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Men behaving badly

The women don't have as long a leash as their counterparts
Posted: Wednesday January 23, 2002 10:44 AM

By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Corkscrew journalism, they call it here. Person A makes an incendiary remark about a subject near and dear to Person B. Person B is then asked to react. Person A is then asked to react to the reaction. And around it goes, counterclockwise, like water down the drain here. Last year's corkscrew topic at the Australian Open regarded Yevgeny Kafelnikov's complaint that male players don't earn enough cash. After Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Todd Martin and others weighed in, Kafelnikov responded cryptically that he didn't give a damn about the "Western, capitalistic perspective." (At least that's what we think he said. The running joke was that it was hard to hear from Yevgeny the Pauper over the roar of the engines of his private Lear jet.)

This year Marcelo Rios remarked that the early rounds of the women's draw are a joke. Jennifer Capriati responded that "stupidity deserves no answer back." Rios stood by his guns and suggested that the Williams sisters couldn't take a game off of Karsten Braasch, the player they challenged here several years ago. The corkscrew still rotates, though Rios' point was undercut Tuesday night when Monica Seles and Venus Williams played for more than half an hour longer than their male counterparts Jiri Novak and Stefan Koubek.

As long as Rios has pointed out gender differences in tennis, here's another: The International Tennis Federation keeps a list of players who have been fined this fortnight for various offenses, ranging from on-court coaching to racket abuse. Among the men, 16 players have been dinged for a total of $16,500, all of the proceeds going to the Grand Slam Development Fund. (Two players, Markus Hipfl and Rainer Schuettler have appeals pending for the high crimes of "audible obscenity" and "unsportsmanlike conduct," respectively.)

The most notable name is that of Marat Safin, who was cited $1,000 for telling veteran chair umpire Norm Chryst that he was "f----- up in the head" during Safin's third-round match against Mikhail Youzhny. If and when the ITF gets a tape of Safin's exchange with ump Jorge Diaz during his subsequent match, he'll be fined at least another grand for language that would make a drunken sailor blush. Not that he much cares. "SAFIN IS GOING NUTS ON THE COURT," the player said smiling, visualizing the next day's headlines. "Of course it would be great. The newspaper would look unbelievable."

Then there are the women. In 10 days of main-draw play so far, only three fines have they been levied, for a measly $2,000, not even enough to buy a return ticket to the U.S. on Qantas. "And that's probably high," says a WTA Tour spokeswoman. "There are code violations from time to time, but coaching and not racket abuse or obscenities are the most common. It's not like the men."

Men behaving badly and women playing by the rules. The disparity has all the makings of a Gender Studies 101 lecture, but it's still worth examining, What's particularly striking is how ill behavior and aggression are perceived by fans. Safin drops an audible F-bomb on a chair umpire and, well, that's just Marat being Marat. Martina Hingis, on the other hand, need only give the chair a sour glance after a close call and the catcalls are nearly deafening. Likewise, when he played Safin, Pete Sampras, in so many choice words, offered a physical challenge to a fan he thought was rooting against him too emphatically. The episode passed without mention. Now imagine the fallout if, say, Venus Williams had done the same. "It's a double standard," says Hingis.

And it's one that's learned early. Watching matches in the juniors' draw, one can't help notice differences in comportment between boys and girls. The boys are full of fist pumps and testosteroneous bravado. They think nothing of demanding a towel from a ballboy no older than they are or jawing with the chair. The girls, by contrast, are utterly deferential. Kim Clijsters' sister Ilke -- who, of all people, might be inclined to drip some 'tude -- received a miserable call on a first serve in her match Tuesday. So much so that she and the opponent moved to the ad court, both assuming Ilke had hit an ace. When the chair belatedly called the ball out, Ilke didn't so much as flinch. She simply retreated and served another ball. Asked after the match about the call, Ilke didn't even remember the point.

This same -- what? civility? passivity? restraint? meekness? -- often characterizes female players' on-court conduct toward their opponent. Two years ago at the French Open, Barbara Schett lost to Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario and was upset to the point of tears by what she thought was unfair gamesmanship. I asked Schett whether she had confronted Sánchez-Vicario to voice her displeasure. "I wasn't brought up like that," she said. When I pressed her and pointed out that it may have cost her the match, Schett, in so many words, explained that "it's not done."

Still, even the most rigid conventions have their limits. If Capriati has a chance encounter with the 5-foot-9 Rios in the hallway, there might be one more fine coming down.
This was a very interesting and informative article by Wertheim.
Now, stop ripping this guy all of the time because he apparently does not pick on WTA players all of the time.
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