I have to admit I’ve been casting about a bit to find a narrative in women’s tennis that captivates me the way Roddick’s struggles do, say, in the ATP, or Fed’s to defend his kingdom, or Nole’s to keep stalking his territory, or Murray’s to once, just once, break through.
I used to follow women’s tennis as much as men’s. Evert, Navratilova, Graf, Seles -- I found their duels and rivalries suspenseful and gripping. But I stopped watching tennis altogether for a while and when I got back into it, I wasn’t drawn to watching the women at all. For a while, it seemed to me the problem was the women players didn’t have distinct enough personalities. Of course, that was due to my own lack of familiarity with them, but sometimes when I watched two tall, leggy blondes with long ponytails face off against each other, I’d think of something my sister said (she’s a teacher) about girls: “They aren’t as differentiated from each other as boys are.” I questioned her closely about this statement but as far as I remember, she just repeated it. They aren’t differentiated. Girls will tend to match each other – how many times have I looked at a group of young women on the streets of Manhattan and noticed them all wearing the same type of shoe and height of heel? And they’d even all be wearing jeans, or all be wearing dresses – it’s like they phoned each other (phoned – how 20th century) a few hours before and asked, “So we’re doing the open-toed stilettos, black leggings and beltless trenchcoats today?”
It’s not unthinkable that they did exactly that. Women often ask each other
“What are you wearing?” For one thing, getting dressed is a much more complicated thing for us than men -- we have myriad different options and decisions to sort through. And women seem to feel better when they’re dressed the same. If your friend is in some breezy, casual t-shirt and jeans outfit and you’re all stuffed up in a blouse and skirt, you can feel envious or dorky. On the other hand if your friend is in a lovely sundress and you opted for some boxy t-shirt that screams “I don’t even remotely try for sex appeal anymore,” again you feel unhappy and like a dork. I mean, you can. It all depends.
The difference with men, I think, is that when they show up somewhere, you look at their outfit and it seems clear they have not thought about it. Not because it looks bad, but because it just was there, and they put it on. That’s a big difference. I remember the first time this was brought home to me, during a first date with this guy I was starting to really like. I spent hours figuring out outfit, hair, undergarments, and showering, grooming, etc. He showed up in a hideous Walmart-style sweater and, while we sat together in the movie theater, I became aware from a strong, comfortable aroma coming from him that he hadn’t bathed recently. So he was wearing something that looked like a castoff from his aunt, and smelling, and feeling perfectly fine about himself. It was a reminder of how differently men see the whole “getting ready” thing.
Okay, back to tennis. The women players who seemed more differentiated to me (Li Na, Francesco Schiavone) didn’t have consistent enough results to be fun to follow. And anyway, I reminded myself, the tall blonde ponytail girls are different from each other, if you look closely at them. So I have started to watch them more carefully and figure out their personalities – stay tuned!
One player I had no trouble “reading” was Maria Sharapova. I just didn’t want to cheer for her because she was so beautiful, she didn’t need my help. (Slight grudge against these tall blondes is emerging, I realize.) Over the years, though, I’ve come to respect Sharapova and agree with the standard line about her: she’s a fighter, a committed competitor, and she doesn’t coast on her looks. She scowls, shrieks and fist-pumps her way through matches, talking to herself, willing herself to prevail. With her broad shoulders, formidable height (6’ 2”) and icy demeanor, she’s actually quite a badass.
But today, in Madrid, she faced Serena Williams. And Serena crushed her. More than that—she caused Maria’s badassery to wilt completely. Instead of a fierce scowl, Sharapova began to wear a troubled grimace that deepened as her haplessness grew. After a while she looked wan. Maria Sharapova! Wan.
Well, er, my point here is that we are different people depending on the people we’re with. That’s what I was going to talk about in this blog post. Instead of that, I discussed the thorny issue of differentiation (which I hope no one thinks I’m saying anything conclusive about – just throwing some thoughts out there). And I told an anecdote from my dating life. Good that I’m always so focused, and plan these posts out beforehand.