Since hearing the news that Wimbledon was willing to reschedule the women’s final so accommodate the end of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s semifinal, all I have been thinking about is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
At the beginning of the movie, the two young stoners, Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan, are trying to film a music video for their band Wyld Stallyns in a garage. They play too loud, blow up their amplifiers and, in the wreckage of their mediocrity, have the following exchange:
Bill: Ted, while I agree that in time our band will be most triumphant, the truth is Wyld Stallyns will not be a superband until we have Eddie Van Halen on guitar.
Ted: Yes Bill, but I do not believe we will get Eddie Van Halen until we have a triumphant video.
Bill: Ted, it’s pointless to have a triumphant video before we even have decent instruments
Ted: Well, how can we have decent instruments if we don’t even really know how to play?
Bill: That why we need Eddie Van Halen.
Ted: And that is why we need a triumphant video.
This conversation’s circular logic and inevitable conclusion in stasis perfectly encapsulate Wimbledon’s attitude towards men’s and women’s tennis. It also illustrates how this kind of thinking contributes to a general devaluation of the women’s game in the eyes of tennis fans.
The Need to Suspend Play
As the fifth set of John Isner and Kevin Anderson’s semifinal match stretched ever longer, it became clear that the second men’s semifinal was unlikely to be completed. The reason is an obscure council curfew in effect that requires play at Wimbledon to cease by 11:00pm. The other reason was that Nadal and Djokovic, who once contested a nearly six-hour final at the Australian Open in 2012, are not players known for ending matches quickly.
This is not the first time that a major event in London has highlighted the unreasonableness of the city’s curfews, put in place to minimize nighttime disruption to local residents when late-running events let out. Almost five years ago to the day, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney performed together for the first time in London’s Hyde Park. In the middle of their encore performance of “Twist and Shout” in front of almost 80,000 screaming fans, the power to their amplifiers and microphones was cut off.
The fact that it was evident early in the day that the curfew might be an issue – Anderson vs. Isner always had the possibility of becoming an epic, as did Nadal vs. Djokovic – and that a similar rule was an issue at a separate major public event years before, indicates that Wimbledon, an institution with considerable clout, could have worked more proactively to find a way around the curfew.
Even if a waiver was not possible, the club did not have to reschedule the women’s final. The decision to do so, however, fits with Wimbledon’s history of giving preferential treatment to men’s matches. A recent cataloging of the last twenty-five years of show court matches – those held on Centre Court and Court 1 – showed that significantly more men’s matches had been played on the main courts than women’s matches. Perhaps influenced by the article quantifying the inequity of Wimbledon’s scheduling, on Wednesday July 4, there were more women’s matches than men’s scheduled for the show courts. That minor gesture is fully overshadowed by this latest, almost inexplicable decision.
The Circularity of the Misguided Marketability Argument
The most common argument made to support the practice of prioritizing men’s matches, and one that will certainly be made in defense of the decision to hold back the women’s final in favor of Nadal vs. Djokovic, is marketability. Nadal and Djokovic are huge draws, hold a combined twenty-nine grand slam titles, and are both all time greats. However, for Wimbledon to endorse the idea that a semifinal featuring two great men is somehow superior to a women’s final of any kind, much less one featuring the greatest female player of all time on a fairy tale run after a life-threatening pregnancy facing off against a multiple-time grand slam winner who is herself in great form, is destructive and foolish.
Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams’ opponent on Saturday, is not a champion of the ilk of Nadal and Djokovic, however, she is a top player who reached her first slam semifinal almost eight years ago. In 2016, she won the Australian Open, the US Open, and reached the finals of Wimbledon. She is still not a household name the way men with comparable accomplishments like Stan Wawrinka or Juan Martin del Potro are. This is one of the consequences of women’s tennis being continually treated as less important than men’s tennis: its finals are movable, its matches are less marketable, and its champions aren’t give the chance to shine as brightly.
This is where the circularity and foolishness of the marketability argument comes into stark relief. If men’s matches are routinely given bigger stages and greater importance than women’s matches, it follows that the male players’ achievements reach a wider audience and are treated as superior. If the scheduling practice of a tournament is for a less prominent men’s match to supersede a more prominent women’s match, advertisers, sponsors, and fans will take note.
I can almost hear the Wimbledon schedulers’ conversation now:
Scheduler 1: Scheduler 2, while I agree that in time women’s tennis will be most triumphant, the truth is women’s tennis will not be as popular as men’s tennis until they have lots of big stars.
Scheduler 2: Yes Scheduler 1, but I do not believe they will have lots of big stars until their matches are marketable enough to get top billing.
Scheduler 1: How can their matches be marketable if they have no big stars?
Scheduler 2: That is why we need for women’s matches to be marketable.
Scheduler 1: Which is why we need more big stars.
[Both Scheduler1 and Scheduler 2 then decide that the women’s final will have to wait for the men’s semifinal to finish]