I was critical of Maria Sharapova after reading the story that she was not going to play Doha, because she had a photo shoot that week. It was unclear from the article if she had every committed to that tournament or just had turned down an invitation to play.
Many people have also criticized the Williams sisters (myself included) over their seeming to put lots of things before tennis, including TV appearances, fashion events, etc.
What I am wondering is, are we being hypocritical about these young women? The fact is, these three and a couple of others, specifically, Hingis and Kournikova and now a few more, are offered a ton of money to take part in non-tennis activities. While the very top players on the tour, the ones who win slams, make fortunes in prize money, these very same women can make even more money in non-tennis activities. That makes some fans mad, because we think that they should not pass up tournaments for these outside events. But would any of us turn those opportunities down?
The fact is, it is probably a lot easier, less stressful, and certainly easier on the body, to dress up and pose for the camera, then it is to spend a week sweating it out on the tennis court
Athletes have a short shelf life in terms of how long their careers will last and very few women tennis players so far have become wildly success at too much in their post playing days.
And atlhough a couple of women athletes years ago made names for themselves in show business, specifically Esther Williams and Sonja Henie, there is no evidence that today's top women tennis players are going to be scooping up Oscars or Emmies in the future.
Serena has not exactly lit up the movie and TV screens so far and Kournikova has accomplished less -- much less. Very few of us even know how she spends her time, other than with her boyfriend.
Other players, speciacally Navratilova and to some extent, Davenport, have complained they don't get the big endorsement contracts or the TV guest shots and they generally don't.
The fact is, we live in a visual world and it is the physically attractive players who get commercials, not the sometimes more accomplished, but less pleasing to look at women.
But can we blame the pretty girls for cashing in? Wouldn't all of us jump at the chance of putting a few million bucks in the bank so that we can have a nest egg to fall back on?
We should also remember that most of these people are fairly young girls getting pressure from a lot of directions, including their high powered, high priced agencies like IMG and Octagon, which are eager to book them into commercials, because they get a piece of the action. Parents are also around and since so many of them seem to wind up dependent upon their tennis player kids, they too sometimes encourage the players to cash in while they can.
In the end, I doubt there are too many people telling them, just play tennis, its the purist way to live your life. In our capitalist society, there are other considerations beside purity.
In the end, though, I think the one thing we can ask of them is that they treat with respect the sport that made them famous enough to get selected for commericals or photo shoots. That would mean trying their very best to keep their commitments and not treating the sport as if it is something they're willing to tolerate, if nothing better comes along that week.
I know, some of them get tired of the traveling, and of living in hotel rooms. And I am sure they are all even more sick and tired of the constant injuries than we are. After all, they are the ones going through the physical pain.
But I heard Davenport being interviewed on the tennis channel's "Open Access" show the other day. She was saying at the Australian Open that Australia is one of the "few" countries the players like going to.
Hello? Tennis players like her make a lot of money. They do have to travel, but they aren't spending their time in Pittsburgh or Detroit or some mill town. They travel to London and Paris and Tokyo and Madrid. Hell, the men even play in Monte Carlo. The women put in for a week at La Costa. And many of them stay in pretty nice hotels, have cars and drivers available to chauffeur them around, get treated like royality and get to meet all the famous, beautiful people. Sure, they are playing a hard sport, but no one is stepping on their head with a spiked shoe or whacking them across the face with a hockey stick. Its a pretty tame sport in many ways.
So, while we should perhaps chill out in our criticism of them when they take off to pose for the Sports Illustrated swim suite issue, or appear on Martha Stewart to share recipies, or talk about the best way to arrange the furniture in your jail cell, they should also remember they live the good life because of the fans, so it is incumbent upon them to show up for as many tournaments as they can.
Just a thought.