skilled tennis sets the usual for popularity and viability in women’s sports — and it’s not even close.

Due to the struggle for fairness led by legends like Althea Gibson, the Williams sisters, and Billie Jean King, the ladies’s pro game plays consistently before packed, avid audiences. Their finals often draw more viewers than men’s at probably the most distinguished events. Off the court, the highest players are endorsement and social media gold. On the 4 Grand Slam tournaments, they’ve been earning equal prize money since 2007. Either Gauff or Swiatek will walk away with a tidy $2.4 million.

Every major tennis championship offers a likelihood to wonder why other women’s sports don’t share the identical level of success.

Skilled golf comes closest, but doesn’t have it. Nor does big-time soccer.

Despite recent inroads ensuring equal rates of pay for the US’ men’s and ladies’s national teams, the ladies’s game sits mostly within the shadows aside from throughout the World Cup.

Interest grows in sports like gymnastics, figure skating, swimming and skiing when the Olympics come around, but when the Games finish, it at all times fades.

The recognition of girls’s basketball is on the upswing, particularly at the school level. Still, within the skilled ranks, the fight for respect looks like it can drag on for years. Last week, once I wrote a column a couple of former star from a top college team struggling to satisfy her dream of latching on with a W.N.B.A. team, the responses were typical.

Women’s basketball, said one reader, “is just a giant yawn.” An old acquaintance called to present a regular line: “Women can’t dunk, so I’m not watching.”

The concept female athletes must perform exactly like men to be taken seriously is not sensible. We should always give you the option to enjoy and appreciate each on their very own merits. Tennis is the most effective example. Overall, the highest female tennis players don’t hit with the facility and spin of top skilled men.

And yet the ladies’s tour greater than holds its own.

Why can’t the opposite sports?

There are not any easy answers explaining tennis’s pre-eminence.

That each men and ladies share glory at Wimbledon and the French, U.S. and Australian Opens definitely adds to the standing and luster of the ladies’s game.

We still live in a world where strong, powerful women who break the mold struggle for acceptance. Consider the W.N.B.A., stocked with outspoken women, a majority of them Black, who’ve shown a communal willingness to take aggressive stands for L.G.B.T.Q. rights, reproductive freedom and politics. How do you’re thinking that that goes down in lots of corners of America and the world?

Yes, tennis often has a couple of outspoken players willing to publicly buck against power. In the sport’s modern era, Venus and Serena Williams did it just by showing up and dominating. Naomi Osaka bent the principles along with her face masks protesting for Black rights. However the overwhelming majority of girls in tennis wear their significant power quietly, behind the scenes, and in a way that doesn’t overly upset the male-dominated established order. To think that this is just not a think about the professional tour’s popularity could be silly.

Men, in fact, formed their biggest leagues a long time before the age of girls’s empowerment. Major League Baseball traces its lineage to 1876. The N.F.L. to 1920. The N.W.S.L., for comparison, formed in 2012, and the W.N.B.A in 1997. For a long time, men sucked up all of the oxygen, and the celebs of the most important skilled sports became worshiped icons. Television and radio gilded their games: Willie Mays’s miraculous center field catch within the 1954 World Series; Johnny Unitas leading the Baltimore Colts past the Giants within the N.F.L. Championship in 1958; the Boston Celtics’ announcer Johnny Most shouting, “Havlicek stole the ball!” in 1965.

Through the enduring power of radio and tv, these and countless other moments of greatness became etched perpetually in memory. They didn’t include women.

Time changes the whole lot, nonetheless slowly.

The 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” — King against the chauvinist windbag Bobby Riggs — set a latest and lasting tone. Their match drew 90 million viewers, making it one of the watched sporting spectacles then or since, and helping launch women’s tennis toward once-unthinkable heights.

However the sparring doesn’t end. On the French Open over the past two weeks, the organizers staged night sessions that featured what they billed because the match of the day. Ten were played. Just one was a women’s match.

Discuss complicated. Controversy over the scheduling kicked up when, of all people, Amélie Mauresmo, the tournament director and a former top-ranked player, said she set the nighttime schedule because the boys’s game had more “appeal” than the ladies’s game immediately.

So which means Swiatek, the highest seed and a past Paris champion with a monumental winning streak, was not appealing enough. Gauff was not appealing enough. Same for the four-time major champion Osaka, or last yr’s young and charismatic U.S. Open finalists, Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu. None took to the clay at night.

The more things change, the more things stay the identical.

The players and power brokers in women’s tennis should always be vigilant, but they’ve a striking advantage: Their controversies, their fights to be taken seriously and their championship matches unfold on the most important stages in front of the world’s gaze.

But why must women’s tennis be alone?

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