Women players have always been at a disadvantage in the international tennis circuit. Apart from the fact that photographers focus more on their looks and apparel than on their strokes, there has been a long-standing debate over whether women deserve to be paid the same as the men since they win on the basis of winning two out of three sets whereas the men have play the best of five sets. It is also true that players like Gabriela Sabatini or Anna Kournikova had a huge fan following because of their looks although their record as players was no more than average.
However, this debate which has little to do with court craft reached its lowest level when a BBC presenter, John Inverdale, wondered aloud during live broadcast if the new Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli’s father told her when she was young that since she was “never going to be a looker … never be a Sharapova”, she would “have to be scrappy and fight”. After the expected apology from both the presenter and his employer, the French champion hit back saying her aim was never to be a model but a champion, an objective which she had achieved.
It may not be a coincidence, however, that this tasteless comment has been made in the year when Andy Murray became the first Britisher to be the men’s champion 77 years after Fred Perry. In the intensely class-conscious Britain of the pre-World War II years, Perry’s success was not enough to enable him to break into the snobbish upper strata of society where he was considered too uncultured to be a part of an elite group. Britain and the world have changed a great deal since the 1930s, but the latest episode shows how the remnants of illogical biases continue to linger. Yet, the answer lies in the simple truth that the names of Perry and Bartoli will last much longer than those of their mean-minded detractors.