Playing in the Rain
I was out of town all weekend and missed both finals of the Rome Masters tournament. I caught a little of Rafa-Nole on my laptop Monday morning – their play reminds me of those bobbing-bird toys they used to sell in dimestores (remember dimestores?), where the long neck and feathered head of the bird extends thinly over a glass of water and it’s so well-balanced it barely ever dips down into the water. Men’s tennis is almost too competitive, I’m starting to think. The players wheel from side to side, sending screamers into corners, belting back whipped returns, like two toys on a string that almost never gets uneven. (Not an exact metaphor but it took all my descriptive powers to kind of give a picture of that bobbing bird.) Their sets always seem to proceed evenly – to get to 4-4 or 5-5 seems like a given in the first set now. Is that anything to complain about? I guess not? But I feel like complaining anyway.
Anyway, last night after I got home I watched some of Li Na vs. Maria Sharapova. And I found the contest more interesting than Rafa-Nole. The players seemed less identical in strengths: Li Na hits a long, deeply sailing ball, while Maria cracks it – her shots are more like darts.
But what really grabbed me about this match was the fact that it was played in a heavy rain. It was played in a downpour. It was played in hectares more rain than men players would have played in. Spectators hunched in rain ponchos; coaches and umpires looked cold and miserable, but the women played on. Li Na even slipped nearly into the splits at one point at the back of the court, because the rain was causing a muddy, slippery situation back there, but did she stop? Did she call out the tournament director and point to the conditions and make a huge issue out of how unsafe and unsatisfactory they were?
No. Both players chose to play on. Maria’s ponytail was a limp rat-tail by the end, soaked with rain. You blinked to see how wet the women were and still prepared to battle. Are women more stoical than men? I wondered. I thought of Serena’s joke to the press about the men being “weenies” when they complained so much about the blue clay in Madrid. Compared to Li Na and Sharapova’s sucking up the wet conditions and focusing on the match, the men did seem like a bunch of divas.
I was in sympathy with the men in Madrid – I felt the color and consistency of the courts were valid things to make an issue of. And I’m a complaining sort myself. My stepsister once said, during a discussion of something that wasn’t to her liking, “I don’t want to be a whingey old cow.” You don’t? I thought. Why not, for cripes sake? Complaining is a sacred American tradition, for one thing (she’s British and I think they suck it up more than we do) and it wouldn’t occur to me to pull back my outrage because it made me seem annoying. What an idea! I believe in complaining as a way of life, and it’s done wonderfully well for me – but anyway, I’m getting off-track.
My attitude notwithstanding, I think women are more stoical than men, and I think you could see that in Li and Sharapova’s behavior. These two weren’t protecting their stats or their muscles, and they weren’t experiencing the slippery clay as a personal insult, a form of negligence that didn’t allow them to be at their best. They were focused on beating each other, on completing this crazy match, and they couldn’t have cared less about the conditions. It was absorbing – it was also pretty impressive. They showed an all-out gutsiness, a lack of princessy fussiness, that the men might do well to emulate.