Thursday’s semifinals presented both the bad and the good products of this wacky women’s Wimbledon: an argument for star-loving and a lesson in watching an event for the game, not the name.
In case you’ve been following real news out of Egypt or Samford, quick update … the men’s side threw the chalk out the window early, when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer got purged like bad strawberries and cream before the first rain delay. Injuries took out others. No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Andy Murray remain, however, so this still looks like a 2013 Grand Slam.
Meanwhile, on the women’s side, 2004 Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova went slip slide and away the same day as Federer. Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka fell to injury. Defending champion Serena Williams, playing the past five months not like No. 1 right now but No. 1 all-time, turned a 4-1 third set lead on Sabine Lisicki into a shocking Round-of-16 loss.
What that left were these semifinals: No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who opened the tournament at 40-1 to win, according to the British sportsbook Ladbroke’s, vs. Lisicki, an 80-1 shot; and Marion Bartoli, 150-1, vs. Kirsten Flipkins, 300-1. Not only were the semifinalists, save Radwanska, unknown to casual fans, but they were unknown to each other. Radwanska and Lisicki played only four times before, Bartoli and Flipkins never.
Now, I don’t mind that. I like one more edition of a major rivalry, especially those rivalries with layers. If you’ve paid attention to Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova and think their palpable dislike is just about tennis, please leave right now. You have to go back to Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert to find a tennis rivalry with more depth than Serena vs. Sharapova.
Yet if I’m not watching the final round of the Masters, it’s because I don’t feel like watching golf, not because Tiger Woods is crashing. It’s more important to me just when the sport is played well. If it’s being played well by somebody new, great. Who are they? What’s their story? Am I getting to see the next big thing on the ground floor? Tell me more about that and less about how lousy the ratings will be.
A media too conscious of TV ratings and webpage click counts sometimes forgets that whole “inform the reader/viewer” role. Peers have said to me they’re not writing about an athlete who could be a good story subject because “nobody’s knows about him.” Instead, they add another 600 to 800 words or 60 seconds to the career coverage of Star Athlete, whether or not there’s new news or perspective, knowing it will draw eyeballs.
We’ve all done it and it’s lazy. It’s helped create two-tiered tours in track and golf, the non-major event’s echelon determined largely on whether Usain Bolt or Tiger Woods, respectively, choose to do their thing there. In baseball, the NBA and the NHL, certain teams’ doings never get national coverage, even if they’re atop the standings while other teams get breathlessly followed.
So tell me about Flipkins’ rise from No. 262 in the world last year. You know how far down No. 262 in the world is? That’s closer to a 10-year-old Anais I know than Serena Williams. Tell me about Lisicki, so physically the big, strapping German stereotype, emotionally so not the icy, calculating German stereotype.